Tuesday Reads: The Kremlin Asset In the White House
Posted: December 19, 2017 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics
Tibor Kercz’s photo of an undignified owl was the overall winner
The photo above and the others in this post are from the 2017 Comedy Wildlife Awards. See all of the winners at the BBC.
This morning, I’m feeling so disgusted with our loathsome “president” that I can barely bring myself to read the news or turn on the TV. Will we ever be rid of this egotistical monster?
Yesterday former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper came right out and called Trump a Kremlin asset on national TV and almost no one is talking about it. Clapper was discussed the recent friendly phone calls between Trump and Vladimir Putin. Kevin Liptak reports at CNN:
“I think this past weekend is illustrative of what a great case officer Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset, and that’s what he’s doing with the President,” said James Clapper, the director of national intelligence under President Barack Obama, on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”
“You have to remember Putin’s background. He’s a KGB officer. That’s what they do. They recruit assets,” Clapper added. “And I think some of that experience and instincts of Putin has come into play here in his managing of a pretty important account for him.”
In response to a question, Clapper maintained that he was “speaking figuratively,” but it was obvious he meant what he was saying. Please watch the video and tell me Clapper wasn’t actually speaking literally.
Former NSA analyst John Schindler seems to agree with me: Jim Clapper Just Nuked the Trump Presidency.
Clapper, a retired Air Force three-star general, is widely respected in national security circles, across partisan lines, as a guy who knows his stuff and focuses on the job. Naturally, he’s exceptionally discreet as well.
That changed yesterday, when Clapper went on CNN to drop an unimaginably large bombshell on President Donald Trump. Since the inauguration in January, Clapper has made a few critical comments regarding the president and his strange ties to Moscow, but these have been largely anodyne. Clapper began showing his hand in September, with a comment that the IC assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election raised questions about why Trump was in the White House: it “cast doubt on the legitimacy of his victory in the election,” he stated.
Andrea Zampatti won the Land category with a photograph of a dormouse
At the end of October, in an interview with Politico, Clapper added more about Kremlin interference in the 2016 election: “The Russians have succeeded, I believe, beyond their wildest expectations.” Clapper dismissed President Trump’s repeated attacks on the investigation of his Moscow links as “fake news” with a warning that the Russians “have been emboldened and they will continue to do this.”
On Clapper’s claim that he was speaking figuratively, Schindler writes:
When pressed about what exactly he was saying, Clapper explained that he meant his words “figuratively,” but that barely mitigates the shock value of what he said. To be perfectly clear: America’s most experienced spy boss publicly termed our president an asset—that is, a witting agent—of the Kremlin who is being controlled by Vladimir Putin. Even if meant only “figuratively,” this is the most jaw-dropping statement ever uttered about any American president by any serious commentator.
Besides, there’s not much difference between literally and figuratively when we’re talking about the inhabitant of the Oval Office. If the American president is being controlled or unduly influenced by a country that’s hostile to us, that’s a big deal….
It needs to be stated that Jim Clapper’s words, while shocking to the public, are utterly uncontroversial in American intelligence circles (or with our spy partners worldwide, for that matter). In our Intelligence Community, it’s widely understood that Donald Trump possesses longstanding ties to the Kremlin which are at best suspect and at worst reflective of an unsettling degree of Russian influence over our commander-in-chief.
Click on the link above to read the rest at The Observer.
Daisy Gilardini photographed a polar bear clinging on to its mother
Trump even bragged about his most recent call with Putin during his “national security strategy” speech yesterday. That was the apparent highlight of the speech for Trump, since he doesn’t seem to have read (or even agree with) the 55-page document the speech was supposed to be based on. Peter Beinart at The Atlantic:
If you oppose Donald Trump’s new National Security Strategy, take heart. Apparently, he does too.
