Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

William Barr

The Senate Judiciary Committee is currently questioning William Barr, Trump’s nominee for Attorney General. It’s pretty much guaranteed that Barr’s appointment will be approved, so the main goal for Democrats is to get him to commit publicly to protecting Robert Muller and the Russia investigation.

Diane Feinstein already got Barr to say that he will protect the investigation and he said that he will abide by the rules of the Special Counsel statute. The hearings are expected to take about three days. You can read Barr’s prepared statement at CNN.

Also from CNN: Barr sent or discussed controversial memo with Trump lawyers.

Attorney General nominee William Barr shared a controversial memo last year with nearly all of President Donald Trump’s lawyers concluding that an aspect of special counsel Robert Mueller’s case could be “fatally misconceived,” Barr acknowledged Monday.

Barr’s 19-page memo — which concluded that Trump’s publicly reported interactions with ex-FBI Director James Comey could not constitute obstruction of justice — was addressed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Assistant Attorney General Steve Engel and released as a part of Barr’s Senate questionnaire last month. But it was previously unclear who else had seen it.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham Monday night, Barr said that he had sent it to White House special counsel Emmet Flood, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, and his former Justice Department colleague Pat Cipollone who is now White House counsel. He also discussed the issues raised in the memo with Trump lawyers Marty and Jane Raskin and Jay Sekulow. In addition he sent a copy, or had a conversation about the contents of the memo with Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Jared Kushner.

In Tuesday’s testimony, Barr will say he distributed the memo “broadly” so that other lawyers “would have the benefit of my views.” He said the memo was narrow in scope and targeted a specific obstruction of justice theory “under a single statute that I thought, based on media reports, the special counsel might be considering.”

“I wrote it myself, on my own initiative, without assistance , and based solely on public information,” Barr will say.
But the revelation comes as Democrats have pledged to make Barr’s criticisms of Mueller’s investigation a centerpiece of the hearings, particularly because Barr would be poised to oversee Mueller’s work if confirmed.

Cindy McCain weighed on Twitter.

Here are three opinion pieces on the Barr nomination to check out:

NBC News: William Barr confirmation hearing: Trump’s attorney general nominee still has a lot to answer for, by Glenn Kirschner.

The Washington Post: I was in Congress during Nixon’s impeachment proceedings. William Barr is wrong, by Elizabeth Holzman. former Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Lawfare: Lessons from Watergate: What the Senate Judiciary Committee Should Ask Bill Barr, by Mikhaila Fogel Quinta Jurecic, and Benjamin Wittes.

In other DOJ news, The Supreme Court has declined to hear a “challenge to Whitaker as acting attorney general.” The Washington Post reports:

The Supreme Court, without comment, turned away a challenge Monday to Matthew G. Whitaker’s appointment as acting attorney general.

Washington lawyer and Supreme Court practitioner Thomas C. Goldstein has intervened in cases in Nevada and Maryland to say that President Trump did not have the legal authority to appoint Whitaker, who had been chief of staff to Jeff Sessions when Trump forced out his attorney general in November.

The justices denied the Nevada case and its attempt to substitute Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein for Whitaker. The Maryland case is still before a federal judge there.

Goldstein and others say that Rosenstein, the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, should have succeeded Sessions and that it is unlawful for Whitaker to be running the department for even a short time.

Read more at the WaPo.

More legal news, just breaking this morning: Wilbur Ross can’t include a question about immigration status in the Census questionnaire. NPR: Judge Orders Trump Administration To Remove 2020 Census Citizenship Question.

A federal judge in New York has ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Wilbur Ross characiture

U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ordered the administration to stop its plans to include the controversial question on forms for the upcoming national head count “without curing the legal defects” the judge identified in his opinion released on Tuesday.

Furman’s decision marks a significant milestone in a legal battle that began shortly after the Trump administration announced last year that the 2020 census would include a controversial question about U.S. citizenship status. The added question was: “Is this person a citizen of the United States?” All U.S. households have not been asked such a question on the census since 1950.

It’s an important step in the right direction, but the case will likely end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Furman has noted that he does not expect his order to be the final word on the question’s fate. The district court ruling in New York is expected to be appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and, ultimately, to the Supreme Court.

In addition to the two lead cases before Furman at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the administration is fighting five more lawsuits across the country filed by dozens of states, cities and other groups that want the question removed. A second trial over the question began earlier this month in California, and another is scheduled to begin in Maryland on Jan. 22.

Yesterday The New York Times reported that Trump is dying to make Putin’s dreams come true: Trump Discussed Pulling U.S. From NATO, Aides Say Amid New Concerns Over Russia.

There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.

Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States.

Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set.

In the days around a tumultuous NATO summit meeting last summer, they said, Mr. Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States.

Read more at the NYT.

Will Devin Nunes finally get his comeuppance? The Daily Beast reports: Mueller Probes an Event With Nunes, Flynn, and Foreign Officials at Trump’s D.C. Hotel.

The Special Counsel’s Office and federal prosecutors in Manhattan are scrutinizing a meeting involving former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, one-time National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and dozens of foreign officials, according to three sources familiar with the investigations.

The breakfast event, which was first reported by The Daily Sabah, a pro-government Turkish paper, took place at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. at 8.30 a.m. on Jan. 18, 2017—two days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration. About 60 people were invited, including diplomats from governments around the world, according to those same sources.

The breakfast has come under scrutiny by federal prosecutors in Manhattan as part of their probe into whether the Trump inaugural committee misspent funds and if donors tried to buy influence in the White House. The existence of that probe was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. The Special Counsel’s Office is also looking at the breakfast as part of its investigation into whether foreigners contributed money to the Trump inaugural fund and PAC by possibly using American intermediaries, as first reported by The New York Times. Robert Mueller’s team has asked Flynn about the event, according to two sources familiar with the Special Counsel’s Office questioning.

