Weaponized Carelessness

Foreigners are cynical and Americans are bravely idealistic about everything. Whatever it is, it can be done. It’s negative versus positive. Or, putting it another way, foreigners are realists and American are hopelessly naïve, and dangerous because they are. They’re careless. They think they can do no harm, perhaps because they’re so rich, more or less, which proves they’ve been doing something right. So they are right. And they’re never cynical.

Foreigners find this absurd. They know Americans better than most Americans know Americans, and they really don’t expect much of Americans. They gave up expecting much from us. The Iraqis certainly did. Mustafa Salim is a reporter in the Washington Post’s Baghdad bureau and Louisa Loveluck, the Post’s Baghdad bureau chief over there, talking to the Iraqis and nothing surprises them now:

The 2007 unprovoked killing of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater security contractors is remembered here as one of the most emblematic chapters of America’s ruinous invasion.

Yet the news Wednesday that President Trump has pardoned four U.S. contractors convicted of first-degree murder or manslaughter in Baghdad’s Nisour Square made few headlines in Iraq. Often, it met with fatigue or cynicism, briefly surprising but not unexpected. And for many Iraqis, it seemed only a restatement of their decades-long experience with U.S. power.

“We learned a long time ago that there would be no accountability,” said Ali Hassan, a computer engineer from Baghdad. “I just don’t understand why Trump is bringing this up now.”

Why did he bring this up at all? It just proved American arrogance, their blindness to who they really are:

One of the contractors pardoned Wednesday by Trump, Nicholas Slatten, was serving a life sentence for first-degree murder after being convicted for his role in the killing of 14 unarmed Iraqis in a shooting rampage at a busy intersection. Three others – Paul Slough, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard – were sentenced to between 12 and 15 years on manslaughter charges.

The men initially described the killings as self-defense. Multiple investigations found instead that they were unprovoked. Women and children, some with their hands in the air, were shot as they tried to flee. Among the dead was a young medical student, Ahmed Haithem Ahmed al-Rubiay, and his mother, Mahassin Mohssen Kadhum al-Khazali.

“You know what? I have always known that his murderers would get away with it somehow even after they were prosecuted. The pardon was inevitable,” said a former schoolmate of Rubiay’s. “I don’t trust the Americans to hold their own accountable when the crimes they have committed are against Iraqis. Ahmed’s blood was spilled for nothing; his life was wasted for nothing.”

Is that cynicism or realism? There’s no difference here:

For lawyers seeking accountability for the Nisour Square slayings, the road to prosecution was long and fraught. An early case was thrown out, then reinstated. Slatten, Slough, Liberty and Heard were not prosecuted until 2014, after dozens of Iraqis had flown to the United States to testify. They constituted one of the largest groups of foreign witnesses to testify in an American criminal trial.

One of those eyewitnesses, Haider Ahmed, a former taxi driver who was shot four times in the leg, said Wednesday that his injuries still shape his life. His legs shake, and he cannot stand for long, he said.

“I went to that court because I thought there is a real law there. A law where I could take my rights, regardless of my color or religion,” Ahmed said. “I told the court the truth. I told them how they were just shooting at us randomly.”

“Why did I bother?”

Many are asking that question now:

President Trump doled out clemency to a new group of loyalists on Wednesday, wiping away convictions and sentences as he aggressively employed his power to override courts, juries and prosecutors to apply his own standard of justice for his allies.

One recipient of a pardon was a family member, Charles Kushner, the father of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Two others who were pardoned declined to cooperate with prosecutors in connection with the special counsel’s Russia investigation: Paul Manafort, his 2016 campaign chairman, and Roger J. Stone Jr., his longtime informal adviser and friend.

Why bother having a criminal justice system at all? We’re all Iraqis now:

Of the 65 pardons and commutations that Mr. Trump had granted before Wednesday, 60 have gone to petitioners who had a personal tie to Mr. Trump or who helped his political aims, according to a tabulation by the Harvard Law School professor Jack Goldsmith…

Mr. Trump’s use of his powers to grant clemency to allies and supporters drew criticism even from some Republicans. “This is rotten to the core,” said Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska.

