Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Fiona-Hill-Jonathan-Xu-22-Merionite-News

Fiona Hill

A new book about the Trump Administration was released today, and this one is likely to be much more serious than the many gossipy Trump books that have preceded it. This one is a memoir by Fiona Hill, who served in Trump’s White House as a Russia expert and then testified in the impeachment hearings.

Here’s the New York Times review by Jennifer Szalai: In a Memoir, the Impeachment Witness Fiona Hill Recounts Her Journey From ‘Blighted World’ to White House.

The arresting title of Fiona Hill’s new book, “There Is Nothing for You Here,” is what her father told her when she was growing up in Bishop Auckland, a decaying coal-mining town in North East England. He loved her, and so he insisted that she had to leave.

Hill took his advice to heart — studying Russian and history at St. Andrews in Scotland, sojourning in Moscow, getting a Ph.D. at Harvard and eventually serving in the administrations of three American presidents, most recently as President Trump’s top adviser on Russia and Europe. “I take great pride in the fact that I’m a nonpartisan foreign policy expert,” she said before the House in November 2019, when she delivered her plain-spoken testimony at the hearings for the (first) impeachment of President Trump. But for her, “nonpartisan” doesn’t mean she’s in thrall to bloodless, anodyne ideas totally disconnected from her personal experience. She wrote this book because she was “acutely aware,” she says, “of how my own early life laid the path for everything I did subsequently.”

Sure enough, “There Is Nothing for You Here: Finding Opportunity in the 21st Century” weaves together these two selves, slipping back and forth between the unsentimental memoir reflected in its melancholy title and the wonkish guide promised in its inspirational subtitle. The combination, however unlikely, mostly works — though by the end, the litany of policy prescriptions comes to sound a bit too much like a paper issued by the Brookings Institution, where Hill is currently a fellow. When recounting her life, Hill is a lucid writer, delivering her reminiscences in a vivid and wry style. As much as I wanted more of Hill the memoirist and less of Hill the expert, I began to sense that giving voice to both was the only way she could feel comfortable writing a book about herself.

Looked at from afar, Hill’s story seems like a triumphant tale of striving and accomplishment. Born in 1965, she grew up in a “blighted world.” Her father followed the men in his family into the mines when he was 14; as the industry started to collapse in the 1960s, he found a job as a hospital porter. Hill’s mother worked as a midwife. As late as the 1970s, Hill’s grandparents lived in a subsidized rowhouse without “mod cons,” or modern conveniences, including indoor plumbing. Her grandfather had been pierced by the “windy pick” — the pneumatic drill — and had to wear a brace around his pelvis “to keep his battered insides in” for the rest of his life.

House Intelligence Committee Continues Open Impeachment Hearings

Fiona Hill is worn in at the House Intelligence Committee Open Impeachment Hearings.

Read more about Hill’s early life at the link. Here’s a bit about her experiences in the Trump White House.

Instead of making the usual insider-memoir move of fixating on all the brazenly outrageous behavior — the bizarre comments, the outlandish tweets — Hill notices his insecurities, the soft spots that, she says, made him “exquisitely vulnerable” to manipulation. Yes, she writes, the Kremlin meddled in the 2016 election — but unlike the #Resistance crowd, which insists that such meddling was decisive, Hill is more circumspect, pointing out that Vladimir Putin wasn’t the force that tore the country apart; he was simply exploiting fissures that were already there.

Just as concerning to her was the way that people around Trump would wreak havoc on one another by playing to his “fragile ego” — spreading rumors that their rivals in the administration had said something negative about Trump was often enough to land those rivals on what the president called his “nasty list.” Hill says that watching Trump fulminate made her feel like Alice in Wonderland watching the Queen of Hearts, with her constant shouts of “Off with their heads!” In Hill’s telling, Trump’s norm-breaking was so flagrant and incessant that she compares him, in her matter-of-fact way, to a flasher. “Trump revealed himself,” she writes, “and people just got used to it.”

But neither Trump nor Putin — who was the subject of one of Hill’s previous books — is what she really wants to talk about. What she sees happening in the United States worries her. Economic collapse, structural racism, unrelieved suffering: Even without Trump, she says, none of the country’s enormous problems will go away without enormous efforts to address them. Hill the expert points to heartening examples of benevolent capitalism at work. But Hill the memoirist knows in her bones that the neoliberal approach, left to its own devices, simply won’t do.

I cannot wait to read this book. More articles about it to check out:

Yahoo News: Trump’s fixation was on Putin himself rather than Russia, says fmr. WH adviser.

Raw Story: Trump’s former Russia expert has a message for voters if he runs in 2024

Yahoo News: Fiona Hill says Trump was a national security risk because he was ‘so vulnerable to manipulation based on the fragility of his ego’

Financial Times: There Is Nothing for You Here by Fiona Hill — memoir from Trump White House.