Click on the link to read the rest.

Breaking Russia investigation news from Twitter:

The Women’s March is bleeding support because of concerns that the leadership of the group is anti-Semitic. The latest from Jewish News Syndicate: Democratic National Committee drops partnership with Women’s March.

The Democratic National Committee has dropped its partnership in the Women’s March over anti-Semitism concerns, according to a Democratic source.

This development comes amid accusations of anti-Semitism within the movement’s leadership, causing many organizations to drop their support of the this year’s march, scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 19. There have been calls for firms to back out.

In recent weeks, a number of progressive groups that have withdrawn their support of the march, which was launched in 2017 in protest of the election of President Donald Trump, including, but are not limited to, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations, the Human Rights Campaign, Greenpeace, Children’s Firearm Safety Alliance, Coalition Against Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.

Moreover, local marches, such as in Chicago and New Orleans, have been cancelled.

And from The Washington Post: What’s in a name? Women’s March groups spar over who owns the name and the movement.

After a year marred by accusations of anti-Semitism, financial opacity and infighting, the national Women’s March organization has sought to refocus the group with a rally and the rollout of a new federal policy platform dubbed the Women’s Agenda.

Meanwhile, local groups across the country — largely unaffiliated with the national organization — have been unable to separate themselves from the fallout. They say it has hurt their ability to organize, to attract participants and to be heard.

Even the name, Women’s March, has become a flash point.

Four organizations have sued the national Women’s March group — led by activists Bob Bland, Tamika Mallory, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour — over efforts to trademark the name, arguing that no entity can own the march or the activism it has inspired. Some groups have sought to rebrand to shed the “Women’s March” name and the tumult that comes with it.

Frankly, I had issues with the women’s march in 2017, because they shut out Hillary and her supporters. The next march is scheduled for Saturday.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread below.

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Monday Reads: Puppet! Puppet! Puppet!

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

Putin’s puppet is in New Orleans today visiting the folks at the Farm Bureau’s convention whose idea of clean water and vague climate change concern pretty much lines up with the party of greed and irrationality. Yes we like clean water! Who doesn’t!  But we don’t need no stinking regulations!  Yes we like animals!  We kill them all the time including those pesky things on the overrated Endangered Species Act list.  And what, us?  Cancer causing chemicals?  That sounds like a lot of hippie BS to us.!  Lots of folks here will be protesting.  I’m wondering if any of the farmers attending will have awoken to the need for preparation H yet.  If not, they’ll need it by the time they sit through whatever mishigas he spews.

So, the media is finally waking up to the notion that we have a Russian Potted Plant in the oval office.  Yeah, like a former Secretary of State running for President telling them wasn’t enough.  But, oops there it is!

From Max Boot at WAPO: we get this opinion piece: “Here are 18 reasons Trump could be a Russian asset”.  There’s a fairly long list but here’s the top few points.

Here is some of the evidence suggesting “Individual 1” could be a Russian “asset”:

— Trump has a long financial history with Russia. As summarized by Jonathan Chait in an invaluable New York magazine article: “From 2003 to 2017, people from the former USSR made 86 all-cash purchases — a red flag of potential money laundering — of Trump properties, totaling $109 million. In 2010, the private-wealth division of Deutsche Bank also loaned him hundreds of millions of dollars during the same period it was laundering billions in Russian money. ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,’ said Donald Jr. in 2008. ‘We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia,’ boasted Eric Trump in 2014.” According to Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s guilty pleaof lying to Congress, Trump was even pursuing his dream of building a Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign with the help of a Vladimir Putin aide. These are the kind of financial entanglements that intelligence services such as the FSB typically use to ensnare foreigners, and they could leave Trump vulnerable to blackmail.

— The Russians interfered in the 2016 U.S. election to help elect Trump president.

— Trump encouraged the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails on July 27, 2016 (“Russia, if you’re listening”), on the very day that Russian intelligence hackers tried to attack Clinton’s personal and campaign servers.

— There were, according to the Moscow Project, “101 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia linked operatives,” and “the Trump team tried to cover up every single one of them.” The most infamous of these contacts was the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between the Trump campaign high command and a Kremlin emissary promising dirt on Clinton. Donald Trump Jr.’s reaction to the offer of Russian assistance? “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

— The Trump campaign was full of individuals, such as Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Michael Flynn, with suspiciously close links to Moscow.

From Strobe Talbott at Politico: “It’s Already Collusion. We don’t need news reports to tell us that Trump is giving Putin what he wants. Take it from this longtime Russia hand: It’s staring us in the face.”

America’s 45th president has accused his twelve predecessors, going back to Harry Truman, of making Uncle Sam “a sucker of the world.” In place of that legacy, he is shutting down America’s global franchise while building up literal and virtual walls.

In Europe, Trump has made it vastly easier for Putin to bury the Gorbachev-Yeltsin concept of partnership with the West and roll back what he sees as its incursion into Russia’s sphere of domination. Instead of shoring up key Atlantic allies, Trump is bullying and belittling them, thereby making them even more vulnerable to the rise of right-wing nationalists who now have a booster and exemplar in Trump.

Trump has an affinity for dictators—as he himself reportedly acknowledged only this week during a lunch with senators, “I don’t know why I get along with all the tough ones and not the soft ones.” He actually does know why: He’s a wannabe. He envies their unchecked power, use of intimidation and penchant for operating in secret, apparently because he doesn’t trust the advisers and agencies who work for him.

This weekend’s Post article zeroed in on the Trump-Putin “one-on-one” last July in Helsinki, without aides or note-takers. Gross, the State Department interpreter, was the only American other than Trump who knows what was said, and she is under wraps. Whatever Trump told his own staff afterward, it would be likely what he wants people to believe, especially if he is hiding something. Take his claim that he “couldn’t care less” if his conversation with Putin became public for what it is worth: nothing. What’s more telling was the smug look on Putin’s face and an uncertain one on Trump’s after the meeting. 

