Archive for June, 2018

Liar’s Poker 2

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

The ink isn’t dry yet on whatever it was that Trump and Kim signed and we are already dealing with WILDLY divergent claims about what happened and why.

Before we start, however, I do want to acknowledge that at least in the short term, this is much better than threatening any kind of conflict. On the other hand the long term costs may be significant.

Let’s start with Trump.

He held a press conference yesterday to celebrate his supposed success. Here are some of lies that he told in the process.

“Chairman Kim and I just signed a joint statement which he reaffirmed his unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula….We signed a very, very comprehensive document.”

Simply not true. Compared to past documents that were signed between NK and the US, this document has been described as “remarkably vague, leaving it open to interpretation and debate”.

Here’s just one example from the Wash Post.

The statement said North Korea (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) committed to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The phrase is not defined and “toward” is rather weak. In the past, North Korea viewed “denuclearization” to mean the United States removing the nuclear umbrella it provides to Japan and South Korea; there is no indication its definition has changed.

Contrast the Trump-Kim statement, for instance, with the Sept. 19, 2005, agreement signed by North Korea, the United States and four regional neighbors, which was much more specific:

“The DPRK committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards. The United States affirmed that it has no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula and has no intention to attack or invade the DPRK with nuclear or conventional weapons.”

“We will stop the war games which will save us a tremendous amount of money. Unless and until we see the future negotiations is not going along like it should. We will be saving a tremendous amount of money. Plus. It is very provocative. … They are tremendously expensive. The amount of money we spend on that is incredible.”

Trump provided no facts to back up his claim. What we know is that SK pays 50% of the non-personnel costs to keep US troops in the region. Since the troops are not leaving, there is no cost savings there. Also this was primarily a training exercise. Since troops will still need to be trained it is unclear how training them some other way will save a lot of money over training them in the same way that we have trained them for decades. If he plans to simply skip the training, then you have to ask the question of how that will affect their readiness to respond in case they are needed.

“In one case, they took billions of dollars during the Clinton regime. Took billions of dollars and nothing happened.”

A big lie.

The Clinton NK deal centered on NK decommissioning a nuclear power plant that could also be used to create weapons grade plutonium. In return the US promised two things. We would supply heavy oil every year to replace the electricity that NK would get from the plant. We would also (as part of a consortium of nations) build NK different reactors that could supply electricity but couldn’t be used to make weapons grade material. This was the deal the George Bush blew up.

The US spent about $50M over the 8 years of the Clinton administration supplying fuel oil. The consortium spent $2.5B on the reactor project before the US withdrew. $2B of that was paid for by SK and Japan.

NONE of that money went to NK. It was spent on power plant contractors and oil producers. Also during that period of time, the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed through regular inspections that NK did put all of the fuel rods from their reactor in cooling ponds and there was no evidence of any other enrichment activities. NK didn’t restart their program until Bush II pulled out of the deal and invaded Iraq.

“On the Iran deal, I think Iran is a different country now. I don’t think they are looking as much to the Mediterranean and so much as Syria like they were with total confidence.”

There is no evidence that Iraq has stopped supporting the insurgent groups that they have been supporting.

“I notice some of the people are saying the president has agreed to meet. He has given up so much. I gave up nothing.”

Presidential summits are usually reserved for the end of a negotiating process and are the reward for getting a deal done. Putting the summit at the front end of the process is a significant concession. Evidence is what NK is claiming was also promised.

“When you look at all of the things we got and when we got our hostages back, I did not pay $1.8 billion in cash like the hostages that came back from Iran which was a disgraceful situation.”

Another big lie which Trump has continued to tell even though it has been widely debunked.

The money ($1.7B) was paid by the Shah to the US for military equipment. Delivery on that equipment was suspended when the Shah was overthrown. But we kept the money. In parallel with the nuclear discussions were negotiations to return some hostages and give them their money back for purchases that we never delivered.

“[Iran was a] terrible deal. … I don’t think a deal could be softer. First of all, we’re not paying $150 billion.”

Another repeated lie.

