Happy Indigenous Peoples Day, and Other News

I’m sorry I have no information about the photo; I found it on this page. The photo is illustrating a passage on the Lakota Sioux, so maybe the people in the photo are Lakota.

Somebody on social media said that he would observe Columbus Day, thank you very much. Someone responded, What do you do to “observe” Columbus Day? Get lost in a grocery store looking for spices?

On to Stuff to Read — Josh Marshall has a good synopsis of the Trump-Ukraine-Russia entanglement that neatly explains all the nonsense going on right now.

Jackson Diehl points out that all of Trump’s foreign policy initiatives have fallen apart in just over a month — “maximum pressure” on Iran, a treaty with the Taliban, North Korean denuclearization, the victory over ISIS. The exceptions are things that had already fallen apart, such as ousting the government of Venezuela, which Trump screwed up last spring, and peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which never went anywhere.  See also The Demolition of U.S. Diplomacy: Not Since Joe McCarthy Has the State Department Suffered Such a Devastating Blow by William Burns in Foreign Affairs.

Fiona Hill, the former senior director for Russia at the National Security Council, is testifying right now behind closed doors to the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida Man) attempted to crash the party, saying that as a member of the Judiciary Committee he is automatically entitled to be in on anything touching on impeachment. He was ejected. See Charles Pierce, Matt Gaetz Thinks His Audience Is as Big a Box of Rocks as He Is.

The Unraveling

The situation in Syria seems to be unraveling quickly, and I can’t say I understand it all. Here is something just published at WaPo:

Syrian government troops began moving into towns near the Turkish border Sunday night under a deal struck with Syrian Kurds, following a chaotic day that saw the unraveling of the U.S. mission in northeastern Syria.

Hundreds of Islamic State family members escaped a detention camp after Turkish shellfire hit the area, U.S. troops pulled out from another base and Turkish-backed forces consolidated their hold over a vital highway, cutting the main U.S. supply route into Syria.

By the time Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper appeared on Face the Nation to announce that President Trump had ordered the final withdrawal of the 1,000 U.S. troops in northeastern Syria, it was already clear that the U.S. presence had become unsustainable, U.S. officials said.

The announcement by the Syrian Democratic Forces that they had reached an agreement with the Iranian and Russian-backed government of President Bashar al-Assad further undermined the prospect of any continued U.S. presence in the country. The deal brings forces loyal to Assad back into towns and cities that have been under Kurdish control for seven years.

It sounds as if everything that had been accomplished since about 2011 has been undone in a week, thanks to Trump’s cowardice and stupidity.

I understand the remaining U.S. troops had to be withdrawn quickly because they were in real danger from the Turkish assault. Trump, of course, is still making excuses. Last night he was interviewed by whackjob Jean Pirro on Fox News:

The interview, which aired around 9:30 p.m. ET on Fox News, featured the president saying the Kurds — Syria’s defensive fighters — have “some very good people and some very bad people” and “maybe they’ll get somebody else to go in and fight with them… but we want to get out of the endless wars.”

“It’s 7,000 miles away from the United States. I want to protect our borders,” Mr. Trump told Pirro. “We defeated 100% of the ISIS caliphate … we’re not going to stay in these areas forever.”

He added that if Turkey “does something out of line,” he will take action.

“It’s like some people go to lunch. They [Turkey] fight with the Kurds, it’s what [Turkey] does,” he said. “We spend a lot of money on the Kurds… but it’s time for us to go home.”

What he really meant to say was that it’s time to send another 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia, which the Pentagon announced yesterday. Trump is still saying that he “might” slap some sanctions on Turkey if it gets out of line.

Be sure to read 12 Hours. 4 Syrian Hospitals Bombed. One Culprit: Russia. in the New York Times.

The Russian Air Force has repeatedly bombed hospitals in Syria in order to crush the last pockets of resistance to President Bashar al-Assad, according to an investigation by The New York Times.

An analysis of previously unpublished Russian Air Force radio recordings, plane spotter logs and witness accounts allowed The Times to trace bombings of four hospitals in just 12 hours in May and tie Russian pilots to each one.

The 12-hour period beginning on May 5 represents a small slice of the air war in Syria, but it is a microcosm of Russia’s four-year military intervention in Syria’s civil war. A new front in the conflict opened this week, when Turkish forces crossed the border as part of a campaign against a Kurdish-led militia.

Trump the Loser

Trump must have heard he’s losing support of farmers.