The Russian interpreter, in any event, would have probably transcribed the tête-à-tête from memory and notes immediately after the meeting. Putin, moreover, is a skilled interrogator who would have back-briefed his inner team. As a result, the Russian side has yet another advantage in its handling of Putin’s admiring would-be friend.

Tom Nichols from USA Today writes this: “All signs point the same way: Vladimir Putin has compromising information on Donald Trump”.

For apparently the first time in history, the president of the United States himself was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation. This means that his ties to a hostile power were significant enough to overcome the high bar the FBI would have to clear to investigate any American for possibly being influenced or compromised by another country — much less its own chief executive.

We have also learned that the president has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal his discussions with an enemy foreign leader not only from intelligence and foreign policy figures in his own administration, but even from the senior officials of his own Oval Office. It should go without saying that he has tried, in this area as in so many others, to wall himself off from congressional oversight.

The president himself is always a reliable barometer of the importance of such revelations, and his panicky tweeting and a subsequent bizarre interview on Fox News(where else?) suggest that these reports are indeed bombshells.

The president’s enablers are dismissing all of this as just more of a Deep State conspiracy set in motion by an FBI aggrieved by the firing of James Comey. The enraged Trump opponents who call themselves the Resistance are convinced that this is evidence not only of Russian influence, but of a Manchurian Candidate who is now the Red President.

The Deep State story is nonsense. The Mole in the Oval image, meanwhile, is too extreme — but not as crazy a theory as it was a year or two ago. The president clearly has something to hide. As I have written many times over the past two years, it is highly unlikely that there is any innocent explanation for the remarkable frequency and depth of the Trump coterie’s interactions with Russia for some 30 years, and especially during the campaign.

While Trump is not an “agent” of the Russian Federation (too many people use this kind of language without knowing what it means to counterintelligence officials), it seems at this point beyond argument that the president personally fears Russian President Vladimir Putin for reasons that can only suggest the existence of compromising information.

This is Tara Palmari from ABC News:  “Interpreter from Trump-Putin summit may be forced into congressional spotlight. Only one American was a firsthand witness to Trump’s summit with Putin.”

But a senior Democratic aide on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said a new report in The Washington Post has “changed the calculus.” It describes the president going to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Putin, including moves Trump allegedly took to seize notes from the interpreter at a meeting he held with Putin in Hamburg.

“This raises a new host of questions,” the aide said. “We’re looking into the legal implications of that and we’ll discuss our options. Our lawyers are sitting down with intel committee lawyers to hash it out.”

Trump denied Saturday that he was trying to conceal details from the meeting.

“I’m not keeping anything under wraps,” Trump told Fox News. “Anybody could have listened to that meeting, that meeting is up for grabs.”

Brett Bruen, who served as the White House director of global engagement from 2013 to 2015, said the move to interview Gross would be unusual but is within the scope of Congress’ oversight authority.

“I don’t ever recall an interpreter being subpoenaed — I don’t see how they wouldn’t be subjected like anyone else who is a government employee or contractor,” said Bruen, who served on President Barack Obama’s National Security Council staff.

CNN reporters highlight this transcript from the FBI:

 The congressional transcripts obtained by CNN reveal new details into how the FBI launched the investigation into Trump and the discussions that were going on inside the bureau during a tumultuous and pivotal period ahead of the internal investigation and special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment.

Republicans view the officials’ comments as evidence that top officials at the FBI were planning all along to investigate Trump and that the probe wasn’t sparked by the Comey firing, according to a Republican source with knowledge of the interviews.
While the FBI launched its investigation in the days after Comey’s abrupt dismissal, the bureau had previously contemplated such a step, according to testimony from former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

Peter Strzok, the former FBI agent who was dismissed from Mueller’s team and later fired over anti-Trump text messages, texted Page in the hours after Comey’s firing and said: “We need to open the case we’ve been waiting on now while Andy is acting,” a reference to then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.

Page was pressed on the meaning of the message in her interview with congressional investigators, and she confirmed that the text was related to the Russia investigation into potential collusion.

Page told lawmakers the decision to open the case was not about “who was occupying the director’s chair,” according to a source. While FBI lawyers limited her answers about the text, she said the text wasn’t suggesting that the case couldn’t be opened with Comey as director.

“It’s not that it could not have been done,” Page told lawmakers. “This case had been a topic of discussion for some time. The ‘waiting on’ was an indecision and a cautiousness on the part of the bureau with respect to what to do and whether there was sufficient predication to open.”

The Epoch Times has Lisa Page’s interview here.  You’ll remember that Trump was itching to get Page and Strzok fired and succeeded. After all, they were adulterous and said a few nice things about Hillary!

Included in the transcripts provided to us is information suggesting Brennan was aware of the so-called Steele dossier in early August 2016, and that he included information regarding the dossier in a briefing given to then-Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Other key points in Page’s testimony before Congress:

• The FBI appears to have considered investigating President Trump for obstruction of justice both before and after FBI Director James Comey was fired.

• Page says the DOJ refused to pursue “gross-negligence” charges against Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server to send classified information.

• FBI agent Michael Gaeta, head of the Eurasian Crime Squad, who received the dossier from former MI6 spy Christopher Steele in July 2016 is referred to in the transcript as Steele’s handler.

• The FBI maintained a previously unknown verification file for the Steele dossier. Congressional investigators didn’t previously know of its existence.

• John Carlin, the head of the DOJ’s National Security Division, was kept abreast of the FBI’s investigative activities through contact with then-Deputy FBI Director McCabe.

