Lazy Saturday Reads

Woman Reading by a Window Gari Melchers – circa 1905

Good Afternoon!!

I’ve been trying to find out where Trump is this weekend. I haven’t heard anything about him going to Florida, and I’m afraid that may mean there will be more chaos in the White House over the weekend. Will Scott Pruitt lose his job? Or will Trump really try to use him to replace Jeff Sessions? Is Trump really preparing to talk to Robert Mueller, as CNN reports?

Exclusive: Trump begins informal prep for potential Mueller interview.

President Donald Trump has begun the initial steps of preparing for a possible interview with the special counsel, a White House official and a person familiar with the situation said Friday, a sign the President’s legal team is intensifying its deliberations over whether to allow him to come under Robert Mueller’s questioning.

One source familiar with the proceedings stressed the preparation efforts is “in its infancy.”
The preparations have been short and informal and included going over potential topics with the President that Mueller would likely raise in an interview, the people said.

The President has not formally agreed to sit for an interview with Mueller.

But word of early preparations is the clearest sign yet that Trump and his team remain open to an interview with Mueller, despite concerns from some people close to the President that such an interview could expose him to possible charges of perjury.

According to Tina Nguyen at Vanity Fair, Trump is now targeting one of his last “adult” advisers: Running Out of Punching Bags, Trump Turns on Mattis.

Drinking Coffee And Reading In The Garden Painting by Edward Killingworth Johnson

Until recently, Donald Trump’s campaign to purge naysayers had spared the Pentagon. In the absence of more proximate targets, however, it appears the president has turned his attention to foreign policy, jeopardizing his relationship with perhaps his only remaining sane adviser. Indeed, in the past week, Trump has made James Mattis’s job nearly impossible by declaring that he would send the military to guard the border with Mexico (the White House later clarified that he meant the National Guard), and insisting that the U.S. pull out of Syria (something Mattis promised last year would not happen), leading to a spectacular showdown on Tuesday, when the conflict between Trump and his generals reportedly boiled over during a meeting of top aides in the Situation Room.

According to the Associated Press, Mattis argued “that an immediate withdrawal” from Syria “could be catastrophic and was logistically impossible to pull off in any responsible way,” and offered a one-year timeline as an alternative—to which Trump responded that five or six months ought to do the trick, and “indicated that he did not want to hear in October that the military had been unable to fully defeat the Islamic State and had to remain in Syria for longer.” A person familiar with the meeting told CNN that attendees left Tuesday’s meeting “beside themselves,” arguing that Trump’s lack of desire to put together any sort of recovery plan for Syria—restoring basic needs such as water, power, and roads—would most certainly tip the country back into ISIS’s hands. “It is a huge gamble that ISIS is not going to come back and that we are going to rely on others to stabilize Syria,” an official said.

The same official noted the hypocrisy in Trump’s choice: “The president blasted Obama for a timeline in Iraq, but that is in essence what we have been given.”

From the AP article:

It wasn’t the result top national security aides wanted. Trump’s desire for a rapid withdrawal faced unanimous opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, all of which argued that keeping the 2,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Syria is key to ensuring the Islamic State does not reconstitute itself.

Adolfe Monet reading in the garden, by Claude Monet

But as they huddled in the Situation Room, the president was vocal and vehement in insisting that the withdrawal be completed quickly if not immediately, according to five administration officials briefed on Tuesday’s White House meeting of Trump and his top aides. The officials weren’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations and requested anonymity.

If those aides failed in obtaining their desired outcome, it may have been because a strategy that’s worked in the past — giving Trump an offer he can’t refuse — appears to have backfired.

Rather than offer Trump a menu of pullout plans, with varying timelines and options for withdrawing step-by-step, the team sought to frame it as a binary choice: Stay in Syria to ensure the Islamic State can’t regroup, or pull out completely. Documents presented to the president included several pages of possibilities for staying in, but only a brief description of an option for full withdrawal that emphasized significant risks and downsides, including the likelihood that Iran and Russia would take advantage of a U.S. vacuum.

Ultimately, Trump chose that option anyway.

Will Mattis resign if Trump insists on pulling the U.s. military out of Syria? Or will Trump fire him? John Bolton is expected to begin his job as National Security Adviser on Monday. Will he agree with Trump’s newly formed foreign policy?

