Friday Reads: Putting it all into Perspective

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

We’ve come to the end of the second week of impeachment hearings as well as entertained yet another Candidate Debate.  It’s tempting to speak of winners and losers in a day and age where frequently there’s no clear delineation.  Just think, we have an occupant of an oval Office that clearly and significantly lost the popular vote and appears to have won select states narrowly with so many shenanigans and one offs that the voters were the clear losers in that one.

But, I do want to put some of these things into some kind of perspective even if historians deride it later on.  My Nana was a Christian Science practitioner since ridding herself of migraines through its prayerful practices as a young woman.  She always saw that my parents had an annual subscription to The Christian Science Monitor and that my sister and I had one to National Geographic.  She and my Granddad died in hospital so while my grandmother had beliefs, she also had perspective.  Neither of my grandmothers could vote until well into middle age so I usually take myself to the polls with that in mind.   It gives me perspective when I cherish every vote.  I read this article this morning with Nana in mind and a nod to religious Matriarch Mary Baker Eddy.

This perspective comes from the CSM: “Impeachment’s rock stars: Powerful women”  Truly, the stand outs in the hearings this week were the powerful women in the State Department and National Security.  I particularly like this introduction by authors Jessica Mendoza and Story Hinckley on why they wrote the article.

One striking aspect of the impeachment hearings is the way they’ve showcased the experience and intellect of professional women. Regardless of the political outcome, women’s advocates say that’s significant.

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M.C. Escher, “Bond of Union,” 1956.

Dr Fiona Hill and Ambassador Marie Yavanovitch were outstanding.  They were clearly the kinds of women that terrify the Kremlin Potted Plant.  Hill had the Republicans on the panel so stunned they quit asking her questions and some actually fled the hearing room.  Laura Cooper and Jennifer Williams also refused to play GymBro’s Republican Games.

On Thursday, David Holmes, who served as Ambassador Yovanovitch’s chief policy adviser in Kyiv, testified in his opening statement about his “deep respect for her dedication, determination, decency, and professionalism.” He added that the “barrage of allegations” leveled against her were “unlike anything I have seen in my professional career.”

To be sure, Mr. Trump often treats his perceived enemies this way, regardless of their gender. But observers say there was a certain force to seeing a successful woman gracefully fend off such attacks in real time.

“No one would say that Yovanovitch’s testimony was anything less than a master class in integrity-led leadership,” says Jenna Ben-Yehuda, founder of the Women’s Foreign Policy Network, a global organization for women in foreign affairs. “It shows that leadership takes many forms. I hope we hold on to that.”

When Ms. Yovanovitch’s hearing wrapped on Friday, she received a standing ovation from the audience.

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“Puddle”, M. C. Escher, 1952, woodcut

There were also women among the ranks of the Congressional Panel.

Women lawmakers have also been front-and-center in the impeachment drama. Two of the three Democratic women are black.

Florida Rep. Val Demings, one of three Democrats on the panel, came out hard against Ambassador Sondland on Wednesday, pressing him on the details of a phone conversation he had with Mr. Trump at a restaurant in Kyiv. California Rep. Jackie Speier – who as a congressional aide in the 1970s came under gunfire while investigating the Jonestown cult in Guyana – played a key role in the depositions of Ambassador Taylor and State Department official George Kent, according to transcripts. And Rep. Terri Sewell, the No. 3 Democrat on the panel and the first black woman to serve Alabama in Congress, has also been a vocal interrogator.

 

This NYT op ed by Glenn R. Simpson and 

As the founders of Fusion GPS, the research firm that commissioned the reports by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele that raised some of the earliest warnings of Russia’s actions, we’re willing to clear up some of the nonsense now so ripe on the right.

House Republicans like Representatives Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan seem eager to portray Fusion as co-conspirators with the Ukrainians in some devilish plot to undermine Mr. Trump’s 2016 candidacy. That could not be further from the truth. None of the information in the so-called Steele dossier came from Ukrainian sources. Zero. And we’ve never met Serhiy Leshchenko, the Ukrainian former legislator and journalist who Republicans want to blame for the downfall of Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

That said, our investigation of Donald Trump did get a great boost because of Ukraine, just not in the way Republicans imagine. We began looking into Mr. Trump’s business dealings and ties to Russia in the fall of 2015 with funding from Republicans who wanted to stop his political ascent. The Ukraine alarms went off six months later, when candidate Trump brought into his campaign none other than Mr. Manafort, a man with his own tangled history with Russian oligarchs trying to get their way in Ukraine.