• Page worked directly for DOJ official Bruce Ohr for at least five years and had met his wife, Nellie, once.

• The role of FBI agent Jonathan Moffa and DOJ official George Toscas may have been greater than initially assumed.

I personally believe a lot of reticence to do anything to Trump by Republicans has to do with this Betsy Woodruff headling: “Kremlin Blessed Russia’s NRA Operation, U.S. Intel Report Says. When Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin brought NRA bigwigs to Moscow, it wasn’t a rogue mission. It was OKed from the very top, according to a report reviewed by The Daily Beast.”  Republicans have literally gone from fearing reds under beds to being co-opted by by them.  McConnell was the biggest recipient of laundered Russian money and held the purse strings for its dispersal.

The Kremlin has long denied that it had anything to do with the infiltration of the NRA and the broader American conservative movement. A U.S. intelligence report reviewed by The Daily Beast tells a different story.

Alexander Torshin, the Russian central bank official who spent years aggressively courting NRA leaders, briefed the Kremlin on his efforts and recommended they participate, according to the report. Its existence and contents have not previously been reported.

While there has been speculation that Torshin and his protegée, Maria Butina, had the Kremlin’s blessing to woo the NRA—and federal prosecutors have vaguely asserted that she acted “on behalf of the Russian federation”—no one in the White House or the U.S. intelligence community has publicly stated as much. Senior Russian government officials, for their part, have strenuously distanced themselves from Butina’s courtship of the NRA, which she did at Torshin’s direction. 

The report, on the other hand, notes that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was fine with Torshin’s courtship of the NRA because the relationships would be valuable if a Republican won the White House in 2016.

This should give you plenty of reading before we hear from Michael Cohen testifying before Congress.  (updated)

Here’s what you need to know about Cohen’s committee appearance:

What day: The hearing is set for Thursday, Feb. 7.

What time: House committee hearings usually begin between 9:30 a.m. ET and 10 a.m. ET. The time for Cohen’s hearing has not been announced. Check back here for updates.

What channel: The hearing will be broadcast live on cable news channels.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Live from NOLA Convention Center!!!!


Sunday Reads: Quickly

 

 

And the new season is upon us…I’m not talking GoT…

Obama ‘new blood’ remark has different meaning for Biden  | TheHill

Former President Obama’s talk about how politics need “new blood” is being seen as a blow to Joe Biden, the former vice president that Obama did not back to succeed him in 2016.

[…]

…Obama and Biden as friends…

[…]

…recent remarks like the one Obama made this week in Hawaii represent a sort of threat to Biden, who has told allies in recent days that he’s likely to enter the 2020 presidential race.

Obama was speaking broadly about the need for new blood in politics, not specifically the need for new blood in the Democratic Party.

But coming on the heels of Obama’s meeting with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas), a rising Democratic star who most political observers see as competing with Biden for a slice of the primary electorate, it also sent a signal to the wider political world.

The remark and the burgeoning flirtation between Obama’s political network and O’Rourke also stings Biden given the 2016 campaign, when Obama backed Hillary Clinton and nudged the vice president away from the race, insiders say.

Blah, blah, blah. Then there is this actual quoted dialogue about how much Obama loves “Joe” …seriously:

“The president loves this guy, loves Joe, thinks the world of him. He would go in a battle ditch with Joe but that’s different than giving his brand to him,” one ally of Obama’s said in describing the political dynamic and the former president’s actions.

“He has an incredible soft spot for him. And I’m sure he’ll do everything he can to make Joe feel good, but he won’t come out and make Joe his candidate,” the ally said. “And I think that hurts Joe.”

Poor Joe Biden. I don’t know why I started this post off with this little nugget from the Hill. Perhaps, it was the way they are already framing Biden in this coming blood sport of the Democratic Presidential Primaries. If you read the rest of the article, it once again brings up Hillary…and how she stole Joe’s chance back in 2016, by gaining Obama’s support. Considering the fucking horrible display the press has given Warren and Harris, the mysoginistic treatment we saw of Hillary back in 2008 and 2016 will be nothing compared to what the women candidates will face this time around.

This, for me at least, makes the case for an even for bolder Dem ticket in 2020:

 

An all women ticket.

 

Yes, I am for a full kitty administration. Fuck all these dickheads who have gotten us where we are today!

This is an open thread.


Lazy Caturday Reads: Putin’s Puppet

The blue cat by Natasha Milashevich

Good Afternoon!!

I assume everyone has heard about the blockbuster story in The New York Times last night about an FBI investigation into whether Trump was working with Russia and against the U.S.: F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia.

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

Two well-known instances of Trump’s public behavior helped trigger the counterintelligence investigation of Trump: a draft of a letter explaining the firing James Comey and Trump’s interview with NBC’s Lester Holt in which he tied the firing of Comey to the Russia investigation. The investigations were passed on to Robert Mueller after he was appointed Special Counsel.

The criminal and counterintelligence elements were coupled together into one investigation, former law enforcement officials said in interviews in recent weeks, because if Mr. Trump had ousted the head of the F.B.I. to impede or even end the Russia investigation, that was both a possible crime and a national security concern. The F.B.I.’s counterintelligence division handles national security matters.

If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017. He privately testified in October before House investigators who were examining the F.B.I.’s handling of the full Russia inquiry.

“Not only would it be an issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security,” Mr. Baker said in his testimony, portions of which were read to The New York Times. Mr. Baker did not explicitly acknowledge the existence of the investigation of Mr. Trump to congressional investigators.

One more event reinforced the decision to investigate Trump himself.

F.B.I. officials viewed their decision to move quickly as validated when a comment the president made to visiting Russian officials in the Oval Office shortly after he fired Mr. Comey was revealed days later.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to a document summarizing the meeting. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

 

This should be mind-blowing; but after all we’ve learned over the past three years it’s really not that big of a surprise. After all, Hillary warned us back in 2016.