The US IS NOT paying Iran. As Iran meets the various milestones of their agreement, billions of dollars of IRAN’s MONEY which had been frozen in foreign banks around the globe will become accessible to them. Most of that money was in payment for oil. Our Treasury Department estimates that the amount of money that will eventually flow back to Iran is $55B. Iran’s estimates are even lower than that ($32B).

“His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.”

This is the most frightening thing that Trump has said regarding NK. NK is a gulag state with prison camps, forced labor, torture, and death for anyone who opposes KJU. Celebrating Kim’s regime sets the cause of freedom and democracy back decades.

Trump has already laid a solid foundation for being regarded as the worst president in history. He is now running the risk of going down in history as the Neville Chamberlain of his generation.

Here’s what the NK said they got from the deal.

“it is important to abide by the principle of step-by-step and simultaneous action in achieving peace, stability and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

We’re saying that this is going to be a rapid total and complete de-nuke process.

Rodong Sinmun, official newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party — also claimed that the president pledged to suspend military drills with South Korea, and lift sanctions on the North.

Trump did suspend the military drills. He did not say he would be lifting sanctions. Though this WAS something that China recommended.

The KCNA report, as well as the joint statement after the summit, also mentioned that the president had offered North Korea unspecified security guarantees, which Pyongyang considers an indispensable precondition for nuclear disarmament.

Trump did not mention what security guarantees he had been offered.

Summary

The devil is always in the details and there just aren’t a lot of details. It is much better to be talking versus threatening to lob missiles at each other. This agreement is little more than an agreement to start working on an agreement, yet it is being promoted as a peace plan that will save the world from nuclear war.

The optics of this particular deal are that the meeting itself gave both Trump and Kim something that they wanted. It did little to advance the cause of a real and lasting peace. What is likely is that talks will continue for a LONG period of time. That will also benefit both parties. Kim will be able to pretty much continue what he has been doing without the threat of being overthrown. Trump will continue to live in his fantasy world about how much progress has been made and paint himself as an expert in solving intractable foreign relations problems.

KJU has not demonstrated that he has any interest in changing. Until he does, he is a dangerous person that we should not be treating as a friend. The risk is that KJU is a realist and fantasy rarely survives when confronted with reality.

The long term costs of accepting a NK as legitimate member of the international community without a commitment on their part to human rights reform is chilling. Apparently, a different set of rules applies to countries with nuclear capabilities. That lesson is not lost on the other dictators of the world.

Liar’s Poker

Monday, June 11th, 2018

via GIPHY

Here’s how the old joke goes.

Two liars walk into a bar. The first turns to the other and says, “Isn’t this the place that you always told me about?” The second says, “No”.

Liar’s Poker is a fun card game when you and your pals have tired of all of the other card games that require some math. This one is strictly bluffing. What makes it particularly entertaining is that the only person who can’t see your card is you. So everyone else knows immediately how successful you will end up being in your bluff. That’s how the game starts.

That’s pretty much the situation we have in the NK US summit in Singapore.

Both Trump and KJU are liars of monumental proportion. We don’t know whether that condition is the result of choice or disability, but the result is the same. Neither can be trusted with the neighbor’s cat, much less the fate of the free world.

So what happens when both of them are in the same room?

Liar’s Poker.

In this corner, the guy who distains preparation and thinks that he will have this situation figured out in the first minute. Here’s how the Wash Post described Trump.

Nothing compares to the boundless, unruffled confidence of someone who knows so little about a subject that he cannot even tell that what he is saying is wrong. This is why Trump has always been so successful on the international stage, or if he has not, he has not noticed.

In the other corner, the guy who killed his mentor (who happened to be his uncle) and arranged for his older half-brother to be poisoned when he learned of their plot to overthrow him. When his aunt complained, he poisoned her too. He killed another of his uncle’s supporters with a flame thrower. When people in his cabinet are caught nodding off at his meetings he kills them too. He machine gunned one of them and blew the other up in front of hundreds of onlookers with an anti-aircraft shell. He runs your garden variety dictatorship with corruption, torture, prisons, starvation, indoctrination, and censorship. The American prisoner, Otto Warmbier, whose only crime was attempting to smuggle propaganda posters out of the country; was beaten so frequently and severely that he died shortly after his release from NK because his brain ceased to function.