Chief of Staff John Kelly has also lost influence on the newly “emboldened” Trump according to CBS News: Trump freezes out chief of staff John Kelly, says he’s “tired of being told ‘no.'”

When President Donald Trump made a congratulatory phone call to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, White House chief of staff John Kelly wasn’t on the line. When Mr. Trump tapped John Bolton to be his next national security adviser, Kelly wasn’t in the room.

And when Mr. Trump spent a Mar-a-Lago weekend stewing over immigration and trade, Kelly wasn’t in sight.

Oscar Bluhm In the Pergola, 1892

Kelly, once empowered to bring order to a turbulent West Wing, has receded from view, his clout diminished, his word less trusted by staff and his guidance less tolerated by an increasingly go-it-alone president.

Emboldened in his job, Mr. Trump has rebelled against Kelly’s restrictions and mused about doing away with the chief of staff post entirely. It’s all leading White House staffers and Trump allies to believe that Kelly is working on borrowed time….

Mr. Trump recently told one confidant that he was “tired of being told no” by Kelly and has instead chosen to simply not tell Kelly things at all, according to a person who was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The stock market isn’t happy with Trump’s push for a trade war. Yahoo News (AP): Stock Market Plummets After Trump Explores $100 Billion in New Chinese Tariffs.

Another increase in trade tensions has stocks falling sharply Friday as the U.S. considers an even larger set of tariffs on imports from China and the two countries exchange pointed statements. Technology companies and banks are taking some of the worst losses.

Stocks have changed direction again and again this week as investors tried to get a sense of whether a trade dispute between the two nations will escalate, an outcome that could have major consequences for the global economy. The market didn’t get any help from a March jobs report that was weaker than expected.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell dropped 581 points, or 2.4 percent, to 23,916 as of 2:15 p.m. Eastern time. Earlier it fell as much as 620 points.

The S&P 500, which many index funds track, lost 53 points, or 2 percent, to 2,608. The Nasdaq composite slid 135 points, or 1.9 percent, to 6,940. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks dipped 29 points, or 1.9 percent, to 1,513.

The Dow average, which contains numerous multinational companies including industrial powerhouses Boeing and Caterpillar, has swung dramatically this week, with about 1,300 points separating its highest and lowest marks. It fell as much as 758 points Monday, then recovered all of those losses, and late Thursday it was up as much as 519 points for the week. It’s down 0.7 percent for the week.

CNBC: Trump’s tariff gamble with China could be catastrophic for the economy, the GOP — and his own presidency.

Reading in the garden, 1915 – Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky

Donald Trump has decided to gamble his presidency on the idea that he can threaten big tariffs on China and force the world’s second-largest economy to back down.

If he fails — and the odds are that he will — the fallout from a tariff battle with China could derail an otherwise strong U.S. economy, threaten Republican majorities in the midterm elections and turn the second half of Trump’s first term into a dismal slog to avoid impeachment votes.

So far, the exact scenario that free traders inside the White House and on Capitol Hill feared is playing out. China scoffed at Trump’s initial $50 billion in threatened tariffs and announced their own, aimed directly at Trump’s red-state base with levies on agricultural and manufactured products.

Although Trump has repeatedly bragged about stock market gains since he has been “president,” Bloomberg reports that Trump is now in 8th place in rankings of presidential success with the markets:

The Republican president’s renewed ramblings on trade dominated U.S. equity markets this week, with a tweet-induced swoon on Friday leaving the S&P 500 Index 1.4 percent lower than where it started on Monday. The gauge swung wildly, notching four moves of at least 1 percent in the five days, and the Cboe Volatility Index spiked above 20, nearly double its level for the past year.

All of which has dented Trump’s reputation as the stock market president.

The numbers from Axios:

Dow Jones Industrial Average return, if you invested in that basket of stocks, for a president’s first 444 days (ranked since 1900,) per Bloomberg:

FDR : 70.4%
Reagan: 41.4%
Teddy Roosevelt: 37.4%
Obama: 32.5%
Bill Clinton: 32.2%
George H.W. Bush: 21.4%
Trump: 20.7%

BTW, according to Think Progress, Trump doesn’t want his trade war to interfere with his daughter’s self-dealing: Ivanka Trump’s clothing company will be spared from tariffs, thanks to her dad.

