Thursday Reads: Winter Solstice Edition

Good Morning!!

Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. These days it almost seems quaint to call attention to the solstice or even Christmas, when we are watching and experiencing the end of democracy in the U.S. Can we still turn it around? I’m not sure.

The Republicans have gone full-on “Dear Leader” North Korean style. All you had to do was watch TV yesterday to see it happening. Trump held a cabinet meeting in order to listen to stomach churning praise from his appointees. Then, following the second vote in the House on the GOP tax scam, the “president” celebrated by listening to more fawning from Congressional Republicans.

According to CNN, the cabinet meeting began with a “prayer” from Ben Carson.

In an unusual moment, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson led members of the Trump cabinet in prayer during a meeting on Tuesday, thanking God “for a President and for cabinet members who are courageous, who are willing to face the winds of controversy in order to provide a better future for those who come behind us.”

Ben Carson thanks “god” for Trump.

This odd “prayer” was followed by an embarrassing display of ass-kissing by Mike Pence. The Washington Post: In Cabinet meeting, Pence praises Trump once every 12 seconds for three minutes straight.

Over nearly three minutes, Pence offered plaudit after plaudit after plaudit, praising Trump’s vision, his words, his strategy and his results in light of the passage of tax cuts. By the end, Pence offered 14 separate commendations for Trump in less than three minutes — math that works out to one every 12.5 seconds. And each bit of praise was addressed directly to Trump, who was seated directly across the table.

Here’s the full list:

  1. “Thank you for seeing, through the course of this year, an agenda that truly is restoring this country.
  2. “You described it very well, Mr. President.”
  3. “You’ve restored American credibility on the world stage.”
  4. “You’ve signed more bills rolling back federal red tape than any president in American history.”
  5. “You’ve unleashed American energy.”
  6. “You’ve spurred an optimism in this country that’s setting records.”
  7. “You promised the American people in that campaign a year ago that you would deliver historic tax cuts, and it would be a ‘middle-class miracle.’ And in just a short period of time, that promise will be fulfilled.”
  8. “I’m deeply humbled, as your vice president, to be able to be here.”
  9. “Because of your leadership, Mr. President, and because of the strong support of the leadership in the Congress of the United States, you’re delivering on that middle-class miracle.”
  10. “You’ve actually got the Congress to do, as you said, what they couldn’t do with [the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska] for 40 years.”
  11. “You got the Congress to do, with tax cuts for working families and American businesses, what they haven’t been able to do for 31 years.”
  12. “And you got Congress to do what they couldn’t do for seven years, in repealing the individual mandate in Obamacare.”
  13. “Mostly, Mr. President, I’ll end where I began and just tell you, I want to thank you, Mr. President. I want to thank you for speaking on behalf of and fighting every day for the forgotten men and women of America.”
  14. “Because of your determination, because of your leadership, the forgotten men and women of America are forgotten no more. And we are making America great again.”

Then came the “celebration.” Congress members climbed onto buses to join their Lord and Master at the White House and participate in a competition to see who could heap more praise on Dear Leader. Keep in mind that Trump’s only contribution to the tax scam was to stay out of the way while lobbyists wrote it.

Common Dreams: Republican Praise-Fest for Trump After Tax Vote Spurs Nationwide Nausea.

During a gathering in front of the White House Wednesday, congressional Republicans stepped to the podium one-by-one to christen the least popular first-year president in modern American history as “one heck of a leader.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)—the author of a provision in the GOP tax bill that will further enrich himself, Trump, and more than a dozen other Republican senatorsoutdid them all, fawning over the president’s “sheer will” and saying “I just hope that we all get behind him every way we can, and we’ll get this country turned around in ways that will benefit the whole world.”

“We’re going to make this the greatest presidency that we’ve seen, not only in generations, but maybe ever,” Hatch added.

Fortunately, we still have somewhat free press for now. Here are some reactions from CNN contributors.