This is Trumpspeak for um, this is not going as I planned. Word is that the Chinese have tentatively agreed to buy between $40 billion to $50 billion in U.S. agricultural goods, although exactly when isn’t clear. That’s great, but it’s not going to erase the damage done to the U.S. farm sector.

Basically, Trump is announcing that he’s put out some of his own fire. But there’s nothing in writing yet. According to the Financial Times,

In return for a series of modest concessions, most of which had been offered by President Xi Jinping’s administration in previous negotiating rounds, Donald Trump agreed to suspend another set of tariff increases originally scheduled to take effect on October 15.

The Financial Times article goes on to say that the Chinese believe they have the upper hand, especially now that Trump is only a year away from facing re-election.

Following up yesterday’s post — in addition to all the hits Trump took before noon Friday, later in the day Trump piled up more: One, a federal judge in Texas ruled that the national emergency declaration to build a border wall was unlawful.

Today, a Texas federal court ruled that President Trump’s proclamation of a national emergency along the Southern border violated federal law. The court declared that the president’s proclamation is invalid because it illegally sought to override Congress’s decision to not fund further border wall construction. The court invited the plaintiffs, El Paso County, Texas, and the Border Network for Human Right to propose terms for an injunction that would prevent the government from using funds to build border barriers that Congress specifically refused to authorize.

In addition,  two federal courts blocked implementation of a Trump administration rule that would make it more difficult for immigrants who rely on public assistance to obtain legal status.

Trump Is Having a Bad Day

And it’s not even noon:

This morning a federal appeals court has agreed with a federal district court that Congress must have access to Trump’s financial records, including his tax returns. I believe there’s no where else for Trump to go except to SCOTUS. And I’d be willing to bet money that SCOTUS won’t touch this.

Former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch showed up this morning to testify to the House, in spite of attempts by the State Department, which still employes her, to block her. She is testifying behind closed doors, but she’s testifying. One suspects she is pissed.

Gordon Sondland, the Trump donor and ambassador to the EU who is up to his eyebrows in the Ukraine scandal, also has agreed to testify next week in spite of being ordered not to. One suspects he is cutting his losses.

Trump has yet to tweet about these developments, but he did tweet about the Kurds again. He must be getting hell from a lot of people.

The choice, moron, was not to greenlight a Turkish invasion of Kurdish territory. And what excuses will you have when all those ISIS fighters are set free? Neocon Max Boot is so put out with Trump that he’s defending Barack Obama.

Two scholars of the Middle East, Michael Doran and Michael A. Reynolds, suggested in the Wall Street Journal that the fault was really President Barack Obama’s for aligning with the Kurds in 2016 — despite the success of that strategy and the lack of any realistic alternatives.

See also New revelations about Trump test Pelosi’s narrow impeachment strategy.

In the past 24 hours alone, The Washington Post reported that Trump sought to enlist then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in the fall of 2017 to work with Rudolph W. Giuliani to help stop the prosecution of a Turkish Iranian gold trader represented by the former New York mayor and current Trump lawyer, according to people with knowledge of the request.

The Financial Times reported that Michael Pillsbury, one of Trump’s China advisers, said he had received information on Hunter Biden during a visit to Beijing shortly after Trump called on China to investigate the former vice president’s son. Pillsbury later offered a conflicting account.

And then there were the two Guiliani associates who were arrested trying to leave the country. They’ve been indicted for violating campaign finance laws and also appear to be mixed up in the Ukraine mess.

In solely focusing on Ukraine, Democrats could miss the opportunity to build a stronger case against the president — one that has the potential to sway Senate Republicans who will decide whether to convict Trump if the House votes to impeach.

“We’re basically getting like three new impeachable offenses a day, so it suggests that we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg on what’s happening,” said Daniel Pfeiffer, a former Obama strategist who hosts “Pod Save America” and has been pushing Democrats to expand their probes.

It seems to me that a many things are suddenly unraveling very fast.

Gassing Our Own People II

There are reports that the Turkish assault of Syria has already killed more than 100 Kurdish fighters. The Trump-sanctioned genocide has begun. And, of course, by now we’ve all heard Trump’s excuse for why we don’t owe the Kurds anything:

The Kurds are fighting for their land, just so you understand. They’re fighting for their land and as someone wrote in a very, very powerful article today: They didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy, as an example… but they’re there to help us with their land. And that’s a different thing. And in addition that, we’ve spent tremendous amounts of money on helping the Kurds, in terms of ammunition, in terms of weapons, in terms of money, in terms of pay. With all of that being said, we like the Kurds.