Fifteen minutes into his speech unveiling the strategy on Tuesday, Trump butchered it in a revealing way. In its fourth paragraph, the strategy declares that the Trump administration will pursue a “strategy of principled realism.” But Trump mangled the phrase, declaring instead that, “Our new strategy is based on a principle, realism.”
Although likely unintentional, Trump’s goof was telling. “Principled realism” probably appeals to Trump’s establishment-minded foreign-policy advisers because it adds a moral patina to America First. That ethical gloss is necessary because one of the National Security Strategy’s main themes is that Trump—unlike his predecessors—recognizes that the United States faces a new era of great-power rivalry with Russia and China. It paints this looming competition in intensely moralistic terms. America’s battles with China and Russia, the strategy announces, are “contests between those who value human dignity and freedom and those who oppress individuals and enforce uniformity.” Thus the importance of the adjective “principled.” It suggests that Trump’s sovereignty-obsessed nationalism—unlike the versions peddled by Moscow and Beijing—aims to create not simply a richer America, but a freer world.
This depiction of a globe divided along ideological lines—between white-hatted American democrats and black-hatted Russian and Chinese authoritarians—sounds more like John McCain, Mitt Romney, or Marco Rubio than Donald Trump. Which may be why Trump largely abandoned it in his speech.
Click the link to read all about it.
Politicus USA: White House Blatantly Admits Trump Probably Didn’t Read His Own National Security Strategy.
George Cathcart was highly commended for his photo entitled WTF
In a stunning but not all that surprising admission on Monday, a White House official said that he wasn’t sure if Donald Trump has read the administration’s new national security strategy.
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Trump national security spokesman Michael Anton said he “can’t say” whether the commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military has read the 55-page document, which was released Monday.
After Blitzer asked whether Trump himself “read the entire strategy document,” Cohen said:
The president has been involved in the drafting of it from the beginning, has been presented with sections of it over the past many months and was briefed on the final document several weeks ago. The president himself personally led the presentation of the document to his Cabinet only about a week ago. … I can’t say that he’s read every line and every word. He’s certainly had the document, the entire, throughout the process and has been briefed on it. And remember, this document specifically is based on his words, it’s based on his campaign speeches and his major speeches this year. So this document is a summation of everything he’s been talking about for at least the past two years and really much longer.
The “president” is a complete joke, and everyone knows it. The Republicans in Congress are even using his ignorance and corruption to pass the worst tax cut bill in the history of our dying country. I think they’re doing it because they know they’re going to lose their seats soon, and they want to pillage as much loot as they can for their upcoming retirements. Supposedly the House will vote on the bill today and it may get to the “president’s” desk before the weekend.
Dylan Matthews at Vox: The Republican tax bill got worse: now the top 1% gets 83% of the gains.
Carl Henry’s was highly commended for his photo entitled All Dressed And Ready For Church
By 2027, more than half of all Americans — 53 percent — would pay more in taxes under the tax bill agreed to by House and Senate Republicans, a new analysis by the Tax Policy Center finds. That year, 82.8 percent of the bill’s benefit would go to the top 1 percent, up from 62.1 under the Senate bill.
And even in the first years of the bill’s implementation, when it’s an across-the-board tax cut, the benefits of the law would be heavily concentrated among the upper-middle and upper-class Americans, with nearly two-thirds of the benefit going to the richest fifth of Americans in 2018….
The paper is the first rigorous analysis of who wins and loses under the bill as agreed to in conference committee. House and Senate negotiators agreed to a number of changes in the bill, most notably lowering the top income tax rate for individuals to 37 percent from its current level of 39.6 percent. The analysis does not include an additional cost of the legislation: its repeal of the individual mandate, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates could cause as many as 13 million fewer people to have health insurance, reducing federal spending for poor and middle-class Americans’ health insurance by $338 billion over 10 years. That worsens the bill’s distribution for the poor and middle class.
Read the rest at Vox.
The New York Times Editorial Board: Tax Bill Lets Trump and Republicans Feather Their Own Nests.
