Listening to the Impeachment Hearings.

First, there is no doubt that President Trump extorted the President of Ukraine to announce an investigation of Joe Biden.  He did so, apparently, to besmirch a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Second, there is no doubt that the Republican majority in the Senate is going to acquit Trump of both counts.  There seems to be a shrinking likelihood that enough Republican “moderates” will join the Democrats to even call witnesses.

Third, the obstruction of Congress charge seems ridiculous because the Democrats on the Intelligence and Judiciary committees never made any serious appeal to the courts.   The Trump administration has been sued many times.  They have fought it out in the courts.  Whenever they have lost, they have complied.

Fourth, once Trump has been acquitted, do the Republicans have any plan to keep him from doing some other outrageous thing?  Throw Mike Pence overboard at the convention and impose some really serious person as Trump’s second vice president?  Grit their teeth until Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been replaced with a conservative.  Behind these actions would be the implicit threat that “Next time, you dumb son-of-a-bitch, we will impeach you.”

Fifth, Trump’s defense has argued that many, perhaps most, political acts combine a legitimate policy interest with a politician’s selfish or self-absorbed personal interest.  Hence, these decisions can not be described as “corrupt.”  Democrats have countered that, under the law, any “corrupt” purpose overwhelms any legitimate purpose.  It renders the whole action “corrupt.”  Well, the Democrats have been bug-eyed with fear and rage since November 2016.  They talked a lot about “collusion” (their term, not Trump’s before they started using it on talk shows).  They raised high expectations that the Mueller investigation would prove that Trump had committed crimes that merited impeachment.  They tried to make a case for obstruction of justice after the Mueller investigation “failed to establish” (i.e. couldn’t find any proof of) such “collusion.”  They wanted Trump removed for political reasons that would advantage the Democrats and disgrace the Republicans.  By their own standards, that would seem to meet the definition of “corruption.”

Get Carter.

The Report of the Inspector-General of the Department of Justice on the beginnings of the Russia investigation makes fascinating reading.  There’s a lot of information in it, even only in the Executive Summary.  So, like the Mueller Report, it will take some time to digest.  However, little bits and pieces are worth a quick look.

How did the “Crossfire Hurricane” team select targets?  A “ consensus among the “Crossfire Hurricane” agents and analysts … identified individuals associated with the Trump campaign who had recently traveled to Russia or had other alleged ties to Russia.” (p. iv.)  These individuals were George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michel Flynn.

“[I]mmediately after opening the investigation [31 July 2019], the Crossfire Hurricane team submitted name trace requests to other U.S. government agencies and a foreign intelligence agency, and conducted law enforcement database and open source searches, to identify individuals associated with the Trump campaign in a position to have received the alleged offer of assistance from Russia.”  (p. iv.)

In August 2016, the other agency [apparently the CIA] had informed the FBI that Page was approved as an “operational contact” of the other agency from 2008 to 2013; that Page had provided information about his past contacts with a Russian Intelligence Officer, and that an employee of the other agency had judged that Page had “candidly described his contact with” the Russian intelligence officer.  (p. ix.)

In late September 2016 the OI Attorney had specifically asked the case agent whether Carter Page had a current or prior relationship with the other agency. In response to that inquiry, the case agent advised the OI Attorney that Page’s relationship was “dated” (claiming it was when Page lived in Moscow in 2004-2007) and “outside scope.” This representation, however, was contrary to information that the other agency had provided to the FBI in August 2016, which stated that Page was approved as an “operational contact” of the other agency from 2008 to 2013 (after Page had left Moscow). Moreover, rather than being “outside scope,” Page’s status with the other agency overlapped in time with some of the interactions between Page and known Russian intelligence officers that were relied upon in the FISA applications to establish probable cause. Indeed, Page had provided information to the other agency about his past contacts with a Russian Intelligence Officer (Intelligence Officer 1), which were among the historical connections to Russian intelligence officers that the FBI relied upon in the first FISA application (and subsequent renewal applications)…. Thus, the FBI relied upon Page’s contacts with Intelligence Officer 1, among others, to support of its probable cause statement in the FISA application, while failing to disclose to OI or the FISC that” Page was candidly reporting on thee contacts to the other agency.  (p. ix.)