The pardons to Mr. Manafort and Mr. Stone on the same day will be particularly stinging for the former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team.

Yes, that was all for nothing:

Prosecutors believed that if there had been a connection between Russian officials and the Trump campaign that Mr. Manafort or Mr. Stone would have known about it. Mr. Trump later expressed explicit support for Mr. Stone’s refusal to speak with investigators.

Some investigators believed that private discussion of pardons and public statements by Mr. Trump may have compromised their ability to uncover the facts.

Trump said he would pardon these people. They understood that. They’d say nothing. But some of this was just absurd:

Mr. Kushner’s pardon has been one of the most anticipated of the Trump presidency. The father-in-law of the president’s older daughter, Ivanka Trump, Mr. Kushner’s prison sentence was a searing event in his family’s life.

Mr. Kushner, 66, pleaded guilty in 2004 to 16 counts of tax evasion, a single count of retaliating against a federal witness and one of lying to the Federal Election Commission in a case that was also a lurid family drama. He served two years in prison before being released in 2006.

The witness he was accused of retaliating against was his brother-in-law, who along with his wife, Mr. Kushner’s sister, was cooperating with federal officials in a campaign finance investigation into Mr. Kushner.

In his plea agreement, Mr. Kushner acknowledged that he arranged to have a prostitute seduce his brother-in-law in a motel room in New Jersey where video cameras were installed. Mr. Kushner then had the videotape sent to his sister.

The case was prosecuted by then-U. S. Attorney Chris Christie, a longtime Trump friend who went on to become governor of New Jersey. Last year, Mr. Christie said Charles Kushner had committed a “loathsome” and “disgusting” crime.

But he’s Jared’s father. That’s his son-in-law. He gets a special pardon. The others actually performed a service:

The president has long publicly dangled the prospect of pardons for associates caught up in investigations in a way that critics argued amounted to a bid to convince them to keep quiet about any wrongdoing they may have witnessed by Mr. Trump.

Those critics were right. Those critics were naïve. Join the Iraqis. This is how the world works.

That’s obvious now. Politico reports this:

President Donald Trump has once again thrown Washington into chaos, making uneven demands that have left lawmakers baffled and Americans coping with a global pandemic uncertain when they’ll be getting long-promised financial help.

On Tuesday night, Trump blindsided all of Washington – including his own staff – with a series of eleventh-hour demands to amend coronavirus relief and government funding legislation that his own administration had helped carefully craft and supported. Overnight and into Wednesday, senior Republicans, Hill aides and even White House officials scrambled to figure out what Trump actually wanted, just as lawmakers – and Trump – prepare to leave town for the holidays.

There’s no clear answer, though. No one on either side of Pennsylvania Avenue appears to know what Trump’s plan is – or even if there is one.

There isn’t one. He’s an all-American careless person. He just doesn’t care about your comfort or anyone else’s:

House Republicans held a brief conference call Wednesday afternoon, where they received little clarity on the situation. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told Republicans he spoke to Trump, but that the president hasn’t committed to anything yet, according to two people on the call…

The whole episode has frustrated some rank-and-file Republicans, who aired their grievances during the private party call, sources said. Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska complained Trump threw Republicans under the “bus,” while Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina said they need to have members going on TV to set the record straight about the legislation.

No, that last bit, going on television to prove Trump wrong, would only enrage him. But this man is dangerous:

The repercussions of inaction could be dramatic. If lawmakers and White House aides can’t convince the president to sign a funding and Covid relief package by Monday, the government will enter the fourth shutdown of Trump’s presidency. And millions of Americans had been told to expect another round of direct payments from the government shortly, while businesses across the country were expecting more financial assistance.

Yet Trump left town Wednesday afternoon without saying a word about the bill, departing for his South Florida Mar-a-Lago resort, where he plans to stay through the new year.

He could crash the whole economy and ruin the nation. Make him angry just one more time and he will. So, don’t make him angry. But do something behind the scene, to delay disaster a bit:

House Democrats on Wednesday night held a conference call, where they laid out a plan for the next few days that includes an attempt to approve $2,000 direct stimulus checks for Americans via unanimous consent on Thursday. Democrats expect at least one Republican to reject it, which would block the effort.