Meanwhile, the Russia investigation is continuing, but there are rumors that Trump will attempt to end it over the Christmas break by finding a way to get rid of Robert Mueller, perhaps by firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and replacing him with someone more malleable.

Last night Senator Mark Warner gave a speech on the Senate floor warning Trump against firing Mueller. CNN: Warner: Firing Mueller would be ‘gross abuse of power.’

Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday that the firing of Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller would be a “gross abuse of power” and called for Congress to respond with “significant consequences” if President Donald Trump took that step.

Warner, a Virginia Democrat, took to the Senate floor for a speech, in which he said the firing of Mueller or the pardoning of those charged in the special counsel’s investigation would represent crossing his “red line.”
“Any attempt by this President to remove special counsel Mueller from his position or to pardon key witnesses in any effort to shield them from accountability or shut down the investigation would be a gross abuse of power and a flagrant violation of executive branch responsibilities and authorities,” Warner said. “These truly are red lines and simply cannot allow them to be crossed.”
“Congress must make clear to the President that firing the special counsel or interfering with his investigation by issuing pardons of essential witnesses is unacceptable and would have immediate and significant consequences,” he added.

Senator Mark Warner

At the same time Congressional Republicans are making progress in their efforts to investigate Mueller, the FBI, the Justice Department, Hillary Clinton, and even Barack Obama.

Politico broke this story last night: House Republicans quietly investigate perceived corruption at DOJ, FBI.

A group of House Republicans has gathered secretly for weeks in the Capitol in an effort to build a case that senior leaders of the Justice Department and FBI improperly — and perhaps criminally — mishandled the contents of a dossier that describes alleged ties between President Donald Trump and Russia, according to four people familiar with their plans.

A subset of the Republican members of the House intelligence committee, led by Chairman Devin Nunes of California, has been quietly working parallel to the committee’s high-profile inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. They haven’t informed Democrats about their plans, but they have consulted with the House’s general counsel.

Devin Nunes

The people familiar with Nunes’ plans said the goal is to highlight what some committee Republicans see as corruption and conspiracy in the upper ranks of federal law enforcement. The group hopes to release a report early next year detailing their concerns about the DOJ and FBI, and they might seek congressional votes to declassify elements of their evidence.

That final product could ultimately be used by Republicans to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether any Trump aides colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign — or possibly even to justify his dismissal, as some rank-and-file Republicans and Trump allies have demanded. (The president has said he is not currently considering firing Mueller.)

Republicans in the Nunes-led group suspect the FBI and DOJ have worked either to hurt Trump or aid his former campaign rival Hillary Clinton, a sense that has pervaded parts of the president’s inner circle.

Remember Devin Nunes was a member of Trump’s transition team.

NBC reported this morning that the DOJ is trying to ramp up another investigation of Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation: Prosecutors ask FBI agents for info on Uranium One deal.

On the orders of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Justice Department prosecutors have begun asking FBI agents to explain the evidence they found in a now dormant criminal investigation into a controversial uranium deal that critics have linked to Bill and Hillary Clinton, multiple law enforcement officials told NBC News.

The interviews with FBI agents are part of the Justice Department’s effort to fulfill a promise an assistant attorney general made to Congress last month to examine whether a special counsel was warranted to look into what has become known as the Uranium One deal, a senior Justice Department official said.

At issue is a 2010 transaction in which the Obama Administration allowed the sale of U.S. uranium mining facilities to Russia’s state atomic energy company. Hillary Clinton was secretary of state at the time, and the State Department was one of nine agencies that agreed to approve the deal after finding no threat to U.S. national security.

Republicans in Congress reportedly want to investigate Obama based on a story broken by Politico this week. Business Insider: A massive investigation accuses Obama of laying off a terror group for the Iran deal — and the reaction is split.

Former security officials claim that the Obama administration intentionally stonewalled a Drug Enforcement Agency investigation against a major terror group, according to a Politico report.

Officials tell Politico’s Josh Meyer that the Obama administration ultimately derailed the DEA’s investigation into Hezbollah’s massive drug trade operations that investigators believed provided the terror group with up to $1 billion in funds a year. According to the report, the White House cut support for the investigation — known as Project Cassandra — in order to gain favor for the Iran nuclear deal.