Jean-Jacques Alcalay captured the moment it looked as though a wildebeest was riding on the back of its companions
To understand the cynicism and mendacity underlying the Republican tax bill, look no further than a provision that would benefit President Trump and other property tycoons that is in the final legislation Congress is expected to vote on this week.
The provision would allow people who make money from real estate to take a 20 percent deduction on income they earn through limited liability companies, partnerships and other so-called pass-through entities that do not pay the corporate tax. The beneficiaries would also include members of Congress like Senator Bob Corker, who last week decided he would vote for the bill even though Republican leaders did nothing to address his concerns about an exploding federal deficit.
The biggest winners would be people like Mr. Trump, his family and similarly advantaged developers who make tens or hundreds of millions of dollars every year on swanky office towers and luxurious apartment buildings. An earlier version of the bill passed by the Senate provided a 23 percent deduction but put limits on its use that would prevent wealthy developers from profiting from it. The House version would simply have reduced the rate at which pass-through income is taxed.
Republican leaders and Mr. Corker, who owns a real estate partnership in Tennessee, say the new loophole was not put in place to win over his vote. Mr. Corker has become more important because his party can afford to lose only two votes, and Senator John McCain will be absent because of the aftereffects from his cancer treatment.
Of course no one believes Corker, who has obviously decided to burn his reputation in return for millions of dollars in graft.
As for Mr. Trump, he has been going around saying the tax bill would “cost me a fortune” and his accountants “are going crazy now.” This claim has always been “fake news.” But with the new loophole it has become even more nonsensical. Having done nothing to drain the Washington swamp, the president now luxuriates in its warm waters.
If that doesn’t turn voters’ stomachs, I don’t know what will.
I’ll leave you with this excerpt from an op-ed by Sally Yates, who was fired by Trump supposedly because she refused to defend his Muslim ban, but really because she outed Michael Flynn as another Kremlin asset. USA Today: Who are we as a country? Time to decide: Sally Yates.
Olivier Colle spotted a hare munching on grass
Despite our differences, we as Americans have long held a shared vision of what our country means and what values we expect our leaders to embrace. Today, our continued commitment to these unifying principles is needed more than ever.
What are the values that unite us? You don’t have to look much further than the Preamble to our Constitution, just 52 words, to find them:
“We the people of the United States” (we are a democratic republic, not a dictatorship) “in order to form a more perfect union” (we are a work in progress dedicated to a noble pursuit) “establish justice” (we revere justice as the cornerstone of our democracy) “insure domestic tranquility” (we prize unity and peace, not divisiveness and discord), “provide for the common defense” (we should never give any foreign adversary reason to question our solidarity) “promote the general welfare” (we care about one another; compassion and decency matter) “and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” (we have a responsibility to protect not just our own generation, but future ones as well).
Our forefathers packed a lot into that single sentence. Our Bill of Rights is similarly succinct in guaranteeing individual liberties — rights that we have come to take for granted but without vigilance can erode and slip away, such as freedom of speech (our right to protest and be heard); freedom of religion (the essential separation between how one worships and the power of the state); and freedom of the press (a democratic institution essential to informing the public and holding our leaders accountable).
Our shared values include another essential principle, and that’s the rule of law — the promise that the law applies equally to everyone, that no person is above it, and that all are entitled to its protection. This concept of equal protection recognizes that our country’s strength comes from honoring, not weaponizing, the diversity that springs from being a nation of Native Americans and immigrants of different races, religions and nationalities.
The rule of law depends not only on things that are written down, but also on important traditions and norms, such as apolitical law enforcement. That’s why Democratic and Republican administrations alike, at least since Watergate, have honored that the rule of law requires a strict separation between the Justice Department and the White House on criminal cases and investigations. This wall of separation is what ensures the public can have confidence that the criminal process is not being used as a sword to go after one’s political enemies or as a shield to protect those in power. It’s what separates us from an autocracy.
Please go read the whole thing.
What else is happening? What stories are you following today?