Thus the October 2016 FISA warrant application “Omitted information the FBI had obtained from another U.S. government agency detailing its prior relationship with Page, …” (p. viii.)

So, I don’t understand why Attorney General William Barr is so upset.  I can certainly see that the FBI and Department of Justice need to update their policies and procedure to prevent unintended errors like these from occurring again.

Memoirs of the Addams Administration 5 December 2019.

  1. If Trump had a legitimate interest in repressing Ukrainian corruption–of which there is a great deal if we are to believe Transparency International–he would have sicced the Justice Department on the task. He didn’t. He set his personal pit-bull (if that doesn’t give offense to pit-bulls) on it.
  2. Hunter Biden has a chequered past, but–for some reason that is probably easily explained–a Ukrainian oligarch appointed him to the board of his company when Joe Biden was VPOTUS. Roughly, Hunter made as much in a month as I make in a year. The purpose wasn’t to enlist Joe Biden as a protector; it was to scare off Ukrainian prosecutors, who are mostly oligarchs-in-the-making.
  3. Intellectually at least, it is possible to distinguish between asking for an investigation of the involvement of Ukrainians–not the government as a whole–in the 2016 US election AND asking for an investigation of the Bidens. The latter is clearly wrong and probably illegal (although, thank God, I’m not a lawyer).
  4. In Politico and then in the New York Times, Kenneth Vogel has laid out a possible chain of connections between individual–but powerful and interested–Ukrainians and the Democrats in the 2016 campaign. These deserve to be investigated. They are fundamentally different from allegations about lost servers or “Crowdstrike.” They are at the heart of Republican Congressmen’s objections.  I have wondered if this is the origin of the decision to hire a law firm hire a consulting firm to hire Christopher Steele to investigate Donald Trump’s Russia connections. Did they investigate ONLY Trump’s Russia connections, rather than all his international dealings? If so, why?
  5. Commentators have explained away Adam Schiff’s management of the Intelligence Committee hearings by comparing them to a grand jury. But, as someone wise once said, “A good DA could get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.” (See Nancy Pelosi: “A glass of water could get elected in Brooklyn if it said it was a Democrat.” Or words to that effect.)
  6. Normally, but it is so rare that maybe there is no “normal,” impeachment hearings are carried out in the House Judiciary Committee. Why did Mrs. Pelosi assign the heavy lifting to Adam Schiff, rather than to Jerry Nadler? OK, that’s and extraneous question, unless Pelosi thinks that Nadler wasn’t up to the work.
  7. Actually, it is pretty significant that the career professionals in the military and the State Department have “issues” with President Trump. This can’t just be dismissed as “bureaucrats of the Deep State.” OTOH, I haven’t read much about equivalent figures at the Treasury or Commerce Departments kicking back. Why is that?
  8. Donald Trump is a pretty appalling person. Leaving aside his persona and behavior—but how can one?—he has sent the United States down some wrong roads. Climate change most of all, but also dealing with the weenies in NATO.  OTOH, he was correct to confront the Peoples Republic of China over its trade practices; he was right to talk to the nut with the nuclear missiles and a bad haircut in North Korea; he was right to lean on the NATO allies to ante up, given the supposedly growing Russian danger in Europe; he was right to put the clutch down on the torrent of rules, regulations, and executive orders from the White House during the period when President Obama did not have a majority in either house of the Congress; and he was right to bring the US corporate tax to international norms.
  9. IF this goes to the Senate, THEN expect Hunter and Joe Biden, and Adam Schiff(under oath), and the “Whistleblower” to be called to testify in open session (with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders as “judges” for month after month).  Also, Alexandra Chalupa, and the guy who liased between the Democrats and Ukrainian informants.