They are also considering a stopgap spending bill that would fund the government until the next Congress, averting a shutdown.

That will be too late. The newly-homeless and now-broke and nearly-starving will flood the streets, millions of them. But this is at least something.

Balance that against this:

Trump’s main goal, said those close to the president and White House, is to grab attention and send a message to his base that he’s more supportive of Americans than Congress as he plots a run for reelection in 2024. And, in some ways, the strong GOP support for the bill has given Trump little reason to publicly support it. The measure is expected to eventually become law, whether by Trump relenting, Congress overriding a veto or President-elect Joe Biden entering office.

“It sends a signal he wants to help people more,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, even as he added that Trump’s threat on the Covid relief and government funding bill “is not helpful,” saying he hopes the president will sign the bill after making his point.

Trump might do that:

Two people close to the president said the president is unlikely to actually veto the bill and cause a government shutdown because he doesn’t want to delay funding for distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine, which he considers one of his biggest achievements. It wouldn’t be the first time Trump has threatened to veto legislation before signing it: In 2018, Trump approved a $1.3 trillion spending bill, despite saying he was “unhappy” with it.

That could happen again. But he’s very angry and might not approve anything. Let the country collapse. Burn it all down on the way out. And that leaves only this:

If Trump does blow up the bill, Congress’ options include trying to renegotiate the aid package, passing another short-term funding patch, or letting Trump take credit for a government shutdown and clearing the aid package under the Biden administration.

They could also overturn a veto, as long as it’s not a pocket veto, which allows the president to merely stall on signing a bill while Congress adjourns.

But those are worst-case scenarios that leaders had been working feverishly to avoid.

But that’s gets harder by the day:

President Trump made good Wednesday on his repeated threats to veto a $741 billion defense spending bill, setting up what is expected to be the first successful veto override of his presidency during his last weeks in office.

The impending rebuke, coming on the heels of his decisive election loss, threatens to end the White House tenure he promised would be full of “winning” instead in stinging defeat. The near-certainty that both the House and Senate will override Trump’s veto is also a harbinger of a similar fate awaiting the president if he tries to veto a pending bill to fund the government and address the coronavirus crisis, which he hinted this week he might do.

Perhaps his calculated carelessness can be stopped:

The House and Senate each passed the defense bill earlier this month with strong veto-proof majorities, rejecting Trump’s insistence that it be changed to meet his oftentimes shifting demands. Both chambers are expected to sustain the two-thirds majorities needed to override the president’s veto, despite pledges from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other stalwart Trump allies not to cross the president’s wishes.

Few agree with McCarthy and his pals now, because this is nonsense:

In his veto message, Trump complained that the legislation includes “provisions that fail to respect our veterans’ and military’s history” – a seeming reference to instructions that the Defense Department change the names of installations commemorating Confederate leaders. He also scorned the bill as a “‘gift’ to China and Russia,” slammed the bill for restricting his ability to draw down the presence of U.S. troops in certain foreign outposts, and excoriated lawmakers for failing to include an unrelated repeal of a law granting liability protections to technology companies that Trump has accused, without significant evidence, of anti-conservative bias.

That’s quite a list, but the top item is Trump’s objective. Stand up for the Confederate generals and the Confederate flag, for the white man in these trying times, even if that may be moot now:

Congress has until Sunday, Jan. 3, at 11:59 a.m. to override the veto and force the defense bill to become law. If they do nothing, it will expire along with the end of the two-year congressional session at noon that day. The House is planning to reconvene on Monday to hold a veto override vote, while the Senate is expected back in Washington on Tuesday and will hold its veto override vote thereafter.

They should get that done:

The president’s GOP critics dismissed his latest protest as the antics of a leader flailing upon his exit.

“He just wants to break stuff on the way out,” George Conway, a lawyer and adviser to the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, wrote in a tweet shortly after the president issued his veto.

No, it’s more than that:

Trump and his advisers have repeatedly objected to various provisions in the behemoth defense legislation, including its mandate to the Pentagon to rename the 10 military installations bearing titles that honor the Confederacy and the bill’s limitations on reducing troop levels in Germany, South Korea and Afghanistan.

