Why Back-Channel Diplomacy Does Harm.

President Donald John Trump has apparently used back-channel diplomacy on multiple occasions and not just in the case of Ukraine for which he will likely be impeached. Setting aside the issues of impeachment for the moment, the question arises why back-channel, off-book things like those perpetrated by Rudy Giuliani are so dangerous.

The watch-word here is surprise. The official channels are at risk of being blindsided by facts they aren’t prepared for. They may find out that promises were made that either cannot be kept, or that required more care to complete than is possible in the needed time frame. Members of Congress are at risk of supporting bills that are at cross purposes to those of what is the de facto policy being pursued by the administration. Businesses and individuals that trust the policy of the country and invest in foreign markets may find their positions eroded by sudden shifts they couldn’t predict.

But the easiest mistake to make with the most dangerous game that Donald John Trump has played is outright warfare erupting (or existing conflicts made worse) due to miscommunication. An ally expecting a promise to be kept and finding it unkept (this actually happened, for those keeping score), or an adversary expecting a concession that does not come, and suddenly a countermove is interpretted to be unprovoked aggression and the result is destabilization. There is nothing more foolish than a simpleton like Donald John Trump thinking it’s okay to muck about with the well-defined and necessary diplomatic processes.

War is bad enough when necessary, but when you botch your way into one, that’s a stupid and wasteful thing.

Okay, but war is not the most likely scenario. Loss of international respect and trust is much more common. That is likely both for the United States, and also between other nations uninvolved, because there’s a kind of tragedy of the commons nature of trust between nation states. If a big, proud nation like the USA is seen as lacking in trust, other countries tend to trust each other less as well.

There are also major security risks in employing folks to handle policy that are not versed in security and are not following protocols designed to limit security risks. Breaches can make matters all the worse by allowing adversaries to outmaneuver efforts or sow dissent among allies who are hearing different policies roll out simultaneously.


The Republicans should put themselves in Ukraine’s shoes and ask, if Donald John Trump had promised to fill their campaign coffers, and he called them and said, “I’d like you to do me a favor, though,” requesting some fraudulent press statement as a condition of releasing their campaign funds, would they not think it bribery? They would. But they already go along with that, because that’s the situation Republicans are in: the favor is normalizing and covering up for Donald John Trump’s many misdemeanors (and spending money at Trump Organization properties), and the payoff is their reelection prospects (particularly in primaries) are bolstered by his lack of opposition if not his support. They have had their own quid pro quo with Trump this whole time.

And the American people, if their boss at work said, “I have a bonus for you. I’d like you to do me a favor, though.” If their boss asked them to fabricate some paperwork for a bonus? Same thing. Cut the crap, Republicans. What Donald John Trump did is wrong, and the law requires acknowledging that. Who we are as Americans requires us to see it for what it was.

A Lot is Going On for 12 October 2019

The president has pulled troops back in Syria, allowing Turkey to invade and attack the Kurds. Most everyone is opposed to this, and yet the Republicans can only be so critical before they worry it will hurt their next primary. Donald John Trump is unfit to be president, and everyone knows it, but only one party can actually say it and act to do something about it.

But speaking of unfitness, you have the likes of Apple, the NBA, Blizzard Entertainment, and ESPN, all trying to appease China’s authoritarian bullshit. Not with chocolate cake, this time, but with various moves to promote their worldview, either against Hong Kong, against Taiwan, or in favor of an unfounded claim over a body of water they share with about five other countries. The preference for short-sighted profit motives does not surprise, but it does prove to be the losing side of things. The day will come when China inevitably democratizes (whether as a whole or as a set of separate states), and those citizens will remember the failure of these companies and institutions when that day comes. They will not remember them fondly.

One cannot imagine a tale of modern international history being portrayed in Chinese cinema, because they cannot tell the truth. They don’t teach it properly in schools, and they don’t portray it in their media. A society cannot be built upon amnesia. As America continues to reckon with its own past, we should recognize that other nations face that challenge, too, and worse, are far less equipped to face it. That amnesia is exactly what these corporations are supporting, for a buck.

There’s no power for chunks of California while the power company out there tries to decide if it’s safe to turn back on. Rather than do sufficient work to clear fuel on the front end, they’ve decided it’s more efficient to not make money for days at a time and hope that the weather changes. It seems better than having major fires, but one would suspect that clearing the fuel around lines would be the easier and saner way to go.

And that’s not even getting to the ongoing impeachment saga. The president continues to deny that he’s accountable for anything. The White House even sent a letter saying that impeachment was contrary to the law. One wonders, given all the times Donald John Trump has received beautiful letters from Kim Jong Un, why the White House never sends beautiful letters (re: impeachment or otherwise).

New revelations continue to come out about various worries officials have had from other phone calls and incidents. One suspects before it’s all over, Trump will claim Clinton won the election and it’s all her fault for not contesting the vote and taking the job. He already tried to pin the blame for the call on Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.