Four Eyes 3 December 2019.

How come you can’t see as well as do other people?  ‘Cause you’re near-sighted.  How come you’re near-sighted?  It’s because your eyes got mushed out of shape.  Why did your eyes get mushed out of shape?  “Cause you read a lot: there’s a strong correlation between short-sightedness and IQ.  Read a lot, do well on tests.  “Gentlemen don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses.”   Why not?  ‘Cause smart women scare stupid guys, that’s why.

How long has this been going on?  Probably since the dawn of mankind.[1]  People invented “lenses” to improve vision as early as 700 BC.  This was pragmatic: they didn’t understand the science or the causes of failed vision, but they had some idea what to do about it.

So, what happened to people with bad vision in the many days ago?  They got treated as blind.  “Blind” actually is a relative term: even today only about 10 percent of people classified as “blind” can see nothing at all.  So, before glasses, there were a lot of “blind” people. The best you could hope for was bumping into things and getting yelled at by your sister-in-law.  (OTOH, you couldn’t see Thomas Kinkade paintings.)  Worse stuff could happen.  (See: Breughel, “Parable of the Blind” with everyone pitching into a ditch; see: “Old Blind Pew” in Treasure Island, trampled to death by the horses of the revenue men while he tap-tap-taps with his stick along the road outside the Admiral Benbow Inn.)

In 1263 the Medieval English polymath Roger Bacon mentioned that people were using “lenses” to improve their weak sight.  What he meant were glass spheres that had been cut in half.  In 1286 somebody[2] in northern Italy—who is a lot more important to me than is Columbus—invented spectacles.

Then, in 1604, Johannes Kepler, who also was interested in astronomy, got interested in optics.  Kepler figured out that concave lenses correct for near-sightedness and convex lenses correct for far-sightedness.  Things moved ahead fast in the Seventeenth Century.

In the late Eighteenth Century, Philadelphia became the center of progress on optical enhancement in America.[3]  Diagnosis and prescription were pretty rough-and-ready, but people were so glad to be able to see anything at all that they didn’t complain.

In 1843 somebody had the bright idea of making a whole bunch of different lenses and packing them into a diagnostic case for spectacle-makers so that they could figure out what was right for each individual.  In 1862 Hermann Snellen invented the eye-chart to measure vision.  (Ever since old people have been memorizing FELOPZD to fool the DMV.)  In 1888 the first contact-lenses were made.  Then along came Henry Ford and his Model-T car.  Lots of people took to the roads, but many of them couldn’t see very well.  Personal injury attorneys loved this, but a bunch of people thought drivers should have to take a vision test.  In 1938 came plastic contact lenses; in 1952 came the first soft contact lenses, but the Food and Drug Administration did not approve their sale until 1971.

Ignacio Barraquer (1884-1965), a Catalan-Spanish doctor, invented most of modern cataract surgery.  His son Jose Barraquer (1916-1998), a Spanish-Columbian doctor, and Svyatoslav Fyodorov (1927-2000), a Russian doctor, invented what we think of as Lasik surgery.

[1] Do dogs and cats and fish get near-sighted?  Probably, but then they get eaten.  So, the genetic element doesn’t get passed along.

[2] We do not know his/her name.  Every over-muscled moron in the Super Bowl gets a jeweled ring, but we don’t know who invented eye-glasses.  Zoro-H-Aster!

[3] You didn’t get people complaining about how unfair it was, how people were altering Nature’s plan, how it would lead children astray, or saying that people should get rid of their yellow Benjamin Franklin bracelets.

Some Ukrainian Background.