Finally, Newsweek has an excerpt from the book: Donald Trump Called Fiona Hill ‘Darling,’ Thought She Was a Press Secretary.

Mitch-McConnell-Debt-CeilingIn other news, we’re still facing the possible default of the United States leading to a global financial crisis. Jonathan Weisman at The New York Times: As the U.S. Hurtles Toward a Debt Crisis, What Does McConnell Want?

In March 2006, as the government veered dangerously close to a default, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the No. 2 Republican, let the Bush White House know he was two votes short of what he needed to raise the legal limit on federal borrowing.

Andrew H. Card Jr., then the White House chief of staff, began working the phones. He soon found two Democrats willing to break ranks and vote to put the legislation over the top. But Mr. McConnell was holding out for something else entirely, hoping to extract concessions from President George W. Bush as the price for uniting Republicans around lifting the limit.

“I don’t need your damned votes,” he snapped at Mr. Card. He lifted the debt ceiling with Republicans only.

Mr. Card never learned what the Senate leader wanted, but he tells the story for a reason: Mr. McConnell has long used the periodic need to raise the government’s borrowing limit as a moment of leverage to secure a policy win, as have leaders of both parties.

But two weeks before a potentially catastrophic default, Mr. McConnell has yet to reveal what he wants, telling President Biden in a letter on Monday, “We have no list of demands.”

Instead, he appears to want to sow political chaos for Democrats while insulating himself and other Republicans from an issue that has the potential to divide them.

Mr. McConnell has said the government must not be allowed to stop paying its debts; he has also said he will not let any Republicans vote to raise the limit, while moving repeatedly to block Democrats from doing so themselves. Instead, he has prescribed a path forward for Democrats: Use a complicated budget process known as reconciliation to maneuver around a Republican filibuster that he refuses to lift.

Asked what he wanted, that was his answer: “As I have said for two months, I want them do it through reconciliation.”

So what’s the problem then? Why don’t the Democrats just do it through reconciliation? Of course that is another problem, because Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema are standing in the way of the reconciliation bill. And what the hell do they want? A couple of reads on those two:

joe-manchin-arrives-capitolCNN: Manchin breaks with party leaders over strategy on debt ceiling and Biden’s economic package.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin on Monday pushed back on several politically sensitive positions his party leaders are taking at a crucial time for President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda.

The West Virginia Democrat, who holds a pivotal vote in the 50-50 Senate, indicated to CNN that he disagrees with the strategy top Democrats are pursuing in the standoff with Republicans over raising the national debt limit. Manchin said that Democrats “shouldn’t rule out anything,” including a budget process that Democratic leaders have made clear they will not employ.

Speaking to reporters, Manchin also would not commit to the new timeline set by party leaders to find a deal on the social safety net expansion by October 31. And he sounded resistant to calls from progressives and other top Democrats to raise his $1.5 trillion price tag for the package, which many in his party view as too low to achieve key policy objectives.

On Tuesday, however, Manchin did not rule out a $1.9 trillion to $2.2 trillion price tag for the social safety net package, a range Biden has floated privately. “I’m not ruling anything out,” Manchin said when asked by CNN if he would rule out that number.

In a stark warning sign to progressives, Manchin also indicated the package must include a prohibition against using federal funds for most abortions. “The Hyde Amendment is a red line,” he said. Manchin’s stance puts him at odds with progressives, with Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal saying Sunday she would not support a package that included the Hyde Amendment.

Read more at the link.

LLREOPMIHVF7XFYWQ5C5K2JOJIMichelle Goldberg at The New York Times: What’s Wrong With Kyrsten Sinema?

In 2003, Joe Lieberman, at the time one of the worst Democratic senators, traveled to Arizona to campaign for his party’s presidential nomination and was regularly greeted by antiwar demonstrators. “He’s a shame to Democrats,” said the organizer of a protest outside a Tucson hotel, a left-wing social worker named Kyrsten Sinema. “I don’t even know why he’s running. He seems to want to get Republicans voting for him — what kind of strategy is that?”

It was a good question, and one that many people would like to ask Sinema herself these days. People sometimes describe the Arizona senator as a centrist, but that seems the wrong term for someone who’s been working to derail some of the most broadly popular parts of Joe Biden’s agenda, corporate tax increases and reforms to lower prescription drug prices. Instead, she’s just acting as an obstructionist, seeming to bask in the approbation of Republicans who will probably never vote for her.

A “Saturday Night Live” skit this weekend captured her absurdist approach to negotiating the reconciliation bill that contains almost the entirety of Biden’s agenda. “What do I want from this bill?” asked the actress playing Sinema. “I’ll never tell.” It sometimes seems as if what Sinema wants is for people to sit around wondering what Sinema wants.