“The administration’s willingness to envision a new role for Hezbollah in the Middle East, combined with its desire for a negotiated settlement to Iran’s nuclear program, translated into a reluctance to move aggressively against the top Hezbollah operatives, according to Project Cassandra members and others,” Meyer writes.

Sources claim the link to the Iran deal was explicit.

“During the negotiations, early on, [the Iranians] said listen, we need you to lay off Hezbollah, to tamp down the pressure on them, and the Obama administration acquiesced to that request,” a former CIA officer told Politico. “It was a strategic decision to show good faith toward the Iranians in terms of reaching an agreement.”

Maybe they can use this to get rid of the Iran deal and then we’ll be dealing with another rogue regime with nuclear weapons.

Right now, according to the Telegraph, it the Trump administration is seriously planning an attack on North Korea: Exclusive: US making plans for ‘bloody nose’ military attack on North Korea.

America is drawing up plans for a “bloody nose” military attack on North Korea to stop its nuclear weapons programme, The Telegraph understands.

The White House has “dramatically” stepped up preparation for a military solution in recent months amid fears diplomacy is not working, well-placed sources said.

One option is destroying a launch site before it is used by the regime for a new missile test. Stockpiles of weapons could also be targeted.

The hope is that military force would show Kim Jong-un that America is “serious” about stopping further nuclear development and trigger negotiations.

The rest of the story is behind a paywall, but Business Insider has more details.

Those possible solutions include destroying a launch site before North Korea tests a missile or targeting a stockpile of weapons, according to the Daily Telegraph.

“The Pentagon is trying to find options that would allow them to punch the  North  Koreans in the nose, get their attention and show that we’re serious,” a former US security official briefed on policy told the Telegraph.

Reportedly, the Trump administration has the April 7 strike on a Syrian airfield in mind as a blueprint for the move against North Korea.

But when US Navy ships fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield, Trump had the world’s support in attacking a nation accused of using chemical weapons on its own people.

Syria’s military was already stretched thin fighting a civil war and multiple Islamist terror groups. The strike went virtually unpunished.

If the US strikes North Korea, whose entire military posture is geared towards offense and has a massive standing army, it’s unlikely the attack would go unpunished.

Much more at the BI link.

There is some news on the Russia investigation that I’ll add in the comment thread. What stories are you following today?


44 Comments on “Thursday Reads: Winter Solstice Edition”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Foreign Policy: White House Counsel Knew in January Flynn Probably Violated the Law.

    The White House turned over records this fall to special counsel Robert Mueller revealing that in the very first days of the Trump presidency, Don McGahn researched federal law dealing both with lying to federal investigators and with violations of the Logan Act, a centuries-old federal law that prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments, according to three people with direct knowledge of the confidential government documents.

    The records reflected concerns that McGahn, the White House counsel, had that Michael Flynn, then the president’s national security advisor, had possibly violated either one or both laws at the time, according to two of the sources. The disclosure that these records exist and that they are in the possession of the special counsel could bolster any potential obstruction of justice case against President Donald Trump.

    The records that McGahn turned over to the special counsel, portions of which were read to this reporter, indicate he researched both statutes and warned Trump about Flynn’s possible violations.

    McGahn conducted the analysis shortly after learning that Flynn, on Dec. 29, 2016 — while Barack Obama was still president — had counseled the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey Kislyak, not to retaliate against U.S. economic sanctions imposed against Russia by the outgoing administration.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    Bloomberg: Mueller Is Looking Into a U.S. Foundation Backed by Russian Money

    Sara Peterson flew to Moscow in 2012 to take home two Russian orphans just as the Kremlin, angry about sanctions on Russian officials, banned U.S. adoptions. For the next four years she knocked on doors in Washington to no avail. So when she read about a foundation “to help restart American adoption of Russian children,” she set up a meeting.