The first “Russian” state was Kievan Rus, created by conquering Vikings.[1]  In the 13th Century the Mongols showed up and put a stop to that.  “Independent” Russia came to mean a small territory around Moscow.  Over the following centuries, Ukraine became a contested ground between empires: the “Golden Horde” of the Mongols, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the rising Austrian Empire, and an expanding Romanov Russia.  By the end of the 18th Century, the Austrians held Galicia, while the rest of the Ukraine belonged to Russia.

As was the case elsewhere in Eastern Europe in the second half of the 19th Century, local nationalism began to burn.  Tsarist Russia repressed this just as it did every other form of non-Russian nationalism.  Still, Ukrainian nationalism survived.  When the First World War wrecked the Austrian and Russian Empires, Ukraine declared its independence (1917).

Tragedy followed for Ukrainians: the territory and its people were savaged by Poles with an expansive definition of “historical” Poland; and by “Whites,” “Reds,” and a variety of crazy people like the Anarchist anti-semite Nestor Makhno during the Russian Civil War and the Russo-Polish War.  Then Ukraine fell under the hammer during Josef Stalin’s collectivization of agriculture in the 1930s.  About 3.5 million Ukrainians were starved to death during this “Harvest of Sorrow.”[2]

During the drive for industrialization that followed close on the heels of the “terror famine,” Stalin moved in millions of Russians to eastern Ukraine.  Their descendants still form a large part of the population of Ukraine.  Then the Second World War brought both massive suffering and deep divisions, as Ukrainians fought on both side.

In 1954, possibly trying to make amends to the Ukraine for the whole unfortunate “terror famine” thing, the Soviet Union transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine.  This remained something of a sore spot for the ethnic Russians of Crimea.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine held a referendum on independence.  Overall, 90 percent of those who voted supported independence.   However, voter participation varied a good deal throughout Ukraine.  The Russians weren’t happy with this secession, but there wasn’t much they could do about it because Russia itself was in massive turmoil.

The post-independence history of Ukraine has not been a happy one.[3]  Corruption is endemic.  Mismanagement is widespread.  Bureaucracy is pervasive and stifling.  Investment in productive capacity fell far short of needs.  Where banks did lend, they often made bad loans.  Business law and an incompetent (or corrupt) judiciary make property insecure.  Investors don’t want to risk their capital.  By 2014, Ukrainians were among Europe’s poorest people.

In 2004, Viktor Yanukovych won election as president amidst charges of massive fraud and interference by the Soviet Union.  An “Orange Revolution” turned him out of office.  His “Orange” successors then mismanaged things on a grand scale.  Eventually, in 2010, Yanukovych managed to win election as president without charges of massive fraud.  In late 2013 he suddenly rejected a long-prepared economic agreement with the European Union.  This act sparked a new round of demonstrations that ended with Yanukovych chased from office once again (February 2014).

After that, things got even worse.  By 2015, the conflict with Russia cut Ukrainian-Russian trade by half.  Inflation and unemployment both rose.  Foreign-exchanges reserves at the central bank sank to their lowest point in a decade.  Experts estimated that the country would need $40 billion in financial assistance over the next four years.  In early February 2015, the International Monetary Fund granted Ukraine a $17.5 billion credit.

It was against this background that the Obama administration, the European Union, and the International Monetary Fund began pressuring Ukraine to root out corruption and address a host of other problems.

[1] “In Russia’s shadow,” The Week, 14 March 2014, p. 11.

[2] Robert Conquest, The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine (1986); Anne Applebaum, Red Famine: Stalin’s War on the Ukraine (2017).

[3] David M. Herszenhorn, “Economic Woes Will Test Kiev, Even if Truce Holds,” NYT, 14 February 2015

The Kurdish Crisis-of-the-Moment 16 October 2019.

The Kurdish crisis requires some explanation. First, the idea of Nationalism[1] began in Western Europe, then spread to other areas, slowly.  Eventually it reached the Middle East during the last stage of the Ottoman Empire. It penetrated the Greeks of Ionia, the Armenians, the Kurds, and the Arabs.