On the other hand, we’re finally having another Democratic debate this Tuesday (15 October 2019). Will be good to see the gang back together. Will be good to see Senator Bernie Sanders back at it. If the Republicans could find it in their hearts to ever have this kind of sanity in a group running for their nomination, it would be a great blessing for our nation.

If Impeachment, then Trial.

There’s a lot of questions floating around the journals of late about impeachment. The basic flavor, from both the left in fret and the right in hope, is will the Senate shrug? The majority leader has said they will take them up, but then came suggestions of the inevitable motion to dismiss.

The first thing is that you will never see articles move out of the House unless Speaker Pelosi and her colleagues find them damning enough for four or more Republicans to vote with the Democrats against dismissal on at least one of the articles. Perhaps the only way the House moves on articles without that locked down is if the Senate Republicans signal they have given up entirely on their oaths and take to the Mall to fly kites. At that point, the House would vote articles to place an asterisk on this chapter in American history so that future generations will note how craven a party can become under the poison spell of a filthy fool like President Donald John Trump.

To go through preliminaries—which they’ll need to before they can receive a motion to dismiss—and then accede to such a motion would be disastrous. They would have set the stage for a trial, with the public’s understanding already formed, and then said there’s nothing to be done about that understanding. It would speak against the entire purpose of the separation of powers—that, the executive being unable to properly investigate and indict emself, must have eir actions subject to review by a separate branch. If that separate branch cannot bring itself to successfully review executive actions, we have a whole systemic breakdown.

From the timber of the Trump–Ukraine (now –China?) scandal to-date, at least a handful of Republicans should vote against dismissing some of the articles. Such motions are a low bar in all but the most worthless cases, whether civil or criminal. The fact of the coverup using the code-word NSC system, the fact of the attempts by Secretary of State Pompeo to block testimony, the facts of Attorney General Barr and the citizen Giuliani jetting about and phonecalling to dig up dirt, all point to there being enough witnesses and awareness of the wrongdoing to push this into the territory of impeachment. There was something else…. Oh—the call itself, where the President directly asked a foreign government for dirt on a political opponent!

The other reason that the Senate would want to hold a full trial is that they should want the thing put to bed, either way. If they refused to hold a real trial upon the basis of valid and dire articles of impeachment, the House could simply reissue them again and again, to drive home the point much the way that parents waking their children find particularly grating ways. If the Senate dispensed anything approaching real justice, allowing for the case to be presented, and then decided to acquit, at least history would be served, if not justice.

Which brings us to Chief Justice Roberts. He will preside over any presidential impeachment. He represents the third branch, but the main reason for his presence is that a removal of a president automatically elevates the vice president, which means the vice president has a natural conflict. To obviate the conflict, the chief justice presides in his place. And in that role, he is the presiding officer of the body, including the fact that he may break ties on votes requiring a majority. Under Senate precedents, Roberts will offer preliminary rulings on legal questions before the body, subject to reversal or affirmation by a majority of the body. He also reads out the questions posed by senators, in writing.

All of which is to say that the Senate has that extra reason to behave in the midst of an impeachment trial. They will not want to make Roberts look bad. They will not want to cast a bad reflection upon our judiciary.


A reminder: impeachment and removal are there to fix the government. They are not punishment; any criminal behavior can be prosecuted after removal and punished accordingly. The question of removing President Trump boils down to the fact of his abuse of our standing in the world to seek personal benefits, which is a matter that surely harms our national interest and our security particularly.

For now the matter remains in the House, where the inquiry is getting started. It’s unclear how the House will proceed, with some folks on the right calling for it to be formally voted as an inquiry and held inter partes as the Nixon and Clinton inquiries were. If the House Republicans wish that vote so badly, they are free to push a resolution to that end and vote for its adoption (rather than the feckless resolution they’re seeking on Representative Schiff for paraphrasing the readout of the Trump–Zelensky call). Instead, their entire strategy seems to be more about the lack of any defense for the president’s wrongdoing. That said, one expects a vote at some point, and that the president’s counsel will be allowed to participate, if only to ensure the get a close-up view of the grave position this White House is now in.

This Trump–Ukraine Business

There is a myth in the media about impeachment, that it’s some state of being rather than a particular act by the House. It’s not. Impeachment happens when the House approves one or more articles of impeachment against any officer of the executive branch or judicial branch. That’s it. That’s all impeachment is.

Impeachment inquiries are oversight that someone has decided looks like it will probably end in a vote on at least one article of impeachment.

There are no additional powers unlocked by calling oversight an impeachment inquiry. Those who say there are do not know what they are talking about. The House can empower and entrust committees with additional powers or modify their processes, but that has nothing to do with the constitutional power of impeachment and everything to do with the clause that gives the chambers of the legislature control over their own rules.

Now, this business with Trump and Giuliani and a whistleblower (House Intelligence Committee: 26 September 2019: PDF of IC Whistleblower Complaint) and a coverup and seeking dirt on Joe Biden from Ukrainian President Zelenskyy. Is it impeachable conduct, to send your personal attorney under quasi-diplomatic cover to work on getting dirt on a political rival and precondition a phone call with a foreign leader on discussing said dirt, and dangle nearly half a billion dollars and a visit to the White House during that call?

