Category Archives: Politics

What Are they Hiding? (Turkish Edition)

Marcy Wheeler is very smart. And while she’s not giving to mincing words, she is also not a wild-eye conspiracist. So I sat up when I saw Meanwhile, Over In Turkey . . ., her blog post on Secretary of State Tillerson’s super-secret meeting with Turkish President Erdogan–the only other person in the room being the Turkish Prime Minister, who personally translated.

This is a huge breach of not just protocol, but standard and very sensible operating procedures at the US State Department (not that Tillerson cares).

Let’s go back to that no-staff-allowed element of the meeting once more. In general, it is in the interests of both parties to a conversation like that to have interpreters and notetakers present, so that in the public discussions that follow (like the one above), everyone agrees on the basic facts of what was said and you don’t getting into a “but you said . . .” and “no I didn’t” back-and-forth. For the meeting to exclude such staffers means that there is something else that overrides this interest.

In this case, the Turks had to have demanded that Tillerson not bring anyone with him to this meeting. There’s no way he would have told his staff “I got this – you take a break while I talk with Erdogan” on his own. The question is why, and all the possible answers I can come up after reading the Turkish Foreign Minister’s reply to that last question involve Vladimir Putin wanting Erdogan to pass on some kind of message to Trump — a message that he did not wish to be delivered within earshot of interpreters and notetakers.

It reminds me very much of that May 2017 Oval Office meeting that Trump had with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and outgoing Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. That was the meeting where we later learned that Trump revealed Israeli intelligence to the Russians about their source inside ISIS and told them that he just fired “that nut job” James Comey which took the pressure off of him because of Russia.

Oh, and the US press were kept out of that meeting as well, with the only reports of it coming after the Russians told us about it. As Politico’s Susan Glasser noted about that Oval Office meeting, it came at the specific request of Putin

But like we say in blogland, read the whole thing.

Posted in Politics: International, The Scandals | Leave a comment

Terrific Pie Charts

These pie charts come from the Washington Post Wonkblog. First there’s one symbolizing what US survey respondents said they though would be the ideal distribution of wealth:

But in fact we in the US have this distribution:

Or, if you want to show just how skewed things are, you could represent it like this:

Of course the GOP tax plan being rammed through Congress will just make all this worse.

Myself, I think Herbert Stein’s law applies here (“Trends that can’t continue, won’t.”). Sooner or later there will be a reaction, or more accurately a counter-reaction.  If we are lucky, it will be systemic and electoral and we’ll get a progressive government. If we are less fortunate, and we just get just Third Way types or more gridlock, there’s a risk the counter-reaction will be more revolutionary and more violent. (And I don’t mean that the top .1% will get pie in the face.)

Posted in 99%, Econ & Money | 1 Comment

Powerful

I don’t watch TV news, so I only saw this ad when Digby blogged it.

Powerful stuff. Here’s Wikipedia’s article on Tom Steyer if you want to know more about him.

Posted in The Resistance, The Scandals | Leave a comment

It’s That Bad

You know things are bad when a foreign head of state, even a former one, is mocking you like this:

Then again, we already knew it was that bad.

Posted in Completely Different, Trump | 1 Comment

Steele Dossier Evaluated (Updated)

Just Security, A Second Look at the Steele Dossier—Knowing What We Know Now, offers by far the best evaluation of the notorious Steele Dossier on Trump/Russian connections, possible blackmail, and more) that I have read to date.

The guest  post by a former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service, John Sipher, paints the Steele Dossier as mostly but not utterly reliable:

Although the reports were produced episodically, almost erratically, over a five-month period, they present a coherent narrative of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. As a result, they offer an overarching framework for what might have happened based on individuals on the Russian side who claimed to have insight into Moscow’s goals and operational tactics. Until we have another more credible narrative, we should do all we can to examine closely and confirm or dispute the reports.