It turns out we already knew a great deal about Mr. Manafort’s activities in Ukraine because we worked on several stories about his work for Russian-backed politicians eight years earlier, when we were both still writing for The Wall Street Journal. That reporting threw a spotlight on how Mr. Manafort, while representing clients involved in fierce geopolitical struggles over Ukraine, had neglected to comply with a lobbying law requiring that he register as a foreign agent — the very law, among others, to which he pleaded guilty to violating.

Those articles triggered years of media coverage exposing Mr. Manafort’s questionable lobbying activities and ties to pro Russia oligarchs. In the meantime, we left The Journal and went on to found Fusion GPS, a research and strategic intelligence firm, in 2010.

We turned our focus back to Mr. Manafort in early 2016 and soon found a 19-page legal filing in a federal courthouse in Virginia in which one of his former clients, the Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska, accused Mr. Manafort in scorching detail of making off with tens of millions of dollars that he had promised to invest in Ukraine. The whole thing reeked of fraud and possible money laundering. It was as if Mr. Manafort had boarded the Trump campaign plane with baggage stuffed with figurative explosives. The Virginia filings later surfaced in various articles about Manafort in the national media.

A few months later we stumbled on some Ukrainian media reports noting that documents existed in Kyiv that chronicled the political spending of the pro-Russia ruling party at the time, which had hired Mr. Manafort. We wondered if his name might crop up in those papers. Someone suggested Mr. Leshchenko might be of help in the matter — a fact we stored away. To this day, we have never met him.

The New York Times got to the story first, in August 2016, reporting that a black ledger of illicit payments showed that millions of dollars had gone into the pocket of one Paul Manafort. That story led to Mr. Manafort’s ouster from the campaign, and undoubtedly fueled F.B.I. interest in his activities, though the so-called black ledger was never used in the criminal cases against him.

We’d love to take credit for finding the black ledger, but we didn’t, and any alert reporter following the Ukrainian press would have known to follow the leads that led to it.

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“Rimpeling – Rippled surface” (Cercles dans l’eau) Linoleum cut, 1950, on Japan paper, signed in pencil and inscribed ‘eigen druck , M.C. Escher

Another perspective this week comes from former Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith who put money and his mouth to support the idea of freedom of the press. Mr Smith was frequently the target of Trumpist barbs. This comes via the NYT.

In his first public remarks since abruptly resigning from Fox News last month, the anchor Shepard Smith called on Thursday for a steadfast defense of independent journalism, while offering a few subtle barbs at President Trump’s treatment of the press.

And in a surprise announcement, Mr. Smith said he would personally donate $500,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit group that advances press freedoms around the world.

“Intimidation and vilification of the press is now a global phenomenon. We don’t have to look far for evidence of that,” Mr. Smith said at the group’s annual dinner in Midtown Manhattan, an appearance he signed up for before he left Fox News, his television home of 23 years.

The crowd at the black-tie fund-raiser — which draws leading reporters, editors and executives from across the media industry — rose to its feet and applauded after Mr. Smith revealed his donation.

Here’s a perspective from History on one of the main issues coming up in the Democratic Presidential contest.  This might be something to think about as we watch people panic in the street about the Health Care Discussion and the election.

And one final perspective from CNN and a few others:  “Mr. Rogers’ most memorable moments.  Fred Rogers has had a lasting impact on generations of children with his show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” which ran for 31 seasons, from 1968 to 2001. “

 

From The Atlantic and Tom Junod: “My Friend Mister Rogers. I first met him 21 years ago, and now our relationship is the subject of a new movie. He’s never been more revered—or more misunderstood.”

I am often asked what Fred would have made of our time—what he would have made of Donald Trump, what he would have made of Twitter, what he would have made of what is generally called our “polarization” but is in fact the discovery that we don’t like our neighbors very much once we encounter them proclaiming their political opinions on social media. I often hear people say that they wish Fred were still around to offer his guidance and also that they are thankful he is gone, because at least he has been spared from seeing what we have become. In all of this, there is something plaintive and a little desperate, an unspoken lament that he has left us when we need him most, as though instead of dying of stomach cancer he was assumed by rapture, abandoning us to our own devices and the judgment implicit in his absence.