Just as the body’s immune system generates resistance to dangers, so did Nationalism among the subject peoples of the Ottoman Empire generate Nationalism among the Turks. Horrific things followed. In brief compass, the Ottoman Turks drove out the Armenians during the First World War, and the revolutionary Turkish Republic slaughtered large numbers of Greek Christians. Regardless of whether these were acts of “genocide,” a ton of Greeks and Armenians died as a result of Turkish government action. (Certainly, lots of Greek soldiers deserved to die for their actions in Turkey, but most of them got away to ships for home, while the civilian population was abandoned to the revenge-minded Turks.[2])  However, many Kurds remained within the boundaries of modern Turkey.

Second, when the George W. Bush administration decided to attack Iraq in 2003 for no good reason, one effect was to fracture the country into its component parts.  A Shi’a Arab majority in the east opposed a Sunni Arab minority in the west and the Kurds in the northern part of the country. Us liking it or not, the Iraqi Kurds saw their self-governing territory as the core of a united Kurdistan. The projected Kurdistan would include Turkish Kurdistan, Iraqi Kurdistan, Syrian Kurdistan, and even Iranian Kurdistan. So, Kurdistan has many enemies and few friends.  OTOH, “neither are they afflicted by the disease of indecision.”[3]

Third, when ISIS attacked out of eastern Syria and over-ran much of Iraq, the armies of Iraq and Syria were rotted by corruption and civil war. The US faced a choice: leave it to Turkey, Iran, and–needs be–Israel to solve the ISIS problem OR thrust ourselves back into regional affairs. The Obama administration chose a partial re-engagement.  Send Special Forces troops as trainers and target-spotters and send US air power. The real heavy lifting would be done by an “Arab” army of mostly Kurds, with an icing-on-the-cake of “moderate” Arabs.

Fourth, basically this worked OK.  Not perfect, but OK. Now we’re faced with the question of how to get out of the “Forever War.” What do we owe to the Kurds, who have been fighting for their own nationalist interests? What do we owe to Turkey, a NATO ally with a large and restive Kurdish population? What do we owe to ourselves, to our self-image?  “You dance with the girl you brung,” my Dad always said.[4]

Fifth, Russia gets Syria? So what? The place is a ruin. The Russians already have alliances with Iran, the Shi’ites in Iraq, and the Alewites of Syria.  All formed under the Obama Administration. Turkey has already bolted on NATO. Much of that seems to be on the watch of the Obama administration. Focus on the essentials of American interests: oil from Saudi Arabia; and–more importantly–the Far East.

[1] I’ll leave aside all the BS that has been talked about of late about Patriotism as “the love of one’s own country” versus Nationalism as “the hatred of other countries.”

[2] See: Smyrna.

[3] See: “”In Harm’s Way.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXzNQHNsQHk

[4] See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcBplbfXgSY

Apophenia 6 October 2019.

The German psychiatrist Klaus Conrad (1905-1961) studied the development of schizophrenia.  In a 1958 book he defined an early stage of schizophrenia as “apophenia.”  Conrad explained that apophenia consisted of the “unmotivated seeing of connections [accompanied by] a specific feeling of abnormal meaningfulness.”[1]  What follows is an attempt to illustrate this idea by reference to a contemporary political controversy.

 

The “Steele Dossier” was inserted into public consciousness between July and September 2016.   The “Whistleblower Complaint” was inserted into public consciousness between July and September 2019.

The author of the “Steele Dossier” reportedly was Christopher Steele, a highly-regarded former British intelligence officer.  The author of the “Whistleblower Complaint is believed to be a highly-regarded Central Intelligence Agency officer.

The basis of the “Steele Dossier” was unverified hear-say.  The basis of the “Whistleblower Complaint” was largely then-unverified hearsay.