U.S. officials say they used an algorithm to determine which goods to exclude from new tariffs. According to the Washington Post, the list was drafted to achieve “the lowest consumer impact,” ensuring goods like clothing and toys were excluded so as not to raise the cost on domestic consumer goods.

Reading Man in Park — August Macke 1915

Exempting clothing from the tariffs provides a big break to American clothing companies that hold trademarks in China. One of those clothing companies belongs to the First Daughter of the United States, Ivanka Trump.

A recent report by the Huffington Post found that the president’s daughter and closest adviser rakes in a total of $1.5 million a year from the Trump Organization while still working at the White House.

Her dual role as adviser to the president and private business executive has continuously raised ethical red flags. No one can be entirely sure that public policy by this administration isn’t being driven by business motives, or whether countries may pursue business deals with the Trump family as a means to curry political favor with the administration.

Once again, I’ve barely touched on all the important news that has broken over the past couple of days. I’ve reached the point of having to shut down for part of every day, because I’m so overwhelmed. Of course I’m not alone it that. In this vein Brian Klaas asks at The Washington Post: Can democracy survive information overload?

Last month, President Trump floated the idea of executing drug dealers; got sued by a porn star and a Playboy model; repeatedly attacked the FBI, his own attorney general and the Justice Department; instigated a trade war that punished long-standing U.S. allies; explicitly praised authoritarian consolidations of power in China and Egypt; “joked” about becoming “president for life”; congratulated Vladimir Putin on winning a sham election and reportedly invited him to the White House right after Russia’s government allegedly attempted to murder a former spy on the soil of the United States’ closest ally.

He also bullied a journalist for his physical appearance; boasted about making up statistics in meetings with Canada’s government; live-tweeted his favorite TV show; fired his secretary of state on Twitter; lost his Veterans Affairs secretary, national security adviser, chief economic adviser, communications director and a personal aide whose reported gambling habit was deemed a security riskhired a new national security adviser who has repeatedly called to bomb North Korea and Iran; lashed out at the special counsel, who is investigating the president for potential crimes; and threatened to beat up the former vice president of the United States until he cried.

Woman Reading in a Garden by Harold Harvey

That’s just a small selection of news from March 2018: one crazy month of one crazy presidency.

This inescapable, overwhelming and disorienting flurry of activity, which has become the new normal since Trump’s inauguration, begs two simple but profound questions: Can democracy survive information overload? And can it survive a president who knows how to use the resulting chaos to dodge democratic accountability?

Authoritarian rulers have long understood that controlling and manipulating information are crucial to subverting democracy and getting away with breaking the rules. That’s why dictatorial governments such as China and Russia not only work overtime to control media and censor inconvenient facts but also use troll armies to spew out 24/7 torrents of disinformation. Despite Trump’s obvious envy of such methods, he’s stuck with American democracy, so he has innovated out of necessity. He can’t shut down the press or censor Democrats, but he can blind the American electorate with a steady smokescreen of bewildering stories pouring out of the White House.

From Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, any one of those stories above would have captivated national attention for weeks, or more likely, months. But with Trump, even the most scandalous topic soon disappears into a never-ending flow of revelations. By the time the morning news shows end, it’s on to the next spectacle of dysfunction. We’re living in a chronic state of whiplash.

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35 Comments on “Lazy Saturday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    Some positive news from The Boston Globe: Trials for potential ALS treatment spark cautious hope.

    MGH and the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester are among six sites across the country testing the therapy, NurOwn, developed by BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics, which has offices in Israel and New York.

    Hopes are high — as they often are at the start of a trial — but the challenge is daunting. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease, has long confounded some of the best minds in medicine. Since 1995, only two drugs have been approved to treat it, and neither works very well. Over the past five years, at least 100 clinical trials of potential ALS treatments have failed. Despite the best effort of doctors and researchers, it still kills most patients in three to five years.

    Some of the most prominent ALS researchers in the United States are working on the phase 3 clinical trial. NurOwn, they say, is the first stem cell therapy for ALS to have gotten this far, and it showed tantalizing results in a small phase 2 trial involving 48 patients — 36 of whom got the cells and 12 of whom received a placebo.

    Twelve weeks after a single dosing, the treatment had temporarily slowed or halted the progression of the disease or even improved functioning in more than 40 percent of patients who had been rapidly deteriorating, according to BrainStorm executives.