I take it slaughtering Kurds is not something Trump considers to be off limits, as I see he is taking no steps to obliterate the economy of Turkey.

But I was thinking this morning of how we’ve come full circle, and how an attack on the Kurds was used as an excuse to start our endless Middle Eastern wars.

You might remember that in the period before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, right-wing hacks on the cable politics talk shows babbled incessantly that Saddam gassed his own people! G.W. Bush brought it up frequently in his own arguments for the invasion. Saddam gassed his own people! He’s thumbing his nose at the world!

And you might remember that the “his own people” Saddam Hussein gassed were Kurds living in Iraq.

I think a lot of Americans got the impression that the gassing was an ongoing thing, and we had to ride to the rescue. But the gassing had occurred many years earlier, mostly during the Reagan Administration. The gassing of the Kurds began in 1987 and continued into 1989. The worst episode was the massacre at Halabja on 16 March 1988. An estimated 5,000 people, mostly women and children, were killed by poison gas dropped from Iraqi jets.

And the Reagan Administration was just fine with this. In fact, the Reagan Administration fabricated evidence to argue that the gas had been dropped by Iran, not Iraq. Iran was our enemy at the time; Saddam Hussein was considered an ally. I wrote an article about this for Democratic Underground back in 2003.

I got one thing wrong in the DU article; Reagan didn’t veto the The Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988, but his Administration lobbied so hard against it that it failed. The bill, sponsored by senators Claiborne Pell, Jesse Helms, Christopher S. Bond, Wendell H. Ford, Al Gore, Carl Levin, Richard G. Lugar and William Proxmire — almost all Republicans, you might note — would have sanctioned the hell out of Iraq, and Reagan (or whoever was running things in the face of Reagan’s creeping dementia) wasn’t having it. We needed Sadam Hussein on our side, The Reaganites thought. Note that one of those Reaganites was Gen. Colin Powell, who served as National Security Adviser from 1987 to 1989.

Protecting Saddam Hussein was the official policy of the George H.W. Bush Administration as well, until Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait. Some said (under their breath) at the time that Saddam had come to believe the U.S. would sign off on anything he did.

See also tthe original Gassing Our Own People post from The Mahablog archives, June 26, 2006.

And some of you will remember the glorious episode that occurred after the Persian Gulf War, in which President Bush I encouraged the Kurds to rebel against Saddam Hussein and then stood by while Saddam crushed the rebellion, ruthlessly. I believe some of the mass graves found in Iraq after the 2003 invasion — the ones that didn’t date to the Iran-Iraq War or the Persian Gulf War — held the bodies of Kurdish rebels.

In 2003, before the invasion, I remembered Halabja, and I remembered the crushed Kurdish rebellion. The righties who were fired up to to go war had never heard of these things before; they seemed to think the Kurds were still being gassed, and we had to invade quickly to rescue them. And after the invasion, whenever troops found a mass grave of Kurdish rebels, the righties would dance about and yell See? We told you Saddam was evil. But the mass graves were no surprise. The righties were always oblivious to the rest of the story, and wouldn’t listen, and wouldn’t believe us if they did listen.

But it strikes me now that all of the trouble surrounding Iraq going back 20 years resulted from Republican presidents being soft with a ruthless dictator. Appeasing, even. It’s a damn shame the Dems didn’t push that point through the Noise Machine years ago, because not doing so allowed the next generation of soft little Republican fatasses to portray themselves as hardened he-men warriors, even as they call Democrats “weak” and swift-boat any real warriors who dare oppose them.

And nothing seems to change. Well, one thing has sorta changed. A great many prominent Republicans, including many serving in the Senate, are livid about Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds. They still aren’t supporting impeachment, but they are breaking with him regarding Turkey and Syria. Well, sorta. They are calculating this won’t come at a political cost.

 “The litmus test for Trump is the personal politics,” a GOP Senate aide told Power Up of the way their boss views handling differences with the president. “People who want to come out against Access Hollywood, or tweets about the Squad, or impeachment — that is the test. Not policy. So you can break with [Trump] on policy if it’s a position on principle, you just can’t break with him on the little stuff he cares about.”

How pathetic is that?

It should be noted that senators Lindsey Graham and Chris Van Hollen have introduced a bill to impose financial penalties on Turkey’s political and military leaders, including Trump’s buddy President Erdogan, since Mr. Great and Unmatched Wisdom isn’t likely to do anything about it.