    It was August 2016 when Peterson, of Maryland, traveled to Washington and waited at a train station sandwich shop for a Russian-American man named Rinat Akhmetshin. He wanted to know which members of Congress he should approach, she said. At that meeting and later ones, he said “things would change” after the upcoming elections.

    Peterson didn’t know it but Akhmetshin, a former Soviet intelligence officer, had recently met with senior officials of the Donald Trump campaign in New York: the candidate’s son, son-in-law and campaign manager. It didn’t take long for her to realize that the foundation wasn’t all it seemed. As she put it, “I don’t think adoptions were their primary agenda.”

    Now Special Counsel Robert Mueller is looking into the foundation. Robert Arakelian, a lobbyist and employee of the foundation, recently testified to the special counsel’s office about the organization and its funding, two people familiar with the probe said.

  3. bostonboomer says:

    WaPo: Forget what they say — House Democrats are readying for impeachment

    To fill their top spot on the House Judiciary Committee, Democrats had a choice between experts in two critical policy arenas: a constitutional law ace with firsthand experience battling President Trump, and an architect of sweeping immigration legislation.

    By a wide margin, they chose the constitutional law expert. Why? To ready themselves for a battle with Trump that could end with impeachment proceedings.

    The selection of Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) as the ranking member on Judiciary was the clearest sign yet of how seriously House Democrats consider the possibility of a full-blown constitutional showdown with Trump.

    • dakinikat says:

      I hope we get the house and Senate back in 2018 so we can make it so.

    • NW Luna says:

      Later on that article had this:

      Leaders have cautioned the rank and file not to push for impeachment because the public might view it as an overreach. The House’s few remaining moderate Democrats from swing districts have regularly warned the party’s liberal flank against making the 2018 midterm elections about Trump or the investigations into his presidential campaign.

      which IMO is absolute bullshit. We the Voters are raring to go for impeachment and the midterms are damn well going to be about Robbern Baron Trump’s treason and corruption!

      • quixote says:

        I wonder if it concerns them at all that impeachment becomes 100% meaningless if one side is willing to use it as a political tool while the other can’t even touch it for high treason, crimes of state, nepotism that threatens national security, and self-enrichment at taxpayer expense.

        Idiots.

  4. Pat Johnson says:

    f the Democrats can’t provide a turnover next November I am afraid that all will be lost. They surely have the tools to do so but again, it will depend upon voter turnout and these mid term elections aren’t based in our favor. This is how the Tea Party won in 2010.

    We have a traitor in the WH. A lawless fool who is putting us at risk around the world. These tax breaks from yesterday will harm the economy going forward and he stands to enrich himself even further.

    Nothing much can be done with the GOP in charge. This is what must end. If the Dems fail in November we fall even more into a nation we will hardly recognize once Trump and his minions are through.

    People need to wake up and look at what is happening. We are dying on the vine.

    • Enheduanna says:

      Mid-terms tend to swing to the opposition party after a general election – so we actually have that in our favor too.

      I think GOPers are going to stay home like they did in AL.

  5. bostonboomer says:

    I meant to put this one in the post:

    Vanity Fair: Trump Can’t Believe No One’s Thrown a Parade in His Honor.

  6. Enheduanna says:

    This is why Americans don’t believe in the electoral system anymore:

    http://www.shakesville.com/2017/12/virginia-election-now-no-votes-matter.html

    The Virginia vote is now a tie and they’re going to draw the winner from a hat.

  7. bostonboomer says:

    https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

  8. NW Luna says:

    Have you all seen this nauseating P.O.S.? I’m not posting the video of the Jabba the Hut-dough-faced brat, but link goes to page with it.

