DKE-19 Strikes Over The Weekend!

Over the weekend, compounding the epidemic of SARS-CoV-2, there was an outbreak of DKE-19. It even struck the New York Times, and I had to deal with a case of it on Twitter.

DKE-19 results in long and convoluted justifications of letting more people get sick and die so that (maybe) the markets will perk up.

It’s the argument that the British government was making last week until they suddenly turned around completely. Read More

What Is The Test For SARS-CoV-2?

As I’m trying to dig out the problems with SARS-CoV-2 testing the United States, it’s become necessary for me to learn a bit about how the test works. I am not an expert in RNA analysis, but this is chemistry, which I do understand. I asked Stephen N. Floor, Assistant Professor in the Department of Cell and Tissue Biology at the University of California, San Francisco, some questions and to check my work. All errors and political content in this post are mine.

I am working from the CDC instructions for the kit and their information for laboratories using the kit. Read More

The White House Coronavirus Task Force

Here are some early thoughts about what the Pence Task Force should do, coming out of my experience in project management.

Determine who is in charge. In Donald Trump’s typical desire to weaken subordinates and watch them fight, he has appointed three people as being in charge of the task force. No work will get done unless they agree who is to be the responsible decision-maker. Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Pharmaceutical Profit Alex Azar, or Ambassador Deborah Birx, MD. Once a leader is determined, all members of the task force must turn back Trump’s meddling on this issue.

As a part of setting up a responsibility structure, leaders must be chosen for subgroups as noted in the following topics. Read More

Follow The Money!

Following the money is difficult and tedious. Each story is detailed, and the stories appear at different times, later overshadowed by the next Trump scandal. In this post, I collect instances of Russian-associated money going into Republican coffers.

There aren’t enough instances to connect into a pattern beyond that theme, although some names occur in more than one example. I hope reporters will see this as a fertile path forward. Foreign money is prohibited in US political campaigns, but there are ways to get around that.

There are probably more – add them in the comments, preferably with a link, if you have them. Read More

Long Read: The 84-Day Hold On Aid To Ukraine

This is an important article. The broad story it tells isn’t new: Donald Trump held back Congressionally appropriated funds for Ukraine, in contravention of law and recommdations by the Departments of Defense and State. What is new is the detail of how that was done, an attempted legal justification, and who was eager to help him.

News reports about the administration now usually give information about the sources the reports are based on. In this case, it was

Interviews with dozens of current and former administration officials, congressional aides and others, previously undisclosed emails and documents, and a close reading of thousands of pages of impeachment testimony[.]

Here’s a short summary. Lots more details in the article. Basically, Trump decided to withhold the money; White House lawyers tried to construct a justification; civil servants and even some of Trump’s appointees tried to talk him out of it; his messenger boys went to the departments to work it out; and, when the whistle was blown, Trump gave it up. All this time, Rudy Giuliani was meeting with Ukrainian officials and others; this was not known to all participants at the time.

Robert Blair, Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor to Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, was a key player along with Mulvaney. Mulvaney brought him along when he moved to the White House. On December 23, he was named Special Representative for International Telecommunications Policy, although he will also continue to serve in his previous role.

On June 19, Blair called Russell T. Vought, the acting head of the Office of Management and Budget, and told him to hold up the aid. Trying to understand the reason for the holdup, Vought’s staff searched the internet and found an article in the Washington Examiner that might have set off the President. In a normal White House, a decision like this would have been made in consultation with experts from the Departments of State, Defense, and Treasury. In fact, State and Defense had already certified sending the funds to Ukraine as appropriate.

The career official in the budget office in charge of the funds was Mark Sandy. He phoned other officials in the budget office and Defense Department to try to understand what was happening. It was not a normal request. He was concerned that it might violate the Impoundment Control Act, which prohibits the President from holding up money Congress has appropriated.

A month later, on July 18, William Taylor, acting Ambassador to Ukraine, and other officials learned about the hold in a meeting. Taylor testified to Congress that he was astonished. On the same day, administration sources called four Congressional staffers and urged that they look into the hold.

A week later, Trump famously telephoned Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelinsky and asked for a favor. Ninety minutes after the call, the budget office sent an email to the Pentagon saying not to spend the money. Ukrainian officials were beginning to get word that something was up.

In late July, Sandy’s authority over the funds was removed and given to his boss, a political appointee. Defense Department officials were becoming impatient. Deadlines were approaching by which portions of the money had to be spent, or it would be lost.

Backed by a memo saying the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the State Department all wanted the aid released, Mr. Bolton made a personal appeal to Mr. Trump on Aug. 16, but was rebuffed.

On Aug. 28, Politico published a story reporting that the assistance to Ukraine had been frozen. After more than two months, the issue, the topic of fiery internal debate, was finally public.

Mr. Bolton’s relationship with the president had been deteriorating for months, and he would leave the White House weeks later, but on this front he had powerful internal allies.

On a sunny, late-August day, Mr. Bolton, Mr. Esper and Mr. Pompeo arrayed themselves around the Resolute desk in the Oval Office to present a united front, the leaders of the president’s national security team seeking to convince him face to face that freeing up the money for Ukraine was the right thing to do.

Through this time, White House lawyers were trying to develop a legal justification for the hold. Then came the whistleblower’s report, at the end of August. Shortly after, the hold was lifted.