The bill introduced on Wednesday, then, aims to compel Turkey to end its airstrikes and ground invasion. Graham’s spokesperson Kevin Bishop told me he’s unsure if there will be other similar efforts pushed in the Senate, but he “expect[s] our bill will have bipartisan, bicameral support.” A Senate Democratic aide, however, told me this was the main effort in that chamber.

Bishop also noted the legislation wasn’t written in conjunction with the White House, but it seems to have the president’s support anyway.

“I do agree on sanctions, but I actually think much tougher than sanctions if he doesn’t do it in as humane a way as possible,” the president told reporters on Wednesday when asked about Graham’s sanctions legislation. Trump doubled down on that position Thursday, tweeting “I say hit Turkey very hard financially & with sanctions if they don’t play by the rules! I am watching closely.”

And if thousands of ISIS fighters escape because the Kurds aren’t able to guard them, that won’t be a problem, says Great and Unmatched.

Asked whether he was concerned about ISIS fighters fleeing Kurdish custody and becoming a threat elsewhere, Trump said during a press conference on Wednesday: “Well they’re going to be escaping to Europe. That’s where they want to go, they want to go back to their homes.”

Whatever.

The Trumps Never Pay Their Debts

So many chickens are coming home to roost on the White House that the Trumps could go into the rotten egg business. Even the Trumps’ sordid history as intractable deadbeats may be finally about to bite them.

For example, the Guardian reported recently that the Trumps owe Scottish courts a bill of tens of thousands of pounds that they have, so far, refused to pay. The bill came from Trump’s 2014 suit to stop a windfarm from being built near his Aberdeenshire golf course. Trump lost the suit in 2015, and per Scottish law he is on the hook to pay for all court expenses. But the Trump organization will not accept the bill because they are disputing the amount.

So the bill is now in the hands of a court-appointed adjudicator. I assume Scotland could eventually seize the property if the Trumps continue to refuse to pay. This may be doing the Trumps a favor, since the Scottish golf resorts lose millions of dollars a year. Recently Scotland also shot down a pitch from Eric Trump to build luxury housing around the Turnberry resort.

The Scotsman reports that local officials like the rolling agricultural fields along the Firth of Clyde coastline more than they like pleasing the son of the United States president. Eric Trump had pitched local authorities on a plan to transform farmland surrounding the resort into villas and golf homes. The development play was an effort to juice revenues at Trump Turnberry, which has lost roughly $40 million since Trump acquired it in 2014.

Turnberry is, of course, the place made infamous when it was revealed the U.S. military was using the resort and its nearby airport for refueling stops — money pouring into Trump pockets, courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. Very likely they’ve made enough on pit stops to pay the Scottish court bill.

But Trump has a long-standing aversion to paying bills even when he clearly owes them.

A USA Today analysis published Thursday uncovered 60 lawsuits by ordinary Americans who say Trump and his businesses failed to pay them for their work.

The list includes plumbers and painters, waiters and bartenders, real estate brokers and even law firms who helped him defend such suits.

The documents reviewed by the newspaper include:

  • More than 200 liens since the 1980s that were filed by contractors and workers who said they were stiffed.
  • Records released by casino regulators in 1990 that show 253 subcontractors on a single project were not paid in full or on time.
  • Twenty-four Fair Labor Act violations by the Trump Plaza casino and Trump Mortgage for failure to pay minimum wage or overtime. The cases were resolved with an agreement to pay back wages.

The deadbeatery now extends to the Trump campaign, which refuses to reimburse cities for security at Trump rallies.

In city after city, across the nation, Trump has failed to pay local officials who provide thousands of dollars’ worth of security assistance to the president’s campaign during his Make America Great Again rallies.

In total, at least 10 cities have complained that the campaign has not reimbursed them for services provided by local police and fire departments, totaling more than $840,000, according to a study by the Center for Public Integrity in June.

Some of these bills go back to 2016, note. The fiscal damage to some local municipalities has been significant.

Trump has scheduled one of his MAGA rallies for tomorrow in Minneapolis. Trump narrowly lost Minnesota in 2016, and according to many accounts he believes he can win the state in 2020. But Mayor Jacob Frey, clearly nobody’s fool, demanded the city be paid $530,000 for security and other costs associated with the rally in advance.

And, of course, the Trump campaign refused and instead went to war with the mayor of Minneapolis.