Hey! This is about defending the white race and getting out of NATO and maybe the UN too. And really Google has been mean to him:

Trump’s insistence that the defense bill become a vehicle for a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects companies from bearing legal responsibility for content third parties post on their websites, became a breaking point between the president and congressional Republicans during the final days of negotiations over the legislation. Trump views its repeal as a way to punish social media companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter.

Democrats and Republicans have agreed that Section 230, which was written in 1996, is problematic. But GOP leaders willing to accommodate Trump elsewhere bristled at his threat to hold the entire Defense Department hostage over his war with the Internet giants.

Trump disagrees. They’d prefer he’d disagreed elsewhere. And perhaps we should be meaner to China, but not in this bill – but Trump holds the veto power so there will be chaos for the next few weeks. Trump’s base  wll love that. No one else will. And millions of Americans will face ruin.

How did it come to this? Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt suggest this:

With four weeks left in President Trump’s term, he is at perhaps his most unleashed – and, as events of the past few days have demonstrated, at the most unpredictable point in his presidency.

He remains the most powerful person in the world, yet he is focused on the one area in which he is powerless to get what he wants: a way to avoid leaving office as a loser.

He spends his days flailing for any hope, if not of actually reversing the outcome of the election then at least of building a coherent case that he was robbed of a second term.

When he has emerged from his relative isolation in recent days, it has been to suggest out of the blue that he would try to blow up the bipartisan stimulus package, driving a wedge through his party in the process, and to grant clemency to a raft of allies and supporters, mostly outside the normal Justice Department process. On Wednesday, he vetoed a defense bill backed by most of his party.

It’s almost as if he has perfected the art of calculated carelessness. He had weaponized carelessness:

He is almost entirely disengaged from leading the nation even as Americans are being felled by the coronavirus at record rates. Faced with an aggressive cyberassault almost surely carried out by Russia, his response, to the degree that he has had one, has been to play down the damage and to contradict his own top officials by suggesting that the culprit might actually have been China. He played almost no role in negotiating the stimulus bill that just passed Congress before working to disrupt it at the last minute.

It is not clear that Mr. Trump’s latest behavior is anything other than a temper tantrum, attention seeking or a form of therapy for the man who controls a nuclear arsenal – though one alternative, if charitable, view is that it is strategic groundwork for a grievance-filled run in 2024.

That’s his hook. He’s a rebel. He’ll blow everything up, all of it. Everyone loves a rebel, right? Well, maybe not:

His erratic behavior and detachment from his duties have even some of his most loyal aides and advisers deeply concerned. For the moment, Mr. Trump has told advisers he is willing to stop listening to Sidney Powell, the lawyer who has appealed to him by peddling a conspiracy theory about the election, and people like Patrick Byrne, the former chief executive of Overstock.com, who was present for a wild, nearly five-hour meeting in the Oval Office and then the presidential residence last Friday.

But current advisers have described a daily struggle to keep Mr. Trump from giving in to his impulse to listen to those who are telling him what he wants to hear. And former advisers say the most worrisome issue is the gradual disappearance of the core group of West Wing aides who, often working in unison, consistently could get him to turn away from risky, legally dubious and dangerous ideas.

That is a problem:

Mr. Trump has turned to aides like Peter Navarro, a trade adviser who has been trying to gather evidence of election fraud to bolster his boss’s claims. And he is listening to Republicans who insist that Vice President Mike Pence could help sway the election during the normally routine process of ratifying the election early next month, despite the fact that it is not realistically possible.

Does that even matter now? Trump has tuned in and dropped out:

Mr. Trump has spent his days watching television, calling Republicans in search of advice on how to challenge the electoral outcome and urging them to defend him on television. As always, he turns to Twitter for boosts of support and to vent his anger. He has not gone golfing since the weather has turned colder, and is cloistered in the White House, shuffling from the residence to the Oval Office.

Many Trump advisers hope that his trip to his private club in Palm Beach, Fla., Mar-a-Lago, will give him a change of scenery and a change of perspective. He left on Wednesday and is scheduled to stay through the New Year holiday.

But what if he doesn’t return? Why would he? None of this is his problem. The Iraqis were right about Americans.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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