After the NYT story broke last night, Sarah Sanders released an idiotic statement that contained no denial of the substance.

Trump also tweeted and failed to deny anything substantive in the story.

Susan Glasser reupped her May 2017 Politico story about Trump’s meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office: Russia’s Oval Office Victory Dance. The cozy meeting between President Trump and Russia’s foreign minister came at Vladimir Putin’s insistence.

When President Donald Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office on Wednesday just hours after firing the FBI director who was overseeing an investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded with the Russians, he was breaking with recent precedent at the specific request of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Grey haired woman with cat, Teresa Tanner

The chummy White House visit—photos of the president yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry since no U.S. press was allowed to cover the visit—had been one of Putin’s asks in his recent phone call with Trump, and indeed the White House acknowledged this to me later Wednesday. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman said of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.”

The meeting was Lavrov’s first in the White House since 2013—and came after several years of the Obama administration’s flat-out refusal to grant him an Oval Office audience, two former senior White House officials told me. “The Russians were begging us for years to do that,” one of the former officials said. “They were constantly pushing for it and we were constantly saying no.”

The images of Trump putting his arm genially on Lavrov’s back—and a later White House official readout of the meeting that said Trump “emphasized his desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia”—couldn’t have come at a more fraught political moment for Trump, amid a barrage of bipartisan criticism of his firing of FBI Director James Comey. On Wednesday morning before meeting with Trump, Lavrov even cracked a joke about his hosts’ political predicament, laughingly claiming not to have heard of the Comey firing while standing alongside Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

In other words, Lavrov was right where he has always wanted to be Wednesday: mocking the United States while being welcomed in the Oval Office by the president himself.

How many conversations has Trump had with Putin on his unsecured cell phone? My guess is the NSA and Robert Mueller know the answer and they also know what the two pals discussed.

Late last night The Hoarse Whisperer posted a long Twitter thread, at the end of which he noted that on his way out Obama issued an executive order to make information sharing between the NSA and the FBI easier.

Read the whole thread on Twitter.

From the January 2017 New York Times Story by Charlie Savage:

In its final days, the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government’s 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.

The new rules significantly relax longstanding limits on what the N.S.A. may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operations, which are largely unregulated by American wiretapping laws. These include collecting satellite transmissions, phone calls and emails that cross network switches abroad, and messages between people abroad that cross domestic network switches.

The change means that far more officials will be searching through raw data. Essentially, the government is reducing the risk that the N.S.A. will fail to recognize that a piece of information would be valuable to another agency, but increasing the risk that officials will see private information about innocent people.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch signed the new rules, permitting the N.S.A. to disseminate “raw signals intelligence information,” on Jan. 3, after the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., signed them on Dec. 15, according to a 23-page, largely declassified copy of the procedures.

Previously, the N.S.A. filtered information before sharing intercepted communications with another agency, like the C.I.A. or the intelligence branches of the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration. The N.S.A.’s analysts passed on only information they deemed pertinent, screening out the identities of innocent people and irrelevant personal information.

Now, other intelligence agencies will be able to search directly through raw repositories of communications intercepted by the N.S.A. and then apply such rules for “minimizing” privacy intrusions.

Obama must have suspected that FBI investigators would need to access the NSA data.

More stories to check out:

Lawfare: What if the Obstruction Was the Collusion? On the New York Times’s Latest Bombshell.

The Daily Beast: Ex-FBI Officials Say Spy Inquiry into President Trump Is ‘Uncharted Territory.’

Vox: How the big new New York Times scoop changes our understanding of the Trump-Russia probe.

I know there’s plenty of other news, but I can’t focus on anything but the Russian agent in the White House. But please share your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread below.


Friday Reads: Headlines I never thought I’d read in this country

Barbara Stevenson, Apple Vendor, 1933-1934

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

It’s a sunny,crisp, cold morning here in New Orleans. I start this day like most others. Temple has had her morning walk. I have been blessed by the gifts bestowed by the morning’s first cup of coffee. Now I do what my parents and grandparents did before me.  I reach for the morning news before starting my work of grading student homework. I think about the the headlines that have greeted the last four or five generations of my family. I still marvel thinking about waking up to the Dust Bowl like my father’s family did or waking up to the start and end of two world wars like both sets of grandparents.

I was already settled into this family pattern in high school when all the Watergate goings on and the Vietnam war news filled the pages. It has been a couple of bombastic modern centuries but some of the worst of it was never quite in everyone’s backyard here. This is when we always would find the gumption–eventually–to be neighborly and come to the support of a neighbor in need. We frequently stumbled on the path to right our country’s wrongs. But,we eventually muster the righteousness to move–eventually and frequently with Judicial encouragement–in that direction.

Today’s art is “Public Art” that was commissioned during The New Deal.  It is something with no future in Trump’s America.   I don’t mean the angst of the artists living through the Great Depression but the relief they must’ve felt when they were paid to produce these great works in public spaces.  Reading through today’s headlines I feel the chill of the season and of the times. Ours is a country that no longer helps its neighbors at all. We’re a country that turns its backs on every one but the extremely wealthy who pass laws to take and keep what they want. The topmost government political officials are nothing more than grifters.

This makes me profoundly sad.

Mutiny on the Amistad,Hale Woodruff.,1938

Here’s a WAPO headline for you to think about. “Now on Craigslist, Facebook: Household items from furloughed workers trying to make ends meet.”  These are members of the US coast Guard tasked with protecting our shores and water. They are officials that look for contraband and bad people at ports like the TSO and the customs folks. They are our park rangers who protect everything in the borders of our national parks.  We are failing them as they do our work.