It’s not as if the Trump campaign can’t pay $530,000. At least, it ought to be able to. Trump and the RNC raised $125 million in third quarter fundraising, which is a presidential fundraising record. Altogether, the various parts of Trump’s campaign efforts have raised more than $308 million in total in 2019, and boast more than $156 million cash on hand. A mere $530,000 shouldn’t break the bank. Yet Trump is going to war against the mayor of Minneapolis, unleashing one of his trademark twitter rage tantrumps and threatening to sue the city for extortion. To which the mayor responded:

One suspects this is a public relations mistake on Trump’s part. Minnesota may be a mostly rural state, but most of the population lives in cities, and winning the state’s electoral votes means winning the cities. And now most news outlets in Minnesota are explaining to citizens that Trump doesn’t pay his bills.

Even better, the white terrorist group Oath Keepers is planning on sending heavily armed thugs to the rally to “protect” it. The city is going to need that security.

As of this writing Trump is, apparently, getting away with the use of the city’s Target Center without paying in advance, which pretty much means he will never pay at all. Although the city owns the Target Center, the contract to host the rally is with the management company, AEG Worldwide, and AEG is honoring the contract. It is possible the city eventually will bill AEG for whatever it will cost to keep Minneapolis safe.

Some businesses in the neighborhood of the Target Center, notably a couple of popular night spots, are honoring the event by pledging to donate their profits for the evening to Planned Parenthood.

Trump’s sycophants are blasting Mayor Frey and badmouthing Minneapolis as fast as they can move their lips, or thumbs, as it were. But again, if the whole point of this rally is winning votes for Trump, wouldn’t it have made a lot more sense to just pay the bleeping $530,000? How is pissing off Minneapolis going to help him win the state? Aaron Ruper writes at Vox that while Minnesota isn’t completely beyond Trump’s reach, most indicators suggest he’s much less popular there than in 2016, and his brand of nasty campaigning really doesn’t work that well in the state.

See also Trump’s 2016 campaign was run on a shoestring. His reelection machine is huge — and armed with consultants. While Trump probably will never pay Minneapolis, he is paying an army of consultants very handsomely. I assume they insist on being paid up front.

Betraying the Kurds (Again), and Other News

This is a real tweet:

If others in the region of great wealth are to protect their own territory, why the bleep are we sending troops to protect Saudi Arabia? And I do like the part about “great and unmatched wisdom.”

Also, what’s with the claim that 100% of the “ISIS Caliphate” are captured? According to the Pentgagon, ISIS actually has made a comeback in Syria and Iraq, thanks to Trump.

What’s going on here? Juan Cole:

Trump likes to play imaginary gangsters, likes to talk tough, likes to praise and kowtow before strongmen. But in the real world he is a milquetoast, letting other countries walk all over the United States. …

…The White House itself is now announcing that Turkey is planning to invade the Kurdish-majority region of northern Syria to establish what Ankara calls a “security zone.” This is actually a plan for a monstrous sort of ethnic cleansing and population displacement, as Reese Erlich reported from Istanbul in a syndicated column carried here by Informed Comment.

Trump clearly has signed off on this plan, apparently afraid to take Erdogan on.

From Axios:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accepted an invitation from President Trump to visit the White House next month, Reuters reports.

Driving the news: Erdogan accepted the invitation during a call with Trump in which the Turkish president expressed dissatisfaction over the U.S military’s apparent failure to implement a safe zone agreement in northeast Syria. Erdogan wants the safe zone to be established to eliminate threats from the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which is supported by the U.S. but considered a terrorist organization by Turkey.

The last time Erdogan visited the U.S., Trump let Erdogan’s bodyguards get away with attacking Kurdish protesters. Fifteen of the bodyguards were indicted, but under pressure from the State Department the indictments were dropped.

An Ivanka Trump tweet thanking Erdogan for attending the grand opening of Trump Towers Istanbul has re-surfaced. And let us not forget that “betraying the Kurds” is a recurring pattern of U.S. foreign policy.

For more background, see Trump’s WTF? Foreign Policy, Syria Edition, from December 2018 in the Mahablog archives.

This announcement has seriously riled Senate Republicans, including Trump’s favorite lapdog Miz Lindsey Graham:

In a rare public break with Trump, Sen. Lindsey Graham criticized the partial pullout on “Fox & Friends,” saying the “impulsive decision by the president has undone all the gains we’ve made, thrown the region into further chaos.” He added, “I hope I’m making myself clear how shortsighted and irresponsible this decision is in my view.”

Graham, a vocal defender of the president and frequent adviser on matters of foreign policy, predicted the administration’s move would ensure a “comeback” of ISIS, force the Kurds to align themselves with Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iran, damage the relationship between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government and Congress, and become “a stain on America’s honor for abandoning the Kurds.”