When Sinema ran for Senate, the former left-wing firebrand reportedly told her advisers that she hoped to be the next John McCain, an independent force willing to buck her own party. Voting against a $15 minimum wage this year, she gave a thumbs down — accompanied by an obnoxious little curtsy — that seemed meant to recall the gesture McCain made when he voted against repealing key measures of the Affordable Care Act in 2017.

But people admired McCain because they felt he embodied a consistent set of values, a straight-talking Captain America kind of patriotism. Despite his iconoclastic image, he was mostly a deeply conservative Republican; as CNN’s Harry Enten points out, on votes where the parties were split, he sided with his party about 90 percent of the time.

Sinema, by contrast, breaks with her fellow Democrats much more often. There hasn’t been a year since she entered Congress, Enten wrote, when she’s voted with her party more than 75 percent of the time. But what really makes her different from McCain is that nobody seems to know what she stands for.

Click the link to read more.

There’s lots more news out there. I’ll post more links in the comments. As always, this is an open thread.


Tuesday Reads: Democratic Debate and Trump’s Troubles

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 2008

Good Morning!!

The latest Democratic debate airs on CNN tonight at 8PM. You can read about what to expect in this piece at Vox.

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but I have to admit that I’m far from enthused about watching it, although I’ll try to give it a chance. I’m sick of the irrelevant candidates like Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tom Steyer; and as for the top three–Biden, Warren, and Sanders–I still believe they are too old for the job.

If we are going to have a septuagenarian president, I would rather have it be Hillary. I guess I have to face the fact that I’ll never be as excited about a candidate as I was about her.

Another issue with tonight’s debate is the Biden campaign’s decision to allow Hunter Biden to participate in an ABC News interview today.

From The Daily Beast: Biden’s Rivals Are Utterly Perplexed at the Timing of Hunter’s Interview.

After months of staying silent amid an avalanche of attacks by President Trump and his team, Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president, made his first public comments in an interview Tuesday morning just about 12 hours before his father takes the debate stage Tuesday night.

Wassily Kandinsky, Autumn in Murnau, 1908

For the majority of the Democrats running for president, and even one notable surrogate to Joe Biden himself, there is a sense of confusion as to why Hunter is choosing now to finally speak up about the extent of his business ties in Ukraine and China.

“I wouldn’t have put Hunter on the air,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a top surrogate for Biden, told The Daily Beast. “I think the more you respond, the more you’re playing into Donald Trump.” [….]

For Team Biden, Hunter’s Biden’s interview, which aired on ABC News’ Good Morning America, was an opportunity to clear the air and turn the attention back to the widespread corruption running rampant in the Trump White House. It also gave the younger Biden a chance to present facts in his own words to counter Trump’s misinformation campaign.

In the interview, he admitted that he had shown “poor judgment” in taking the job with a Ukrainian natural gas company but insisted that he had done nothing unethical.

Does anyone believe that the debate moderators will ignore all this and focus on Donald Trump and his children’s blatant self-dealing? I don’t.

Meanwhile, Trump is burning down the post-WWII world order. That should be the subject of tonight’s debate, not Hunter Biden.

Edward Hopper, October on Cape Cod

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Trump’s Worst Betrayal Yet.

President Trump didn’t make a “mistake” in pulling troops out of northeastern Syria last week, as many have charged. It’s what he has long wanted to do. The mistake was not understanding—and, more to the point, not caring about—the consequences.

Trump’s fateful phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 6, giving him the green light to cross the Syrian border and crush the Kurds without U.S. resistance, did more than any single act has ever done to demolish the post-WWII global order and isolate America from the rest of the world. This, again, has been Trump’s goal since he entered the White House.

Until recently, one or more of his advisers—Jim Mattis, H.R.
McMaster, John Bolton, or Gen. Joseph Dunford—obstructed or dissuaded him from withdrawing. Now all of those advisers are gone, and their replacements lack either the clout or the gumption to push back.

Trump may believe that he’s doing the right thing, that abandoning the rest of the world’s problems will “make America great again.” He doesn’t realize that America’s might and wealth depend, in large measure, on the cooperation it receives from others—either offered or coerced—in pursuing its interests around the world.

He is also blind to the fact—or loath to admit—that he, in fact, is not getting out of the world. On Friday, days after abandoning the Kurdish allies to the Turks (and consequently, all of Syria to Bashar al-Assad and the Russians), Trump announced that he was sending 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia. But to Trump’s mind, there was a big difference in this deployment.
“Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we are doing to help them,” he told reporters. “That’s a first. We appreciate that.”

Georgia O’Kefee, Autumn Leaves, 1924

To Trump, the U.S. military is nothing more than a mercenary force to be rented out to the highest bidder.