This is a guy who travels with his own toilet in order to prevent unfriendly countries from gaining intelligence about the state of his health. He also brought along his own bulletproof limo. He brought his own food to protect against poisoning. There were three identical jets in his flight from NK to thwart any assassination attempts. Does this sound like a guy ready to trust that the US is going to uphold their end of a deal?

Why are they meeting?

Trump says it’s to build a relationship with KJU.

Is this really the kind of guy we want a relationship with?

Also seems supremely ironic that we’re making extra effort to build a better relationship with a murderer while we are simultaneously burning down a relationship with our closest ally.

The reason the meeting is happening is that it works for both people.

Both like the optics.

In order to get the meeting, Trump had to agree that KJU was the legitimate head of the NK government and reject any previous calls for regime change. What did we get in return? KJU returned some US prisoners that NK had been illegally detaining and they blew up an old nuclear facility that they no longer were using.

Trump gets to strut on the international stage.

KJU demonstrates to the rest of the world that his nukes make him a player, regardless of his past history of despotism.

What’s worse, KJU has now written the script for every other dictator in the world that has aspirations for mutigenerational rule. Just get yourselves some nukes and you’ll be all set. And guess what, KJU knows just where you might be able to buy some.

I suspect that KJU has realized that the world has changed. These days, you CAN run a repressive dictatorial regime and the world is still willing to trade with you. Authoritarianism seems to be the new normal. KJU wants his share of the wealth that would come from opening up his new markets to the highest bidder.

Also if a deal gets made, it will certainly destabilize the Pacific Rim because it will involve some reduction in US presence there. That is something that Trump has already signaled he would be willing to do.

I suspect that we will get some symbolic agreement to formally end the war on the Korean peninsula. That won’t mean much unless KJU also agrees to dismantle both his nuclear weapons, his huge army, his stocks of biological weapons, and his large artillery guns.

More likely is just an agreement to keep talking. That way KJU doesn’t have to give anything up, but Trump can’t enforce anything either.

Any deal, however, won’t be worth the paper that it is written on.

That’s because it’s Liars Poker. It’s all for show. The winner will only have proven that they are the biggest liar.

At this point, it is a race that is hard to handicap.

Intent

Monday, June 4th, 2018

A great oldie from the Castaways is a good theme for this post.

As a follow-up to my previous post speculating on the effect of dishonest President, here’s a little more speculation on the difference between lying and simply being misinformed.

The difference in a word is intent.

The liar knows that they are lying.

It is also possible to spread lies unintentionally.

Here are a couple of examples of that.

People who are ill informed believe what they are saying is true, but that belief is based on inaccurate information.

People who are delusional believe that what they are saying is true, just like those who are ill informed. The difference is those who are suffering from delusion are unable to discern the difference between fact and fiction. That may be because of some illness or disability that is affecting their capacity to make rational judgments.

The way that you tell the difference between the two is how they react to learning that their previous statement isn’t supported by the facts. The ill-informed person will reconsider their statement based on new facts. The delusional person will continue lie because they are either unable or unwilling to accept the fact that what they are saying is not supported by the facts.

Within this context, let’s examine Trump’s behavior.

We start with the basic fact that he and his administration produce statements that are contradicted by the facts at a volume and rate unprecedented in the history of our country. He also repeats these statements long after the error of those statements has been widely documented. You can choose to argue around the margins of some of these claims but the shear volume of material makes it difficult to avoid the obvious. This administration can’t be trusted to tell the truth.

Here’s a link to discussion by CNN’s Brian Stelter where he goes through the challenge of parsing each of the statements that come from this administration.

While this discussion is interesting, I’m less concerned about how many of the President’s statements are distortions versus how many are lies. This is not a discussion of degree. This is a discussion of intent.

The second point before we go further in this discussion is something that Trump told Leslie Stahl. While this conversation was off the record, Trump has not disputed it. Since he disputes pretty much everything that is either printed or broadcast that he feels is negative, I think it safe to assume that Leslie Stahl quoted him accurately.