A federal worker in Morgantown, W.Va., took to Facebook this week to sell welding tools, left behind by his deceased father-in-law. Another, a die-hard Star Wars fan in Woodbridge, Va., did the same with a life-size replica of Kylo Ren’s lightsaber. A single father in Indiana hosted a sale on eBay with five pages of things found around the house, including Bibles, Nintendo bedsheets and Dr. Seuss neckties.

“Sells for $93.88 at Walmart. Asking $10,” a government worker wrote on a Craigslist ad for a Lulu Ladybug rocking chair. “We need money to pay bills.”

As hundreds of thousands of federal workers brace for their first missed paychecks of the government shutdown this week, some have become immersed in the frantic financial calculus of choosing what they can live without.

In the United States, living paycheck to paycheck is disturbingly common, regardless of profession or location. A recent report from the Federal Reserve revealed how little cushion most Americans have in their budgets: Four in 10 adults say they couldn’t produce $400 in an emergency without sliding into debt or selling something, according to the figures that surveyed households in 2017, a relatively prosperous year for the American economy.

But the shutdown, which began just before Christmas, took many federal workers by surprise and is lasting longer than most expected. That has left furloughed employees stuck at home, sifting through garages and closets, basements and bookshelves to find possessions and personal treasures to sell.

“You have to take a kind of coldhearted look at things around you and decide what would be marketable to someone else,” said Jay Elhard, on furlough from his job as a media specialist at Acadia National Park in Maine.

Baseball at Night by Morris Kantor, 1934

This is behavior deemed appropriate and necessary by a President of the United States so he can get his way on something that all evidence says is a complete waste of treasure. Today, millions of Federal Workers have missed a paycheck. Many are working. A lawsuit has been filed by a Federal Worker’s union.  There was a protest this week by workers. The Senate passed a law to guarantee backpay but for many that could be too little and too late. I’ve watched my pay erode and my work load increase over the last 7 years at this teaching job. I’m beyond pay check to pay check because I never know when the terms of my pay will change and they definitely have and so have benefits and it’s never been for the  better.

These  workers will return to a pay freeze this year when they do get starting getting paid.  However, the accumulating interest and late fees on loans and other payments will not freeze and I’ve yet to go a year when life’s little essentials like electricity, water, and access to the internet or tv hasn’t gone up way more than any one’s salary. I’m not sure how much longer these things can continue before a recession really takes hold.  Main Street does not depend on the Trump family’s buying whims.  It depends on every day people.  (Via VOX)

As an official for the American Federation of Government Employees union recently laid out, it takes at least two to three days for the government to process payroll, so workers would likely receive their back pay after at least that much time elapsed.

While Trump has refused to sign a package of seven appropriations bills, forcing about a quarter of the federalgovernment into a lengthy shutdown over this fight, he’s already agreed to sign this back pay legislation, according to a spokesperson for Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). Kaine, who was one of more than 20 sponsors for the unanimously passed bill, is optimistic the House will take it up soon, the spokesperson added.

The bill aims to address one of the chief pain points of the shutdown, which has left federal workers scrambling to cover day-to-day costs like rent, utilities, and medication while they wait for their next paycheck to come in. Its benefits, however, won’t be felt for some time since workers won’t receive the back pay until the shutdown has been resolved.

In the interim,Democrats have also proposed other measures to protect workers from the fallout of what will soon be the longest shutdown in US history. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) have introduced legislation, according to HuffPost, that would “prohibit landlords and creditors from taking action against federal workers or contractors who are hurt by the shutdown and cannot pay rent or repay loans.” And Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN) is drafting a bill that would cover back pay for federal contractors as well.

The shutdown is now in its 20th day and there still isn’t a clear end in sight. At the very least, the Senate’s latest action helps ensure that hundreds of thousands of federal workers will get the pay they missed once it’s over.

WPA Mural “New Deal”, Charles Wells,1935

Now, Trump is threatening to take Federal Disaster Relief funds for his misadventure along the Southern Border. How many lives and livelihoods will this mean?  (Via NBC)

President Donald Trump has been briefed on a plan that would use the Army Corps of Engineers and a portion of $13.9 billion of Army Corps funding to build 315 miles of barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, according to three U.S. officials familiar with the briefing.

The money was set aside to fund projects all over the country including storm-damaged areas of Puerto Rico through fiscal year 2020, but the checks have not been written yet and, under an emergency declaration, the president could take the money from these civil works projects and use it to build the border wall, said officials familiar with the briefing and two congressional sources.

The plan could be implemented if Trump declares a national emergency in order to build the wall and would use more money and build more miles than the administration has requested from Congress. The president had requested $5.7 billion for a wall stretching 234 miles.

Under the proposal, the officials said, Trump could dip into the $2.4 billion allocated to projects in California, including flood prevention and protection projects along the Yuba River Basin and the Folsom Dam, as well as the $2.5 billion set aside for reconstruction projects in Pueto Rico, which is still recovering from Hurricane Maria.

There are other headlines I find deeply disturbing today.  Here are a few.

New York Times:  Prosecutors Examining Ukrainians Who Flocked to Trump Inaugural

Associated PressUS official says troop withdrawal from Syria has started

 Colleen Long / Associated PressAPNewsBreak: US approved thousands of child bride requests

Laura Rozen / Al-MonitorPompeo’s Cairo speech panned as ‘tone-deaf,’ ‘hyper-partisan,’ ‘offensive’

Bob Bauer / The Atlantic

Matt Lewis / The Daily Beast:

Frank Bruni / New York Times:

The Pompeo Speech at American University in Cairo is particularly offensive and disturbing.  I don’t think it does much use to place a xenophobic religious nutter as the face of American outreach to the world.

Subway, Lily Furedi, 1934

It’s really difficult not to be embarrassed by the realization that your country’s chief diplomat is a shining example of the “ugly American”.