It was as if sending American troops abroad doesn’t count as a commitment if taxpayers don’t have to pay for it. It was as if Trump were telling the world that the U.S. military is now a mercenary force. It was a message to any country currently hosting American troops at least in part at our largesse—because, say, previous presidents have considered it in U.S.
interests to keep troops there—that they should start rethinking their options for how to stay secure

Trump has made a practice of abrogating treaties, filching on commitments, and alienating allies, but, more than any single act, the betrayal of the Kurds should tell everyone that—as long as Trump is president and, who knows, perhaps beyond—there is no reason to trust the United States on anything.

I hope you’ll go read the rest at Slate.

From Axios, here’s a quote from deep thinker Trump on abandoning the Kurds:

“Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.” read one of the president’s tweets. “I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

He doesn’t seem at all concerned about getting U.S. troops out of Syria safely or getting our nukes out of Turkey.

Trump even tried to blame the Kurds for the release of Islamic State prisoners. From The Week:

It appears that President Trump was a bit off the mark Monday morning when he tweeted a theory that Kurdish forces were releasing prisoners with ties to the Islamic State in an attempt to get the U.S. to continue fighting alongside them. Trump’s suspicions were likely derived from the fact that the Kurds, longtime U.S. allies in the Middle East, were disappointed in Washington for removing U.S. troops from the region, providing Turkey — which considers Kurdish forces a national security threat — an opening to invade.

Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest I, 1902

U.S. officials have said that prisoners with ISIS ties are being deliberately released, but it’s actually Turkish proxy forces in the Free Syrian Army — a decentralized rebel group that has been linked to extremists groups and was once recruited by the CIA to aid the U.S. in its fight against ISIS — who are behind it, rather than the Kurds, Foreign Policy reports. The Free Syrian Army has also been accused of executing Kurdish prisoners and killing unarmed civilians.

As for the Kurds, one U.S. official said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have not abandoned or released any prisoners with ISIS ties and, in some cases, the SDF has reportedly moved detainees to other facilities further south.

Subsequently, Trump’s theory is not sitting well with U.S. and Kurdish forces. “That has enraged our forces in Syria,” another senior U.S. administration official said. “Kurds are still defending our bases. Incredibly reckless and dishonest thing to say.”

Yesterday, Trump’s former Russia and Ukraine adviser Fiona Hill testified at the Impeachment hearings. Here’s the latest on that.

The Washington Post: Trump’s ex-Russia adviser told impeachment investigators of Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, told impeachment investigators on Monday that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats in order to personally benefit President Trump, according to people familiar with her testimony.

Hill, who served as the senior official for Russia and Europe on the National Security Council, was the latest witness in a fast-moving impeachment inquiry focused on whether the president abused his office by using the promise of military aid and diplomatic support to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.

Henri Rousseau, Eiffel Tower at Sunset, 1910

In a closed-door session that lasted roughly 10 hours, Hill told lawmakers that she confronted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about Giuliani’s activities which, she testified, were not coordinated with the officials responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy, these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of her deposition.

Sondland played a leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to open investigations of the president’s political rivals, text messages obtained and later released by House Democrats show. Three congressional committees are now probing how Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to damage Trump’s candidacy.

Sondland plans to testify on Thursday and the Committees are now talking about questioning John Bolton.

The New York Times: Bolton Objected to Ukraine Pressure Campaign, Calling Giuliani ‘a Hand Grenade.’

The effort to pressure Ukraine for political help provoked a heated confrontation inside the White House last summer that so alarmed John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, that he told an aide to alert White House lawyers, House investigators were told on Monday.

Mr. Bolton got into a tense exchange on July 10 with Gordon D. Sondland, the Trump donor turned ambassador to the European Union, who was working with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to three people who heard the testimony.

Paul Gauguin, Landscape in Arles near the Alyscamps, 1888

The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar with the testimony.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition. (Another person in the room initially said Mr. Bolton referred to Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr. Sondland.)

Read the rest at the NYT.

Finally, The Daily Beast reports that Trump Suspects a Spiteful John Bolton Is Behind Some of the Ukraine Leaks.

In recent weeks, numerous leaks have appeared in the pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other major papers and news outlets detailing the president’s attempts to enlist foreign leaders to help dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and also aid Trump’s quest to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s concluded investigation. And as is his MO, the media-obsessed president has been fixated on not just the identity of the whistleblower behind the internal complaint that brought this scandal to the fore, but also on who, exactly, has been namelessly feeding intel to the press.

In the course of casual conversations with advisers and friends, President Trump has privately raised suspicions that a spiteful John Bolton, his notoriously hawkish former national security adviser, could be one of the sources behind the flood of leaks against him, three people familiar with the comments said. At one point, one of those sources recalled, Trump guessed that Bolton was behind one of the anonymous accounts that listed the former national security adviser as one of the top officials most disturbed by the Ukraine-related efforts of Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who remains at the center of activities that spurred the impeachment inquiry.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.