He also threatened to introduce a Senate resolution opposing the administration’s decision, and accused the White House of being dishonest about the nature of the ISIS threat.

“I don’t know all the details regarding President Trump’s decision in northern Syria,” the South Carolina Republican wrote on Twitter, adding that he was in the process of scheduling a phone call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and warning: “If press reports are accurate, this is a disaster in the making.”

See also these tweets from Brett McGurk, Trump’s former envoy for the fight against the Islamic State.

The SDF refers to the Syria Democratic Forces, which is led by a mostly Kurdish militia. Basically, all these ISIS prisoners Trump brags about are being held mostly by Kurds, and the stable genius just betrayed the Kurds. See also Donald Trump’s Syria Withdrawal Could Help ISIS Stage Mass Prison Breaks, Experts Say.

Trump did acknowledge that “the Kurds fought with us” against Islamic terrorism, but that they “were paid massive amounts of money and equipment to do so.” So, in Trump’s mind, we have no further obligations to them. And we all know that if Erdogan acts as predicted and begins an ethnic cleansing against the Kurds, Trump won’t do a damn thing to stop him.

In other news: For a brief, shining moment it looked as if we’d finally see Trump’s taxes, when a federal judge ordered Trump to give eight years of tax returns to the Manhattan District Attorney. However, almost immediately an appeals court issued a stay pending a review.

Kuridsh fighters in Syria. Posted to Flickr by Kurdishstruggle, https://flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/15318975992

Whistleblower Week Roundup

In case you missed it — Chris Hayes did a great standup routine on Trump’s Ukraine, um, problem.

Greg Sargent wrote that the batch of State Department texts released by House Democrats provided three significant revelations:

First, the texts show that State Department officials, taking direction from the White House, explicitly conditioned a meeting with Trump — which Zelensky badly wanted — on Ukraine helping to rig the next U.S. election on Trump’s behalf, by carrying out the investigations Trump wanted. …

…Second, and importantly, the texts also show that Ukraine understood that the fate of its country’s relations with the United States rested on whether it carried out Trump’s political marching orders to interfere in a U.S. election and investigate Trump’s political opponent. …

…Third, the texts set up a clear line for further inquiry that will likely produce even more damning revelations. They strongly suggest that Trump made hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine directly contingent on that country doing his political bidding.

See Greg Sargent’s column for details.

News stories report that a second whistleblower with direct knowledge of Trump’s interactions with Ukraine has come forward.

Josh Marshall writes about State Department officials coming forward to testify.

Secretary Pompeo threatened a dogged fight against any attempt to depose State Department officials or get documents for the House inquiry. Volker, Yovanovitch, Sondland and others could have used that shield Pompeo threw up around them to refuse or at least delay or negotiate over testifying. That was clearly the intention. But they haven’t. Volker resigned his appointment and quickly testified. Now Sondland, much more of a Trump partisan and apparently much more of a driving force in the extortion scheme, is doing the same.

Yovanovitch, of course, is Marie Yovanovitch, the ambassador to Ukraine who was dismissed by Trump because she wouldn’t go along with his extortion scheme. Yovanovitch will testify to three House committees this Friday, October 11. Gordon D. Sondland is a Trump supporter who became Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, and he was on the “team” of Trump officials, along with Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker, who were pressuring Ukraine President Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.  It seems some people have decided they aren’t going down with the ship.

See also Mounting evidence buttresses claims in whistleblower complaint and Donald Trump’s Ukraine Scandal Has Its Roots in Russia.

Elsewhere — this got little attention, but it pissed me off mightily — CNN reported Trump promised Xi US silence on Hong Kong democracy protests as trade talks stalled.

During a private phone call in June, President Donald Trump promised Chinese President Xi Jinping that the US would remain quiet on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong while trade talks continued, two sources familiar with the call tell CNN.

The remarkable pledge to the Chinese leader is a dramatic departure from decades of US support for human rights in China and shows just how eager Trump is to strike a deal with Beijing as the trade war weighs on the US economy.

This is cowardly and shameful, is what it is. See also A scathing new Pentagon report blames Trump for the return of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Trump is absolutely worthless.

For a fun read, see Mitch McConnell: The Man Who Sold America by Bob Moser at Rolling Stone. Sounds like Mitch is in big trouble.

Trump’s Plan to Save Medicare by Destroying It

I mentioned yesterday that Trump announced a plan to expand Medicare Advantage plans, which I found suspicious. Michael Hiltzik at the Los Angeles Times explains what I suspected — Trump is trying to privatize Medicare.