Many questions remain unanswered, like who knew about Giuliani’s activities and when they knew; how long the shakedown was in progress before the hold; and how Trump came to his ideas about Ukraine. Once again, it was civil servants who tried to hold firm against inappropriate actions.

In addition to Trump’s corrupt use of government funds to force Zelensky into helping his election campaign, holding up those funds and causing uncertainty in the Ukrainian government benefits Russia.

The specifics in this article will be helpful in making a case that Mulvaney and other officials must be called as witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial.

Cross-Posted to Balloon Juice

North Korea’s Christmas Present

Back in May, I argued that Donald Trump’s tactic toward North Korea would be to pretend he didn’t hear what was happening as long as he could. I call the tactic “LALALALALA I can’t hear you” and tweet that with news that Trump is keeping it going.

It’s a dangerous tactic, and a number of my national security colleagues have been raising concerns about it. Kim Jong Un has set a deadline of the end of the year for…something. He hasn’t said exactly what, but he has been testing missiles, and his officials have been making unfriendly statements. Kim has said that he is not waiting for the end of the year and has a “Christmas present” for Trump.

Trump’s response so far: LALALALALA and a couple of “Rocket man” tweets. He continues to say that his good friend Kim would not violate the “strong deal” they agreed on in Singapore.

The Singapore statement commits neither North Korea nor the United States to any actions. At most, it might be said to be a statement of principles. And it contains the phrase “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” which, to North Korea, means a vague future in which the United States leaves South Korea so that the North feels safe enough to give up its nuclear weapons. Trump and his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, use the phrase to mean that North Korea must give up its nuclear weapons before they will even discuss lifting sanctions.

The phrase has historically been used in its North Korean meaning, so they have the better of that argument.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump has been threatening the South Korean government. In late November, he demanded that South Korea pay five times what it has been for the presence of American troops in that country. In response, South Korea threatened to end intelligence cooperation with the United States and Japan, but backed away from that threat. Although Trump has focused more on his impeachment since then, his demand for more money from South Korea is consistent with his misunderstandings of how alliances work and their benefits to the United States. If he continues to insist on that payment, he will lessen his leverage for negotiating with North Korea.

North Korea has been testing missiles throughout the year. They recently did an engine test that could be for an ICBM that could reach the United States or for a satellite launch. The test was different in a number of ways from earlier tests, but satellite photos of the site don’t contain enough information to fully diagnose it.

All these threads could dovetail in the next few weeks. The negotiations with North Korea are going nowhere, although Special Envoy Stephen Biegun has optimistically suggested he’s ready to meet. North Korea has said that that time has passed. They are getting ready for what they hope will be an impressive weapons test, more likely missile than nuclear.

A further complication has just appeared. China and Russia have drafted a United Nations Security Council resolution that proposes that the Security Council lift sanctions on North Korean exports of seafood and textiles. It also proposes lifting the ban on North Korean workers abroad and would terminate a 2017 requirement that all North Korean workers be repatriated by next week. If the resolution goes to a vote, it will put the US in a difficult position. If the US vetoes, we are the bad guys. If we allow it through, the result is worse than the offer Trump refused at Hanoi.

Trump and Pompeo have shown no sign of movement from the position that North Korea must disarm itself of its nuclear weapons before they will even talk. What Biegun has said so far does not contradict that.

How long can Trump continue with LALALALALA I can’t hear you? We may find out in the next two weeks.

Cross-posted to Balloon Juice

TAKE THE OIL!

Donald Trump has wondered why the United States didn’t take Iraq’s oil to pay for our invasion. He has insisted that the United States must TAKE THE OIL!

The United States didn’t take the oil because pillaging, theft during war, is a war crime (more here). If a practical reason is needed, oil production and pipelines are extremely vulnerable to sabotage and military action. A continuing military presence would be needed to protect the seized oilfields. Trump seems to believe that the oil can be rapidly pumped from the ground and removed. It can’t.

Trump came into office promising to get American troops out of the Middle East. Many people support that goal. We have been in Afghanistan for eighteen years now. It’s not clear that our presence in the region has improved American security, and now our Saudi partners are dragging us into a war in Yemen. Read More

Why Ukraine?

As the corruption of the Trump administration is exposed, I keep two questions in mind: Why Ukraine? and Why energy? The simple answer is that they are where the money is. The more extended answers will be more interesting.

Natural gas seems to be the current focus in energy, but Michael Flynn had a bizarre plan to partner with the Russians to sell nuclear reactors in the Middle East and continues today in Rick Perry’s dealings with Saudi Arabia.

Information on Ukraine seems to be coming together now, although we almost certainly don’t have the final word. And energy plays a part. Read More

The Impeachment Shapes Up

Every day brings new evidence of Donald Trump’s crimes, or his commiting a new one in front of the television cameras. The scene changes rapidly, but the House Democrats are starting to focus on how to impeach Trump.

Although it is not official, the strategy that has been mentioned is to concentrate on Trump’s abuses of power in his attempts to force the President of Ukraine to comply with his desires to absolve Russia of interference in the 2016 election and to manufacture a scandal against the Bidens that would serve the same purpose as Hillary’s emails. The investigation and current depositions are consistent with this strategy. Read More