Pompeo’s speech “was a regurgitation of what they have been saying for two years. There was nothing new, and it was offensive,” former career US diplomat and ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein told Al-Monitor. “That they think that anyone still wants to hear about Barack Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech — get over it.”

“You own the issue now, you own the policy,” Feierstein continued. “People want to know what you are going to do, not what you think Barack Obama did wrong. And on that score, there was nothing there, Just a lot of empty rhetoric of all things they are going to do and how wonderful the United States is and it never occupied anybody. So what.”

Pompeo’s speech is unlikely to reassure American allies and partners frustrated by constantly shifting Donald Trump administration positions on the region that they are not properly consulted about, said former FBI and Treasury Department official Matthew Levitt.

“I do not think they [the Trump administration] fully appreciate the level of anxiety among our allies and potential allies in the region and beyond in Europe in terms of how reliable we are as a partner,” Levitt, now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Al-Monitor.

“It is not just the decision to withdraw US forces in Syria,” Levitt continued. “Much more than that, it is the way the decision was arrived at and announced. [US Syria envoy Jim] Jeffrey said one thing one day, Trump says the opposite the next day. … People can’t keep up with the pace of the back and forth, ping pong. The lack of clarity, the lack of procedure in the policy making process — the allies see that.”

“While it is great to go to the region in a time of anxiety to reassure people you mean to have a reinvigorated role in the Middle East, it is not enough to say it,” Levitt said.

The extensive swipes in the speech at the previous administration were also discomfiting, Levitt said.

Whether it is done by Republicans or Democrats, “I always felt uncomfortable when Americans travel abroad and hang out dirty laundry,” he said.

“Embarrassing and shameful speech by the small, hyper-partisan Trump suck-up Pompeo,” Ellen Tauscher, a former undersecretary of state for arms control in the Obama administration and a former member of Congress, wrote on Twitter. “There’s not a ‘non-partisan statesman’ pore in his body.”

While I don’t think our country has to send our soldiers to every corner of the globe, I don’t think our country has ever been so small and headed towards insignificance.   If the goal was to get us off the international stage, that’s been done.  But how is ruining day to day life for ordinary Americans making us ‘great again’? The regime of Tariffs is killing many US businesses.  The combination of tariffs and shutdowns is probably hitting US farmers worse than any industry. I’m pretty sure they aren’t getting what they voted for.

In Georgia, a pecan farmer lost out on his chance to buy his first orchard. The local Farm Service Agency office that would have processed his loan application was shut down.

In Wisconsin’s dairy country, a 55-year-old woman sat inside her new dream home, worried she would not be able to pay her mortgage. Her loan had come from an Agriculture Department program for low-income residents in rural areas, but all of the account information she needed to make her first payment was locked away in an empty government office.

And in upstate New York, Pam Moore was feeding hay to her black-and-white cows at a small dairy that tottered on the brink of ruin. She and her husband had run up $350,000 in debt to keep the dairy running after 31 of their cows died of pneumonia, and their last lifeline was an emergency federal farm loan. But the money had been derailed by the government shutdown.

“It has just been one thing after another, after another, after another,” Ms. Moore, 57, said.

Farm country has stood by President Trump, even as farmers have strained under two years of slumping incomes and billions in losses from his trade wars. But as the government shutdown now drags into a third week, some farmers say the loss of crucial loans, payments and other services has pushed them — and their support — to a breaking point.

They thing Trump country never really understood is they’re the ones that need their neighboring states and their beneficence more than any one.  I assume they’re learning that painful lesson with the rest of us whose livelihood is running the stuff of the country instead of selling it stuff it really doesn’t need.

What’s on you reading and blogging list today?

 


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

Having a childish, incompetent madman in charge of the government is so exhausting. How much more of this can we take? Today, Donnie is headed for the Texas border with Mexico to do something or other. Who knows what insane gibberish will spew from his deformed lips. All I know for sure is that it won’t make sense.

Donnie has been touting his “steel slat” fence for the past week, but guess what? Those slats can be cut through with a common household saw.

NBC News: Test of steel prototype for border wall showed it could be sawed through.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly advocated for a steel slat design for his border wall, which he described as “absolutely critical to border security” in his Oval Office address to the nation Tuesday. But Department of Homeland Security testing of a steel slat prototype proved it could be cut through with a saw, according to a report by DHS.

A photo exclusively obtained by NBC News shows the results of the test after military and Border Patrol personnel were instructed to attempt to destroy the barriers with common tools.

The Trump administration directed the construction of eight steel and concrete prototype walls that were built in Otay Mesa, California, just across the border from Tijuana, Mexico. Trump inspected the prototypes in March 2018. He has now settled on a steel slat, or steel bollard, design for the proposed border barrier additions. Steel bollard fencing has been used under previous administrations.

However, testing by DHS in late 2017 showed all eight prototypes, including the steel slats, were vulnerable to breaching, according to an internal February 2018 U.S. Customs and Border Protection report.

Photos of the breaches were not included in a redacted version of the CBP report, which was first obtained in a Freedom of Information Act Request by San Diego public broadcaster KPBS.

Gail Collins mocks Donnie’s wall obsession at The New York Times: Trump Hits the Wall. And what’s all that sniffling about?

We need to look at the bright side of Donald Trump’s border wall fixation.

Sure, he’s shut down the government and thrown the nation into chaos. But it could be worse. He could be demanding a fiery moat between us and Canada. Or building a 36,000-foot-deep barrier across the Pacific Ocean to drive home his commitment to tariffs.

See? There’s always a silver lining.

On Trump’s strange oval office address:

Maybe all this wall obsessing makes Trump tired. He certainly seemed low-energy during his Oval Office address. “He makes Jeb Bush look like a combination of Mighty Mouse and Bruce Springsteen,” a friend of mine said after the president finished his nine-minute speech to the American people.