The main point is that despite his claim to be the protector of Medicare, he’s merely associating himself with Republican proposals that have been aimed at disemboweling the program for years. …

… The victims will be the 60 million seniors who depend on Medicare for their healthcare. Their costs would go up, and their access to benefits shrink.

Step one is to raise reimbursements paid for medical care to be in line with what is paid in the private health insurance market. Yeah, you read that right. “Put another way, if your intention is to bankrupt Medicare, you can hardly find a better way to do so than this,” Hiltzik writes.

Step two is to promote Medicare Advantage plans, which are administered by private companies, over regular Medicare. Medicare Advantage plans are able to offer “extra” goodies like vision benefits and health club memberships, with the trade-off that they limit customers to small networks.

Trump’s executive order provides only broad outlines; it will take a while to work out details. And I don’t believe Trump can make big structural changes to the program without a vote in Congress, so I suspect nothing will happen before the 2020 election.  This is basically about Trump getting something to run on that makes it seem he is doing something about health care. But this needs to be closely watched — and fought against.

Trump’s in a Glass House, Throwing Stones

So today this happened:

President Trump on Thursday publicly called on China to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., in an extraordinary presidential request to a foreign country for help that could benefit him in the 2020 election.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens,” Mr. Trump said Thursday as he left the White House to travel to Florida where he was expected to announce an executive order on Medicare.

I have been saying all along that, fundamentally, Trump is too stupid to understand when he’s out of bounds. There’s really no other explanation for why he keeps stepping on the same cow pie, so to speak, and publicly admitting to it.

(BTW, the executive order on Medicare is about beefing up Medicare Advantage, which probably means taking money out of regular Medicare and giving it to private insurers, because that’s how Trump rolls. This is supposed to be a response to Democrats’ Medicare for All proposal, and of course it is nothing of the sort.

The executive order, originally called “Protecting Medicare from Socialist Destruction,” was renamed “Protecting and Improving Medicare for our Nation’s Seniors” ahead of Mr. Trump’s speech. But administration officials called the renaming a distinction without a difference.

I guess that expanding the socialist progam Medicare makes it even more socialist, which would be why they are only beefing up the less-socialist part that is administered by private companies. This has been another bulletin about “why we can’t have nice things.” Now we return to your regularly scheduled blog.)

Now, why does Trump think China should be investigating the Bidens? This is his beef, expressed during the joint press conference, or whatever it was, with Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky on September 25.

Q    Mr. President, would you like President Zelensky to do more on Joe Biden and investigate (inaudible)?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  No.  I want him to do whatever he can.  This was not his fault; he wasn’t there.  He’s just been here recently.  But whatever he can do in terms of corruption, because the corruption is massive.

Now, when Biden’s son walks away with millions of dollars from Ukraine, and he knows nothing, and they’re paying him millions of dollars, that’s corruption.

When Biden’s son walks out of China with $1.5 billion in a fund — and the biggest funds in the world can’t get money out of China — and he’s there for one quick meeting, and he flies in on Air Force Two, I think that’s a horrible thing.  I think it’s a horrible thing.

According to PolitiFact, this is a claim made in the book Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends by Peter Schweizer. Schweizer is also the author of Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, which PolitiFact says, dryly, it has given poor ratings.

What really happened? It’s hard to know. I found this in the New Yorker:

In 2012, Archer [a family friend] and Hunter talked to Jonathan Li, who ran a Chinese private-equity fund, Bohai Capital, about becoming partners in a new company that would invest Chinese capital—and, potentially, capital from other countries—in companies outside China. In June, 2013, Li, Archer, and other business partners signed a memorandum of understanding to create the fund, which they named BHR Partners, and, in November, they signed contracts related to the deal. Hunter became an unpaid member of BHR’s board but did not take an equity stake in BHR Partners until after his father left the White House.

In December, 2013, Vice-President Biden flew to Beijing to meet with President Xi Jinping. Biden often asked one of his grandchildren to accompany him on his international trips, and he invited Finnegan to come on this one. Hunter told his father that he wanted to join them. According to a Beijing-based BHR representative, Hunter, shortly after arriving in Beijing, on December 4th, helped arrange for Li to shake hands with his father in the lobby of the American delegation’s hotel. Afterward, Hunter and Li had what both parties described as a social meeting. Hunter told me that he didn’t understand why anyone would have been concerned about this. “How do I go to Beijing, halfway around the world, and not see them for a cup of coffee?” he said.