President Donald Trump told the veteran journalist Lesley Stahl of the CBS program “60 Minutes” that he bashes the press to “demean” and “discredit” reporters so that the public will not believe “negative stories” about him, Stahl said.

Why this is important is that it speaks to intent. Let’s parse this statement. First he says that his attacks on the trustworthiness of the press are intentional. Second, the attacks are in reaction to reporting that he perceives as negative. Third, he purposefully attempts to erode the trust of the public in those reporters that criticize him and the publications that publish those stories as punishment.

There was nothing in this statement about facts.

There was nothing in this statement about accountability.

“And he said: ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all so that when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.'”

His only purpose is to punish those who write negative stories about him and make it more difficult for those who might consider writing negative stories about him the future.

It is possible that he believes that he is perfect. As a result, any criticism of his actions by definition had to be a malicious lie. If true, that in itself is evidence of a dangerous delusion which we will try to dig into. If not, he just doesn’t like being criticized and has determined that he is going to use the vast power of his office to punish and undermine anyone who criticizes him. That is authoritarianism.

The Phantom Spokesman
The facts in this case are pretty simple. Trump objected to a NYT article regarding the potential rescheduling of a US NK meeting. Specifically he was upset regarding this part of the article.

“a senior White House official told reporters that even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.”

Here’s what he tweeted.

The Failing @nytimes quotes “a senior White House official,” who doesn’t exist, as saying “even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.” WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources.

The problem with all of this is that the “senior White House official” was in fact someone that the White House made available to a pool of reporters to provide background on the quickly changing situation in NK. The meeting, organized by the White House, included 50 reporters in the briefing room and another 200 on the phone.

According to the NYT, the White House was the one who declined to make the name of the person giving the briefing public. They were the ones who provided the term “senior White House official”.

If there was any question of whether this briefing took place, beyond the testimony of all of the journalists who participated, Politifact includes a tweet from a NY Magazine and Huffpost journalist who happened to record the first minute or so of the briefing by accident. Matthew Pottinger is introduced in the audio. He’s the one who provided the briefing. He is the NSC’s senior director for Asian affairs. So it makes sense that he would be someone the White House would trot out to talk about NK.

Trump was clearly wrong.

We don’t know whether he was misinformed, delusional, or malicious. Using our gauge, however, there has been no admission from the White House that Trump was unaware of the briefing and as a result was simply misinformed. That leaves delusional or malicious.

Here’s why those are the only choices. If he only became aware of the briefing AFTER his tweet and then chose NOT to retract that tweet, he has now become malicious. He is taking advantage of the situation to continue his attack on the press even though he KNOWS that it is based on false information.

If he WAS aware of the briefing BEFORE his tweet, then he is certainly being malicious and this is a lie. It is possible that the White House setup this briefing for the purpose of providing another opportunity for Trump to continue his attack on the press. Politifact called this statement Pants on Fire. Their worst rating.

The ONLY OTHER choice is that he is delusional which is also dangerous a possibility.

Revisionist History
When he first fired James Comey, Trump claimed that a memo by the deputy AG criticizing Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation was the reason. That excuse lasted about a day. Then Trump told Russians and later Lester Holt on national TV that he fired Comey because he was unwilling to drop his investigation of Michael Flynn. That claim was supported by Comey in his congressional testimony, his notes, and his book. It was also recently supported by memos that Deputy Director McCabe released.

Yet on May 31st, Trump tweeted.

Not that it matters but I never fired James Comey because of Russia! The Corrupt Mainstream Media loves to keep pushing that narrative, but they know it is not true!

Let’s go through our analysis again.

Could this be a case of being misinformed? Hardly. Trump himself has said on multiple occasions both in public and private that Comey’s Russian investigation figured into his decision to fire Comey. No information from any reliable source has disputed this claim.

That leaves us with malicious or delusional.

If it is malicious, it is the same argument as the previous situation. It is clearly a lie and the liar is simply following a strategy that he has already shared with the public. He will lie to undermine the credibility of the press in the minds of the public.