    “Congratulations to this Koch heir, who is going to become like $75 billion richer in the next few days,” writer David Roth tweeted, along with a link to the video in question. “He’s going to use it to make very innovative ugly shirts .” …

    The regrettable video features Wyatt driving around Palm Beach in a Humvee and partying on a yacht, while he explains in a voiceover what the phrase “be bold” means to him. “Be bold means to me: be authentic, be real, be yourself, be confident,” he says, wearing a shirt patterned with dollar bills and literal money bags. The shirt, which is called the “Wall Street,” retails for $119 on Wyatt Ingraham’s Web site, though it’s currently on sale for $79. Also on the site: sartorial must-haves such as a migraine-inducing orange shirt covered in Italian desserts (“Cannoli for Everyone”) and a little black-and-white number dotted with eight balls (“Behind the Eight Ball”)—both on sale. Perhaps middle and lower-class Americans, whom the G.O.P. tax plan will do very little to help, can explore these and other discount options on Koch’s Web site.

    Though Wyatt’s doughy visage is the clear selling point, the video was undoubtedly helped along by the recent Page Six article outlining his petty fight with his ex-fiancée over her $180,000 engagement ring…

    • Pat Johnson says:

      This vegetable got a girl to agree to marry him.

      She broke the engagement and he wants his ring back but he did have a fiance at one time.

      This, my friends, is what it means to have money. Because I cannot conceive too many other women accepting this idiot’s proposal if he were merely a sales associate at Target.

      Can you?

      • quixote says:

        That’s why men are so terrified of losing the patriarchy. With it? Don’t kid yourself. There’s always some poor woman desperate enough for anything.

        (But, to your main point, indeed. Eeuuwwwww.)

  9. NW Luna says:

    More coal in that “Xmas present” from the POTUS* and it especially hurts after all the natural disasters in 2017 which wrecked houses and everything in them for so many.

    Loss of casualty loss deduction

    Taxpayers can currently claim an itemized deduction for casualty losses exceeding 10% of adjusted gross income. That’s a high threshold, but during disasters like hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, many people suffered total losses on property that weren’t covered by insurance. For those in the future who face similar circumstances, the Trump tax plan would add insult to injury by taking away even the possibility of getting a modest tax benefit to offset their financial pain.

  10. NW Luna says:

    • Pat Johnson says:

      All it takes is for Putin to chuck him under the chin, pat him on the head, and tell him that he is terrific and he will oblige.

      His parents failed completely at this which is why we are suffering today.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I don’t have any doubt about it at this point. James Clapper already came out and said it on CNN.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Here’s the Newsweek piece.

        PUTIN’S MAN IN THE WHITE HOUSE? REAL TRUMP RUSSIA SCANDAL IS NOT MERE COLLUSION, U.S. COUNTERSPIES SAY

        For over a year, the question of collusion has driven various investigations into what’s become known as Russiagate. Special counsel Robert Mueller has been pursuing questions of whether Team Trump, which included the president’s son Donald Jr. and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, actively coordinated the Trump campaign with the Kremlin to hurt Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. That suspicion was bad enough, but now a far more grim consensus is developing in the topmost circles of the U.S. national security establishment: The president has become a pawn of America’s adversary, Russian President Vladimir Putin. It’s a nightmare scenario even the writers of House of Cards would have discarded as implausible.

      • dakinikat says:

        oy, that’s disheartening but totally true

  11. bostonboomer says:

    New from Natasha Bertrand: A trio of House Republicans lobbing attacks on Mueller have been in touch with the White House

    http://www.businessinsider.com/mueller-attacks-trump-russia-matt-gaetz-jim-jordan-2017-12

  12. bostonboomer says:

    LOL!!

    https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

    • dakinikat says:

  13. bostonboomer says:

    Charles Pierce:

    The Republican Party Has Bowed, Completely, to the Mad King

    http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/a14478536/republican-party-trump-russia/

  14. dakinikat says:

  15. Minkoff Minx says:

    I knew this was going to be a difficult post to get through. It is terrifying. All this praise of tRump, disturbing. The connections are becoming more apparent every day. And I really do not see any hope of stopping the destructive force behind tRump. It scares me because I can feel myself shutting down, blocking things out. But I can’t do this. I need to be able to fight. The thing is, I feel there is a lot of people who are doing the same things like me. Reaching the point of shutdown I hope Mueller hurries up.