President Trump surprised some people recently when he announced that the United States would be withdrawing troops from Syria and Afghanistan. President Trump and I come from the Vietnam War generation and understand the mistakes that were made in those years. Good intentions gave way to mission creep. By the end of the Vietnam War, no one knew why we were there. Thousands died and for what? With a considerable amount of bitterness and frustration, we brought our soldiers home. For many years after the fighting in Vietnam ended, the American people continued to fight the aftermath of the war. Was it guilt or remorse, I do not know. It was a painful experience. As an example, it took several years of introspection before the American people finally came to the conclusion that a Vietnam War memorial was in order. President Trump is like many people who grew up during the Vietnam war who promised themselves to never let our politicians get us involved in a stupid foreign war ever again. Both Democratic and Republican politicians got the message. In a rare bipartisan agreement, both sides promised we would never get involved in a foreign war without a clear exit plan. We had learned our lesson or so we thought.
In the last twenty years, both the Republicans and the Democrats succumbed to the old ways. President G. W. Bush may have had good intentions in deploying soldiers in Afghanistan after 9/11 to pursue Osama bin Laden. In 2018 we have soldiers being deployed today who were not born when the initial fighting started. The time for a clear exit plan from Afghanistan has come and past. To the credit of the Obama administration, both President Obama and Vice-President Biden started the ball rolling at bringing our soldiers home. The problem is that the Obama administration screwed up the Iraq exit plan. The administration’s encouragement of the Arab Spring made a mess of the Middle East but in particular, Libya and Syria. With foreign policy disasters in Libya, Syria, and Iraq, the wind-down in Afghanistan was put on hold. We were so close and yet so far away!
What I did find surprising about President Trump’s announcement is that the only people applauding it are Libertarians and Trump supporters. The Syrian war is going to end soon and Bashar_al-Assad is going to run the Syrian government. President Obama’s argument for regime change in Syria is just not going to happen. The only question is what happens to the Kurds when the United States troops leave. I think the Kurds will do just fine. They are a battle-tested fighting force. The United States is not abandoning the Kurds as much as establishing a different relationship with them. There are solid foreign policy reasons why keeping the Kurds strong is in America’s best interest. Politically and militarily both Turkey and Iran have to come to grips with the Kurds. They are not going away and invading them will only embolden them. For the United States, the pullouts in Syria and Afghanistan are overdue. We may not get the pullouts right but if we learned from our mistakes in the Iraq pullout it will probably be close enough to claim success and move on. If our military industrial complex wants to endear itself with the American people, this would be the time to say we can cut our defense budget 5% like the domestic programs. That sounds like a win-win for the American people. We’re all in this together!
A Federal judge ruled that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional and I am not sorry. The Affordable Care Act has always been a bunch of dumb ideas that were poorly implemented. The only way the Affordable Care Act would be a “good first step” at reforming health care is if it provided affordable health care costs for everyone. The Affordable Care Act has always been a great deal for doctors, hospitals, drug companies, and health insurance companies. It was a great deal for those who will never pay enough into the system to cover their health care. For the rest of us who pay for our health care costs, it didn’t provide a path to affordable health care costs. For healthy people buying health insurance in the individual health insurance market, the Affordable Care Act has always been a failure. There has never been a greater condemnation of the Affordable Care Act than healthy people opting out of the health insurance.
The health care industry has always been a hotbed for cronyism. So while those of us who pay for our health care struggle to find a way to pay for the same old insurance at a much higher price, the Affordable Care Act supporters have been doing their touchdown dance with their industry friends. The trouble with the Affordable Care Act is that you eventually run out of other people’s money and the only path forward is to focus on health care costs. The party is over!
Am I the only person who thinks it strange that Saudi Arabia purportedly assassinated Khashoggi in their consulate? Both North Korea and Russia assassinated citizens they did not like in foreign countries but they were not foolish enough to do it in their consulate. It is called plausible deniability. The assassinations by North Korea and Russian sent a clear message to potential enemies of the government that they will never be safe. What message does an assassination at a consulate say? If Mr. Khashoggi has done something that violated Saudi laws, why not have someone in the consulate arrest him and put him on a plane back to Saudi Arabia for a trial? In Saudi Arabia, they could legally interrogate and condemn him to death. Killing him in a consulate makes no sense.
When I read the article, Don’t blame the FBI — Hillary Clinton was never going to be charged, I was left with the feeling that the FBI suffers from a multiple personality disorder. For Mrs. Clinton’s investigation, the author argues that the FBI was apolitical, pragmatic, and risk-averse. Literally, at the same time, the FBI was doing their Dr. Jekyll imitation for Mrs. Clinton’s investigation, they went batshit crazy trying to sabotage the Trump administration. There had to be some sane people in the FBI who knew there were political consequences for the FISA abuses, the dossier, and the leaks. The Mr. Hyde version of the FBI did not care about ethics, legality, or the damage they did to the FBI’s reputation. Good luck, Mr. Sessions, fixing this problem!