Hunter’s meeting with Li and his relationship with BHR attracted little attention at the time, but some of Biden’s advisers were worried that Hunter, by meeting with a business associate during his father’s visit, would expose the Vice-President to criticism. The former senior White House aide told me that Hunter’s behavior invited questions about whether he “was leveraging access for his benefit, which just wasn’t done in that White House. Optics really mattered, and that seemed to be cutting it pretty close, even if nothing nefarious was going on.”

So, what Hunter did wasn’t what Trump claimed, and it doesn’t seem Joe Biden did anything wrong, although neither was it completely proper. See also Hunter Biden’s Perfectly Legal, Socially Acceptable Corruption by Sarah Chayes in The Atlantic. There is a long-standing pattern of people with connections to high-level U.S. government officials cashing in through various “consulting” or other gigs related somehow to disreputable and corrupt foreign despots. It’s not illegal, as long as currently serving officials are kept out of it. And everything I’ve read says that Joe Biden himself was not part of whatever Hunter was up to.

However, at the same time, we can’t be making high-minded speeches about ending corruption if all kinds of Americans with connections to American leadership are cashing in on the corruption. If this isn’t illegal, maybe it ought to be.

Further, my dears, if we want to talk about people connected to American leadership, what about the Trump kids? It’s like Trump forgets he’s related to these people. Conor Friedersdorf wrote at The Atlantic,

Defenders of Trump on this matter would seem to be conceding that a President Kamala Harris could pressure foreign leaders to investigate Don Jr., Eric, and Ivanka Trump for corrupt business dealings in their respective countries, marshaling the leverage of U.S. foreign policy to secure answers.

The inquiry could extend to anything related, however tangentially, to the official doings and responsibilities of their father, which would plausibly encompass nearly all of the Trump Organization’s actions around the world.

Harris could run the whole operation through a personal attorney chosen for his or her personal and political loyalty, bypassing the procedures and checks against corruption embedded within the federal bureaucracy. And she could do this to the Trump kids even if one of them were running against her for president––indeed, it would not even matter if her motives were obviously venal.

So, Trump supporters: Do you think, as I do, that it would be an abuse of power for President Harris to investigate Don Jr., Eric, and Ivanka in this fashion? Or are you okay with the precedent that Trump is trying to set?

Aaron Rupar wrote at Vox:

To be clear, there’s no doubt that Hunter Biden leveraged his family name into positions he was otherwise unqualified for — like the $50,000-a-month gig on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma that President Donald Trump and his enablers are now desperately trying to spin into a scandal.

But if anyone should sit out trying to exploit the situation it is the Trump children, who would not be as rich or as famous as they are if it weren’t for their father. And yet on Wednesday night, both Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. went on Fox News and tried to exploit it anyway.

The hypocrisy and irony of clips like the one below — pushed by an arm of the Trump campaign despite Eric and Don Jr.’s (broken) promise to stay out of politics so conflicts of interest could be avoided between their father and the family business they now manage on his behalf — is truly staggering:

And here it is:

Kind of takes one’s breath away. Back to Aaron Rupar:

Just hours before the Trumps’ Fox News appearances, Forbes reported that Eric and Don Jr. have sold more than $100 million of the family’s real estate since the January 2017 inauguration — including a $3.2 million deal in the Dominican Republic last year that is “the clearest violation of their father’s pledge to do no new foreign deals while in office.” Foreign money has also poured into the Trump International Hotel, located just blocks from the White House, which the president’s most recent financial disclosure indicated made him $41 million last year alone.

In addition to Ukraine, the Trumps have also accused Hunter Biden of cashing in in China. But as the New York Times detailed in August, a $1.7 billion Trump Organization project in Indonesia received a $500 billion infusion from a state-owned Chinese construction company. And it’s not just Eric and Don Jr.; Ivanka Trump, despite working in the White House, continues to do business in China as well.

Remember Ivanka’s trademarks? This is from May 2018:

China this month awarded Ivanka Trump seven new trademarks across a broad collection of businesses, including books, housewares and cushions.

At around the same time, President Trump vowed to find a way to prevent a major Chinese telecommunications company from going bust, even though the company has a history of violating American limits on doing business with countries like Iran and North Korea.

Coincidence? Well, probably.

The rule seems to be that if a Democrat does it, it’s bad; if a Trump does it, then it’s okay.

DALLAS, TX – SEPTEMBER 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the American Airlines Center on September 14, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. More than 20,000 tickets have been distributed for the event. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)