For every viewer whose response to the talk was “Wow, we should do something about immigration!” there must have been a hundred whose first reaction was “Why does this man keep sniffing?” Deviated septum? Nasal polyps? Trump’s breathing has actually sounded strange for a long time, but most of us have chosen to ignore it rather than engage in a national conversation about the president’s nose.

If you watched the address — and really, you could have, it was only about as long as it takes to microwave popcorn — you saw a 72-year-old guy squinting at the teleprompter and making rather alarming breathing sounds while reading a speech about how we need a wall to protect women who are “sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico.”

This is not a man who should wrap his arguments around the idea of protecting women from sexual assault. But also, gee, he sounded like Uncle Fred who you haven’t seen for a while and suddenly he shows up for Thanksgiving with weird colored hair and vacant eyes and he’s talking into his mashed potatoes.

As the Trump shutdown continues, the administration has been giving tone-deaf advice to government employees who are going without pay.

The Washington Post: Coast Guard families told they can have garage sales to cope with government shutdown.

Employees of the U.S. Coast Guard who are facing a long U.S. government shutdown just received a suggestion: To get by without pay, consider holding a garage sale, babysitting, dog-walking or serving as a “mystery shopper.”

The suggestions were part of a five-page tip sheet published by the Coast Guard Support Program, an employee-assistance arm of the service often known as CG SUPRT. It is designated to offer Coast Guard members help with mental-health issues or other concerns about their lives, including financial wellness.

“Bankruptcy is a last option,” the document said.

The Coast Guard receives funding from the Department of Homeland Security and is subjected to the shuttering of parts of the government along with DHS’s other agencies. That stands in contrast to other military services, which are part of the Defense Department and have funding.

This is interesting, from Buzzfeed News: ICE Might Be Violating Federal Law By Keeping Immigrants Detained During The Shutdown.

A lengthy government shutdown over border wall funding has potentially put Immigration and Customs Enforcement at risk of violating a more than 100-year-old law that could not only require the release of “non-dangerous” individuals in the agency’s custody but also stop it from continuing to arrest and detain certain people, according to former senior ICE officials and experts.

The potential violation could complicate ICE’s operations at a time when President Donald Trump has argued that the shutdown is necessary to force Democrats to implement tougher immigration policies, such as building a wall on the US–Mexico border.

ICE contracts with nonfederal detention facilities, like county jails and private detention contractors, across the country to hold individuals detained by immigration agents. The agency pays for the bed space in various ways, including monthly payments or, in some cases, in advance.

As of Jan. 1, the agency was detaining more than 48,000 individuals, which is 8,000 more than the levels that had been provided for by the now-expired congressional funding. But nearly three weeks after its funding lapsed because of the shutdown, ICE has likely run out of money to pay contractors for the detention space it uses.

And while ICE has some non-appropriated funds it can lean on, those are not enough to pay for the overall detention space for more than a few weeks, said Kevin Landy, who was appointed during the Obama administration to run ICE’s Office of Detention Policy and Planning, a position he held for more than six years, up until 2017.

In other news, Kamala Harris is close to announcing a run for president in 2020.

KCBS Radio: Kamala Harris Ready To Enter Race For President, Sources Say.

Sen. Kamala Harris has decided to run for president in 2020 and will announce her candidacy on or around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, probably at a campaign rally in Oakland, sources close to the freshman senator from California tell KCBS Radio.

Harris, 54, has been making the rounds of television talk shows and appearing at several events this week as part of a brief tour to promote her new book, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.”

At every stop, when asked about running for president, Harris has answered with some variation of “I’m not ready yet” to announce her decision, citing family considerations. But several sources knowledgeable about her plans say she is ready, and has in fact decided to run, with the enthusiastic blessing of her husband and two stepchildren.

The debate within her camp is how, and where, to launch her campaign. The tentative plan is for Harris to enter the race for the Democratic presidential nomination with a campaign rally, most likely in Oakland, where she was born and began her legal career.

And the media continues to belatedly vet Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaign. Politico: Top Bernie Sanders 2016 adviser accused of forcibly kissing subordinate.

On the final night of the Democratic National Convention in July of 2016, Bernie Sanders’ staffers went out to a Mediterranean restaurant and hookah bar in Center City Philadelphia to celebrate and mourn the end of the campaign.

Sitting at the bar sometime after midnight, convention floor leader Robert Becker—who oversaw Sanders’ Iowa campaign, then helped lead his efforts in Michigan, California, and New York as deputy national field director—began talking with a female staffer who had worked under him along with her boyfriend.

Becker, now 50 years old, told the 20-something woman that he had always wanted to have sex with her and made a reference to riding his “pole,” according to the woman and three other people who witnessed what happened or were told about it shortly afterward by people who did. Later in the night, Becker approached the woman and abruptly grabbed her wrists. Then he moved his hands to her head and forcibly kissed her, putting his tongue in her mouth as he held her, the woman and other sources said.

The woman said she didn’t come forward at the time, because Sanders’ campaign was over. But when she was recently contacted by Becker about 2020 the women felt she had to speak up.

“Candidates who allow people like Robert Becker to lead their organizations shouldn’t earn the highest office in our government,” said the woman, who was granted anonymity because she feared retaliation from supporters of Sanders and Becker, who has a loyal following of his own.

“It just really sucks because no one ever held him accountable and he kept pushing and pushing and seeing how much he could get away with. This can’t happen in 2020. You can’t run for President of the United States unless you acknowledge that every campaign demands a safe work environment for every employee and volunteer.”

 


Wednesday Open Thread: What’s going on?

Hello everyone.

I am still in the land of blah sickness, so I have no idea what that Muthafukka has done…

Converse among yourselves…wait, is that a word?

Open thread.