Key caveat:

I spent almost thirty years producing what CIA calls “raw reporting” from human agents.  At heart, this is what Orbis did.  They were not producing finished analysis, but were passing on to a client distilled reporting that they had obtained in response to specific questions.  The difference is crucial, for it is the one that American journalists routinely fail to understand.  When disseminating a raw intelligence report, an intelligence agency is not vouching for the accuracy of the information provided by the report’s sources and/or subsources.  Rather it is claiming that it has made strenuous efforts to validate that it is reporting accurately what the sources/subsources claim has happened.  The onus for sorting out the veracity and for putting the reporting in context against other reporting – which may confirm or deny the new report – rests with the intelligence community’s professional analytic cadre.  In the case of the dossier, Orbis was not saying that everything that it reported was accurate, but that it had made a good-faith effort to pass along faithfully what its identified insiders said was accurate.  This is routine in the intelligence business.

That said, however,

As outsiders without the investigative tools available to the FBI, we can only look at the information and determine if it makes sense given subsequent events and the revelation of additional information. Mr. Steele did not have the benefit of knowing Mr. Trump would win the election or how events might play out. In this regard, does any of the information we have learned since June 2016 assign greater or less credibility to the information? Were the people mentioned in the report real? Were their affiliations correct? Did any of the activities reported happen as predicted?

To a large extent, yes.

Read the whole thing.

Update: Uh-oh. Marcy Wheeler, who follows this stuff obsessively closely, does not agree: In The Post-Press Michael Cohen Details in the Steele Dossier she writes, “I’m doing a long response on this unfortunately terrible John Sipher post trying to calm questions about the Steele dossier.” Her comments center on the treatment of allegations relating to Trump associate Michael Cohen; she’s much more skeptical of them than is Sipher. Update3: And follows up with John Sipher’s Garbage Post Arguing the Steele Dossier Isn’t Garbage.

Update2: For yet another take on Michael Cohen’s role as an intermediary to the Russians, see Talking Points Memo, What Happened to the Michael Cohen Ukraine Dossier?.

Posted in The Scandals | Leave a comment

A Debt Ceiling Scenario

I’ve long believed that neither Paul Ryan nor Mitch McConnell were quite nuts enough to fail to extend the debt ceiling. It’s not even mainly that McConnell at least likely understands how terrible it would be for the US to default on its obligations. No, it’s that failing to pass a debt ceiling increase would be political suicide for Republicans. Their major claim (however undeserved) to the public’s trust — that Republicans are the party of fiscal probity — would be exploded for a generation or more.

So I’ve been confident that if push came to shove McConnell runs something through by unanimous consent, or some other means. And I’ve been almost as confident that when Ryan finds he cannot tame the crazies in his own party, he accepts Democratic votes to get a majority. So while the debt ceiling vote is easily the biggest domestic political issue on the near-term horizon, and even today there is no obvious road from there to there (not to mention precious few legislative days when Congress is actually in session), I wasn’t worrying about it all that much.

Indeed, both Sen. McConnell and now Speaker Ryan have promised to get a bill out of Congress.

But now there’s a new wrinkle: suppose Congress passes an eleventh-hour bill and Trump vetoes it?  He hasn’t said he would in so many words, but the signs are there in his fued with McConnell; there may be no geological formation known as Trump Peak, but Trump pique could be a giant crater.

After all, Trump has tweeted that he wants the budget to be tied to funding for the Gran Muralla, and wouldn’t mind a government shutdown if he doesn’t get it.  In terms of really dumb ideas, t’s not that far to the debt ceiling. And Office of Management and Budget director, Mick Mulvaney originally argued that a US default was not such a big deal — although he’s now recanted and said he wants it raised too. 

If there’s a veto, and I think at this point there’s really nothing we can’t put past the guy, we don’t just need a majority in both houses, we need a super-majority — and maybe in a hurry. Are the votes there?

Image by DonkeyHotey, subject to CC BY 2.0 license.

Posted in Econ & Money, Trump | Leave a comment