    • Enheduanna says:

      It’s always encouraging to hear about promising breakthroughs in medicine.

    • dakinikat says:

      My cousin Ruth died of that horrid disease last year. I have two friends here that lost their fathers. It’s awful.

    • NW Luna says:

      Promising. I’ll wait until we have data over 5 and 10 yrs before getting too excited. Similar trials of stem cell therapy in MS have had equivocal results several years out. OTOH, getting a few more years w/out disability progress is far more meaningful in ALS.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    BBC News: Three dead in Germany as van ploughs into crowd in Muenster

    Three people have been killed in the western German city of Muenster after a van drove into people sitting outside a popular restaurant.

    The driver of the vehicle died after shooting himself, police said. They are not looking for more suspects.

    About 20 people are reported injured in the incident, which occurred near the Kiepenkerl statue in the old town. Six are said to be in a serious condition….

    “The perpetrator drove into several cafe and restaurant terraces in a major square in the centre of Muenster,” police spokeswoman Vanessa Arlt told the AFP news agency.

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    • dakinikat says:

      The former church deacon is an adherent of a religious dogma that holds that the Earth’s resources are man’s divine inheritance. Pruitt blasts the environmental movement’s push to keep fossil fuels in the ground as “wrongheaded.” In a February interview with the Christian Broadcast Network, Pruitt elaborated: “The biblical worldview with respect to these issues is that we have a responsibility to … harvest the natural resources that we’ve been blessed with, to truly bless our fellow mankind.”

      This belief guided Pruitt as he pushed Trump to exit the Paris Climate Accords, to shelve the Clean Power Plan, and most recently, to roll back fuel efficiency targets for automakers. Pruitt insists his career in politics was born of prayer – and the question, “God what do you want to do with me?” This heavenly mission just happens to align with the profit motives of the nation’s fossil fuel producers, which backed his career in Oklahoma with more than $350,000 in donations.

    • NW Luna says:

      Tiny violins…

      Somehow I doubt that Gaia wants the parks scalped, the rivers poisoned, and the mountains strip-mined. As for the Christian god, he said something about helping the poor and the sick, and that rich men would enter into heaven only when camels could fit through a needle’s eye. Ever read those sections, Mr. Pruitt?

      • bostonboomer says:

        Some people are saying Pruitt may be hard up for money, because when he travels on his own dime, he goes coach–not to mention that he couldn’t pay for his cheap rental in the lobbyist’s place.

        • Joanelle says:

          I was thinking that yesterday. He not only appears hard up for funds when it’s got to come out of his own pocket, but the way he spends his employers money is indicative of someone not used to having money.
          He needs to go!

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  8. NW Luna says:

    BB, love the paintings. I so want to hide out in a lovely garden and read.

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  10. bostonboomer says:

    This is scary:

    Homeland Security to Compile Database of Journalists, Bloggers

    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to monitor hundreds of thousands of news sources around the world and compile a database of journalists, editors, foreign correspondents, and bloggers to identify top “media influencers.”

    It’s seeking a contractor that can help it monitor traditional news sources as well as social media and identify “any and all” coverage related to the agency or a particular event, according to a request for information released April 3.

    The data to be collected includes a publication’s “sentiment” as well as geographical spread, top posters, languages, momentum, and circulation. No value for the contract was disclosed.

  11. bostonboomer says:

    Trump Tower fire: Fire breaks out on 50th floor, FDNY says

    https://www.cbsnews.com/news/trump-tower-fire-50th-floor-fdny-today-2018-04-07/

  12. NW Luna says:

    Wonder how many U.S. security secrets Kusher sold to get this loan from his Middle East buddies?

    Kushner set to buy out partner in 666 Fifth Avenue property dealThe New York Times reports, citing an SEC filing, that the Kushner family appears to have “struck a deal to buy out” Vornado Realty Trust’s stake in the “troubled” 666 Fifth Avenue, a primary piece of its “real estate empire.”

    Why it matters: How they got the money is unclear. Questions had been raised about Kushner meetings with foreign big shots like Qatar as part of securing the financing. Per the Times, negotiations with foreign entities drew scrutiny because of Jared Kushner’s role in his father-in-law’s White House.

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