In a response to the post, Should We Upgrade Our Assessment of Obama’s Economic Record?, I wrote:
I think the Obama economy was a non-traditional economy so evaluating it using traditional quantitative measures will be quite difficult. I suspect some economists would go so far as to describe the Obama economy as a “grand experiment”. Let me highlight some of the non-traditional aspects of this economy that separate it from past traditional economies.
- The combination of zero interest rates and quantitative easing is not something we have done before. Other countries tried this and got hyperinflation. This was America’s first time with this “experiment” and we got low inflation. This tactic was extremely risky. We got lucky!
- For the last eighteen years, American companies have consistently reported better earnings with almost no growth in sales. An underlying theme for this earnings growth was various financial engineering schemes. Instead of investing in capital equipment or employees, we invested in stock buybacks. There is nothing like zero interest rates to encourage stock buybacks and prop up the stock price. Traditionally American companies earnings grew because of productivity growth and great products.
- Another interesting divergence with tradition was the sector driving GDP growth. In the Obama economy, it was the growth of health care and almost no growth of traditional areas, such as home building and retail. For a consumer-driven economy like the United States, this is probably a bad omen for economic growth.
So we had a non-traditional economy, what difference does it make? The policies in the first two years saddled America with a lot of debt and slow economic growth. The solution to this problem is faster economic growth. So why did the Obama administration fail to enact policies that unleashed the animal spirits of the economy? They had six years to figure this out. As James Carville once said its “the economy, stupid“. The Trump administration figured this out in less than two years. It won’t take too many quarters of over 3% GDP growth to come to the conclusion that the “grand experiment” was a policy failure that fortunately we can overcome. The good news is that the “grand experiment” is over and we can go back to being America again. The question that goes to the heart of the question on Obama’s economic record is, am I better off than eight years ago? Am I better off than two years ago? Yes, I am. Real economic growth with low inflation solves a lot of problems.
A couple of weeks ago I was reading a question on Skeptics, Was Paul Manafort exonerated for the crimes he’s now charged with? So while the accepted answers attempted to wrangle out a legal definition for “exoneration” when there has been no trial, I found it puzzling no one noticed that the instructions given to a jury use the words “Guilty Beyond A Reasonable Doubt”. The problem with the word, exoneration, is best understood by looking for the word, exoneration, in the following tweet. If the jury gives a “Not Guilty” verdict because they thought he was “probably guilty”, does that mean Mr. Manafort is exonerated? I don’t think so. It means that they found him “Not Guilty”. Exoneration is a term best left to the TV pundits to define.
The biggest obstacle to Medicare For All is figuring out what price you are going to pay the doctors, hospitals, and drug companies. Currently, the price being paid by Medicare is higher than Medicaid but much lower than private insurance. So if the pricing formula remains unchanged under Medicare For All plan then the doctors, hospitals, and drug companies will take a pay cut. You should expect the healthcare industry will do everything in their power to avoid this situation.
As an example, Ohio voters defeated Issue 2, Drug Price Relief Act, last November. This ballot initiative would have required the state to pay a price for prescription drugs that was not higher than the lowest price that the United States Department of Veterans Affairs pays for them. Even though these costs are a relatively minor component of Ohio’s overall health care costs, the healthcare industry fought tooth and nail to defeat this bill. If we cannot pass a relatively small ballot initiative to control health care costs, what chance do we have with a drastic overhaul like #MedicareForAll?
The only thing more surprising than Mr. Strzok acting like a teenager is the people who enabled him. Mr. Comey or Mr. McCabe should have reminded him that the degree of bias exhibited by him would make it difficult if not impossible for a jury trial to convict anyone. When we hold Mr. Strzok’s actions to this higher standard, we can see that his actions crossed the line from stupid to criminal. If it takes an Inspector General’s report to remind everyone that FBI policies were deliberately ignored, we can safely assume that there were no adults in the room when the senior management of the FBI met. The most serious threat to the country in 2016 was Mr. Strzok’s abuse of prosecutorial power. This was a knife to the heart of our judicial system. Mr. Strzok’s investigation did not find any Russian collusion but it surely destroyed the integrity and reputation of the FBI. The Russians are giddy. They did not have to pay Mr. Strzok a penny for him to do their bidding.
What are we to do if those chasing the devils decide to chase after us!
—Sir Thomas More
@BrittHume called the transcript an interesting read. I hate to give legal advice to Mueller’s elite team of attorneys but pissing off the judge in charge of your case is a dumb plan. Evidently, Judge Ellis holds the provisions of the Special Counsel to a much higher standard than the standards used to get indictments in the “drug area”. Like Trey Gowdy, he probably hoped that the Mueller team would go out of their way to make this case about following the law and not giving “a whit about politics“. That is the essence of the Special Counsel regulations and why the Special Counsel is an improvement over the Independent Counsel. For a high profile, highly politicized case like this, it was incredibly important that the Mueller team follow the law precisely so that there would be no doubt in the public eye that justice was blind to the politics. Both Judge Ellis and the Mueller team acknowledge that this case was an attempt to coerce justice out of nothing. Where they differ is that the Mueller team is repeating the worst aspects of the Independent Counsel rules and hoping they can get away with it.