At the risk of putting a finer point on it, Trump’s own attorney Giuliani has admitted that they are actively engaged in a campaign to undermine the credibility of the Mueller investigation too. As a result, they continue to spread lies about that investigation as well.

Or he is delusional. He simply doesn’t remember what he has said in the past and has convinced himself that whatever has been written in the press about his past statements was a fabrication.

Conclusion
Hopefully you can appreciate the challenge that an untrustworthy executive branch presents to our democracy. If not, here’s a brief summary from my previous post.

We don’t know whether the President is intentional or delusional. What we do know is that he is abusing his power to discredit the press and the justice department. If that is the result of intention, as he suggested to Leslie Stahl, then he is a dangerous man following an authoritarian playbook. If it is delusion that is the result of some early stage dementia, he is also dangerous for different reasons. He really does believe what he is saying because his recollection of past and his grasp of the present is damaged. That makes him unreliable, unstable, and incapable of responsibly doing the job that he was elected to do.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Neither choice is good for democracy. But under normal circumstances, the other branches of government should check an executive who is abusing his power or is suffering from diminished mental capacity.

This has become a dangerous situation because the Republican controlled Congress and the leaders in the Republican party have been unwilling to provide a check on either a malicious or mentally ill President.

We had a similar situation in waning years of Reagan’s second term. You can see in the Iran Contra hearings that he was suffering from early stage Alzheimer’s disease. Even though Democrats had control of the House during both of Reagan’s terms, voters also turned the Senate over the Democrats in the last two years of Reagan’s second term because of concerns over his ability to govern.

What does that mean?
It means that when the President says that the NYT FALSELY reported information that came from a White House briefing, leaders in Congress tell the President privately and publicly that he is wrong and needs to set the record straight for the integrity of the office and the good of the country.

It means that when the President says that he NEVER said that the Russian investigation figured in his decision to fire Comey, that leaders in Congress tell the President privately and publicly that he DID in fact say exactly that in private and in public. As a result it is his responsibility for the good of the country and the integrity of the office to own his past statements rather than claim that they were falsely reported.

What are we going to do?
The only thing that we CAN do is to encourage everyone with a shred of conscience and patriotism to vote for a Democrat this next election cycle. It’s not because of policy or platform. It is also not because I think that Trump should be impeached. It’s because the ONLY way to prevent further damage to the fabric of our democracy is for that democracy to register a vote of no confidence in this president and the Republican Party that supports him. That vote will place control of at least one house of Congress in the hands of Democrats. It doesn’t matter whether or not they have enough votes to pass anything. It only matters that Democrats CAN be trusted to serve as a check on the executive branch until the country has a chance to vote for the next president.

I’ll close with Thomas Friedman who is not a liberal and very much a free marketer.

If I were writing the choice on a ballot, it would read: “Are you in favor of electing a majority of Democrats in the House and/or Senate to put a check on Trump’s power — when his own party demonstrably will not? Or are you in favor of shaking the dice for another two years of unfettered control of the House, the Senate and the White House by a man who wants to ignore Russia’s interference in our election; a man whose first thought every morning is, ‘What’s good for me, and can I get away with it?’; a man who shows no compunction about smearing any person or government institution that stands in his way; and a man who is backed by a party where the only members who’ll call him out are those retiring or dying?”

something more fundamental is at stake: It’s not what we do — it’s who we are, how we talk to one another, what we model to the world, how we respect our institutions and just how warped our society and government can get in only a few years from a president who lies every day, peddles conspiracy theories from the bully pulpit of the White House and dares to call our F.B.I. and Justice Department a “criminal deep state” for doing their job.

In the end, I don’t want to see Trump impeached, unless there is overwhelming evidence. I want to see, and I want the world to see, a majority of Americans vote to curtail his power for the next two years — not to push a specific agenda over his but because they want to protect America, its ideals and institutions, from him — until our next presidential election gives us a chance to end this cancer and to birth a new G.O.P. that promotes the best instincts of conservatives, not the worst, so Americans can again have two decent choices.