The “Steele Dossier” was first communicated to a consulting firm in the employ of the Hillary Clinton campaign, and to an FBI agent stationed in Rome.  Then, when the information did not reach the public or result in an official investigation, it was shared with journalists.  The “Whistleblower Complaint” was first communicated to a government “tip-line” and resulted in a formal complaint.  Then, when the information did not result in an official investigation, it was shared with Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

The “Steele Dossier” alleged—among other things–that: 1) that Trump presidential campaign officials conspired with the Russians; 2) that Carter Page played a key role in this conspiracy; 3) that Paul Manafort directed the conspiracy; 4) that Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, had met secretly with Russian representatives in Prague.

“The Whistleblower Complaint” alleged—among other things–that: 1) Trump tried to extort the government of Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden; 2) Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, played a key role in this conspiracy; 4) US Attorney John Durham may be investigating Ukrainian leads as part of his probe of the origins of the Russia-Trump investigation.

It is useful to recall the context for both cases.  In the case of the “Steele Dossier,” Russians had intervened in the 2016 US presidential election, not least by releasing secret information stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton.  The Australian government informed American officials that a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, had told one of their diplomats that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.  President Trump has doubted/denied the reports of American intelligence agencies about Russian interference and took umbrage at the investigation of alleged conspiracy between his campaign and the Russians.

In the case of the “Whistleblower Complaint,” 1) Ukraine suffers from endemic corruption.  During the Obama Administration, Vice President Joe Biden led an effort to pressure the government of Ukraine to shape up.  2) Information on the dealings in Ukraine of Trump’s one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort, provided some of the basis for Manafort’s indictment.  3) In 2014 Hunter Biden joined the board of a Ukrainian energy company run by oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky.  Once Vice President Joe Biden took charge of trying to damp-down Ukrainian corruption, Hunter Biden’s position created an apparent conflict-of-interest that was acknowledged by the New York Times.  4) In Spring 2019, Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko began alleging “interference” in the 2016 US presidential election by Ukrainians working against Trump.  Other officials have denied these allegations.

 

It is impossible at this point to predict the final outcomes of the two cases.  The case of the “Steele Dossier” is not yet concluded.

1) In March 2019: Special Counsel Robert Mueller “did not establish” that a Trump-Russia conspiracy had existed.  2) The Special Counsel did not charge former Trump campaign official Carter Page with any crime.  The Special Counsel stated that Michael Cohen never visited Prague.  Paul Manafort was convicted of financial crimes committed before 2016 and for obstruction of justice committed during the investigation of those crimes.  He was not charged with conspiring with the Russians.  3) The Department of Justice Inspector General has been investigating allegations of Federal Bureau of Investigation misconduct in FISA warrant applications to surveil former Trump campaign official Page.  This investigation included a July 2019 extended interview with Steele.  By mid-September 2019, a draft report on the FISA warrants was circulating inside the Department of Justice and the FBI.   4) In late April 2019, Attorney General William Barr appointed US Attorney John Durham to investigate the origins of the Russia investigation.

The case of the “Whistleblower Complaint” is just beginning.

1) After the Mueller Report, Democratic efforts to impeach Trump had languished, with House majority leader Nancy Pelosi paying more attention to public opinion polls and the situation of the moderate new members of the House than to the left wing of the party.  2) The “Whistleblower Complaint” shifted the balance of forces.  House of Representatives Democrats launched a formal impeachment inquiry.  3) Attorney General Barr has denied being asked to contact Ukrainian officials, having any contact with Ukrainian officials, having any contact with Giuliani with regard to Ukraine, and knowing about the Trump phone call until several weeks later, possibly as a result of the whistleblower’s complaint.  4) In late September 2019, John Durham was reported to be investigating how the incriminating information on Manafort reached the FBI from Ukraine.

There is a lot of scope for apophenia in these events.

[1] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophenia.  I first encountered the term in William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (2003), a sort-of science fiction novel set in what John LeCarre called “the recent future.”