Some Interesting Points Judge Ellis Made
1. Why did the prosecutors present a redacted version of the August 2 memo to the Judge?
Judge Ellis made it plain that he handled cases containing classified information(CIPA) before. He found it disrespectful that the prosecutors determined that the redacted information was not relevant to this case and did not seek out his opinion. This would have been a minor point except that the Department of Justice has been accused of stonewalling Congressional inquiries. I do not know if this influenced his questions but I think he made it perfectly clear that stonewalling the judge in charge of your case is just plain stupid.
2. Does the Special Counsel have unfettered power?
This question came from the expanded scope of the investigation. Judge Ellis was concerned that although the original scope was written by lawyers it was “not intended to be judicially enforceable”. Judge Ellis questioned whether the Special Counsel has authority to make the scope of the investigation whatever he or she wants. He said:
What we don’t want in this country is we don’t want anyone with unfettered power. We don’t want federal judges with unfettered power. We don’t want elected officials with unfettered power. We don’t want anybody, including the president of the United States, nobody to have unfettered power. So it’s unlikely you’re going to persuade me that the special prosecutor has unlimited powers to do anything he or she wants.
3. Why is the Manafort case being prosecuted by the Special Counsel?
Manafort’s attorneys made the point that this case did not arise from the Mueller investigation. This case predates the Mueller investigation. Manafort’s attorneys argue that Mueller’s investigation of the alleged crime by Mr. Manafort in 2007 was illegal because it violated the “narrow jurisdiction on the special counsel”. This is an example of the unfettered power that the Special Counsel regulations were designed to prevent. If Mueller’s investigation was illegal then prosecuting this case becomes difficult if not impossible. Judge Ellis asks,
Let’s assume for a moment your argument that this delegation is in some way illegal. Why isn’t the right result simply to give to the Eastern District of Virginia’s U.S. Attorney’s Office — give it back to them and let them prosecute this indictment? Why isn’t that the right result?
MR. DOWNING: Well, the right result may be for the Department of Justice to finish the investigation they had started and make a determination as to whether or not to charge Mr. Manafort. But if, in fact, this order is defective, then Mr. Mueller did not have the authority of the U.S. Attorney to conduct a grand jury investigation, to get search warrants, or to return and sign an indictment.
Like many other IT guys and gals, I was never sold on the original explanation of the DNC hack. There were so many loose ends.
- Why did the Russians hack the DNC servers? All of the embarrassing Clinton emails came from the Podesta emails that were acquired prior to the DNC Hack. It was the Podesta emails the Russians were using to taunt Trump and Clinton surrogates in London in May 2016. Yet most people think Ms. Wasserman Schultz was fired because of the DNC Hack. The DNC had plenty of reasons to fire Ms. Wasserman Schultz. The two biggest reasons were the way the DNC treated the Sanders campaign and the proportion of donations collected by the DNC given to the Clinton campaign. Obviously, the bad relations between the DNC and the Sanders campaign had nothing to do with the Russians. If the Russians hacked the servers, why disclose the hack via Wikileaks so quickly? It was so out of character! It is almost as if the Russians hacked the DNC servers as a favor to the DNC.
- What was Crowdstrike doing during the DNC Hack? In a previous post, I remarked that Crowdstrike’s actions reminded me of a Lifelock commercial. I said, “If Crowdstrike knew the DNC was hacked in 2015 and information was transmitted back to Russia, why did they install a security monitor in May 2016? Why did they wait until June to actually fix the problem?”
If the DNC proceeds with the lawsuit there are two things I would like to find out.
1. Was Either Crowdstrike Or Fusion GPS One Of The Private Contractors Who Ran Unsupervised FISA-702 Queries In Early 2016?
The rumor is that Fusion GPS was the private contractor who ran unsupervised FISA-702 queries that resulted in the first FISA abuse of 2016. As I said in a previous post:
By April 18, 2016, the FBI they knew that their FISA-702 “Queries” irregularities had triggered a full Compliance Audit by the NSA. This would lead NSA to admit a non-compliance issue to the FISA court on October 26, 2016.
Most of the FISA-702 “Queries” irregularities occurred before April 2016. This was a really big FISA abuse that happened just days before the DNC Hack. I think the FBI and the private contractor took the risk because they did not think they would get caught. This would explain the arrogance that was displayed later in 2016 when the FISA court would be further abused with the Trump dossier. Considering the abuse the FISA court has taken, I wonder if they would be willing to disclose the name of the contractor if that contractor was found to be collecting information that could be used against political opponents.
- Did the private contractor have a relationship with the Democratic party?
- Was this unsupervised access to raw FISA data used to spy on political opponents?
- Was this unsupervised access to raw FISA data used to spy on the Sanders campaign or the DNC?
- Were they looking for previously unknown classified or top secret Clinton emails from her server that were not part of the emails she turned over?
2. What Was Crowdstrike Doing In May 2016?
This is a question that near and dear to old IT guys. In my world, if our systems are hacked on April 29th them my job is to have them fixed by April 30th. The idea that Crowdstrike did not fix the problem until June 10th is shocking. Obviously, this was a lousy plan. Why let your systems be hacked for over 30 days? What did they learn that was so important?