I don’t know. I mean, what is the purpose of government if not to bribe, to conspire to defraud your fellow citizens, to abuse your power? That would be rather boring, wouldn’t it, to have a non-corrupt government that simply did its best to clear away the bullshit in peoples’ lives and let them get on with living? That glowed bright against corruption and stood for justice and democracy? So, yes, obviously it is impeachable. And no, it wouldn’t be boring in the least. It would be a welcome fucking change.

There are those who are afraid the Democrats are moving too fast on impeachment. We’ll see. There are those who worry it will help Trump electorally. Could be, but if we’re going to keep going on with having a country, we have to actually adhere to the law. If the nation decides it yearns for corruption and poison air and all those flavors of hell that so many fought, toiled, and died to stop and avoid, then that’s what it decides. A large number of us will never agree to such regression.

But we’re a country that supposedly cherishes justice, and that means we have to have trust in our executive. We do not have that trust. He has lied at every turn, burned every bridge, and he will be held to account under the law.

So, go ahead and play count-the-votes on your abacus, while the Democrats under Speaker Pelosi try to keep the Republic. They aren’t to impeachment yet. The probability they get there is much higher today than it was a week ago. The new conduct is more damning than anything we’ve seen before.


The charges, as they stand:

  1. President Trump’s administration withheld fund appropriated by Congress from Ukraine to leverage that government to aid Trump’s reelection by gathering or fabricating evidence on a political rival. (He may have also been dangling a White House meeting to further entice President Zelensky.)
  2. President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, repeatedly sought that same goal.
  3. President Trump conducted a telephonic conversation with Ukrainian President Zelensky that had as a precondition the discussion of working on gathering that political fodder.
  4. President Trump’s administration fraudulently employed the classification system to cover up the call.
  5. President Trump’s administration violated the law by not forwarding the whistleblower complaint and by actively and willfully minimizing it in the face of stark evidence.
  6. President Trump’s administration did not employ proper recusal procedures in evaluating criminal complaints that were forwarded to the Department of Justice.

And that’s just for starters. We do not know the extent of the involvement of some figures, including Secretary of State Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr. We do not know the exact nature of Giuliani’s work—who paid for it, and whether any of it was officially sanctioned by the State Department. We also know that Vice President Pence was blocked from attending Zelensky’s inauguration, and the president has insinuated that Pence’s own conversations with Ukrainian officials may be incriminating, but we do not know any details yet.

To be perfectly clear: the ask for targeted prosecution itself, without any promise of payment, is impeachable. But: due to the relationship between the United States and Ukraine, it is impossible to make any such request without it being a de facto quid pro quo—the United States is obviously in a powerful position compared to Ukraine, and Ukraine is reliant on the United States to help protect it. All the more reason that the USA has a duty to such foreign governments and their people to be an honest broker and not add to the woes of corruption and stressors that they have to deal with. The very fact that President Donald John Trump would attempt to take advantage of that country is dirty and corrupt.


The 2020 election takes place in 57 weeks. Keep following the candidates, as we all have a duty to try to pick the best of the lot.

Replace Bad Leaders

There’s an argument that, though Mr. Trump broke the law, he should not be indicted because it would be burdensome on the execution of our laws. And that same argument seems to be making the rounds against impeachment. The argument is that if he merely conspired to cover up personal scandals using illegal means during the campaign, that isn’t bad enough for the House to bring charges and have a trial in the Senate.

But my personal view of the presidency is incompatible with that outlook. There’s an old joke by Jerry Seinfeld (as I recall) about why all the men at a wedding dress the same—that if the groom doesn’t show up, they can just take a step over and continue on. Presidents are replaceable. Though the position does hold a large stock of power, and it has become more powerful over the decades (largely as Congress has avoided hard decisions, preferring to see the nation damaged over risking their seats), it’s supposed to be one of management, not of personality.

In a management role, the goal is to help remove obstacles to the smooth functioning of the organization. Some cities have elected to hire rather than elect a manager in order to see the smooth execution of local laws. CEOs famously get paid megabucks, apparently on the assumption they will smooth the operations of their companies, leading to better revenue.

No company should abide a CEO that lied on eir resume to get the job. The uncertainty to investors, the bad signals it sends to the organization, the company would have to see itself cleansed of the bad blood. And that’s what we’re talking about with corrupt executives in government. They should be tried in order to maintain our government’s integrity. Not lightly, not without due process and thorough investigation, but the public and voters, especially the ones who voted for the accused, deserve it.

The Clinton impeachment trial was warranted by the facts. His removal, according to that Senate, was not. As the charges and investigations into Trump continue, it seems it will be right at some point to ratify articles of impeachment against him and let the Senate hear the case. But we should not fear replacing our president. We do it every four years. We should take pride in the smooth transition of power, in the replaceability of our leaders. We have no kings because we know too well that man is fallible. If one turns sour, we should replace em.