What would Fred Rogers—Mister Rogers—have made of El Paso and Dayton, of mass murder committed to fulfill the dictates of an 8chan manifesto? What, for that matter, would he have made of the anti-Semitic massacre that took place last fall in his real-life Pittsburgh neighborhood of Squirrel Hill? The easy answer is that it is impossible to know, because he was from a different world, one almost as alien to us now as our mob-driven world of performative slaughters would be to him. But actually, I think I do know, because when I met him, one of the early school shootings had just taken place, in West Paducah, Kentucky—eight students shot while they gathered in prayer. Though an indefatigably devout man, he did not attempt to characterize the shootings as an attack on the faithful; instead, he seized on the news that the 14-year-old shooter had gone to school telling his classmates that he was about to do something “really big,” and he asked, “Oh, wouldn’t the world be a different place if he had said, ‘I’m going to do something really little tomorrow’?” Fred decided to devote a whole week of his television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, to the theme of “little and big,” encouraging children to embrace the diminutive nature of their bodies and their endeavors—to understand that big has to start little.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?  What’s your perspective?

 


Thursday Reads/Impeachment Hearings Live Blog

Trump talking points. He can’t even spell Zelensky.

Good Morning!!

Whew! Yesterday was a simply mind-boggling day that is guaranteed to go down in history–if Russia (and/or China, Turkey, North Korea) doesn’t succeed in winning a second term for Trump. Gordon Sondland threw everyone under the bus–he testified that “everyone was in the loop”–Trump, Mulvaney, Pompeo, Perry, Giuliani–and theirs was not an track in our foreign policy but the main track. And more is coming today.

The New York Times: Impeachment Inquiry Updates: Fiona Hill and David Holmes to Testify.

Who: Ms. Hill and Mr. Holmes will testify during a morning session. There is no afternoon session scheduled.

What: The House Intelligence Committee, led by its chairman, Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, will continue to examine the case for impeaching Mr. Trump. The Republican minority, led by Representative Devin Nunes of California, will again work to poke holes in testimony implicating the president.

When and Where: The morning proceedings start at 9 Eastern in the House Ways and Means Committee chambers. It will most likely last until the afternoon.

NPR: What To Watch For In Impeachment Hearing With Fiona Hill, David Holmes.

[Fiona] Hill is expected to tell lawmakers about the concerns she had with the merits of the Ukraine affair, in which Trump sought concessions from Ukraine’s president in exchange for engagement and continued financial assistance that had been authorized by Congress.

The U.S. had been sending aid to Ukraine since it was invaded by Russia in 2014 to help its military against Russian and Russian-backed forces still operating in the east.

The national security establishment opposed the freeze of that aid for several weeks this summer.

Hill told impeachment investigators in her closed deposition that she resented the smear campaign run against the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Hill also is a key witness about the former national security adviser, John Bolton, who has been described as an important player in the Ukraine saga but from whom Congress has not heard directly….

[David] Holmes is a diplomatic staffer who went to lunch in July in Kyiv with the ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland.

During that encounter, Sondland called Trump on his mobile phone to talk about the “investigations” that Trump wanted from his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Holmes said in his deposition that Sondland t.old him Trump only cared about “big stuff” that affected him, like what Holmes called the “Biden investigation” Trump wanted from Ukraine.

Sondland says he didn’t know in real time that the investigation connected with the word “Burisma” — a Ukrainian company that for a time paid the son of former Vice President Joe Biden — was, in effect, code for the Biden family.

CNN has Hill’s opening statement: Former top Russia adviser to reject GOP claim that Ukraine meddled in US politics.

A former top White House official will offer on Thursday a full-throated rebuttal to the narrative pushed by President Donald Trump and his GOP allies about Ukraine’s role meddling in American politics, according to a source familiar with her testimony.

Fiona Hill, who served as Trump’s top Russia adviser until she left the administration this summer, will also warn the House Intelligence Committee as part of the impeachment inquiry that the Kremlin is prepared to strike again in 2020 and remains a serious threat to American democracy that the United States must seek to combat, the source said.

Yovanovitch testimony: November 16, 2019

In her brief opening statement, Hill will offer a strong pushback to the claims peddled by Trump, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and some congressional Republicans that Ukraine may have interfered in the 2016 elections to help Hillary Clinton.

Multiple witnesses have said that the moving forward on the 2016 election interference investigation — along with a probe into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter — amounted to conditions placed on the country before roughly $400 million in military aid for the country was released and a key meeting in Washington between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could take place.

Both Giuliani and Trump have urged the Ukrainian government to announce probes into any role the country may have had in the 2016 elections, something Trump brought up himself in his now-infamous July phone call with Zelensky.

But Hill in her testimony will argue that such a theory amounts to a fictional narrative at a time when the US should be focused on the real threat: Russia, which she warns could once again seek to interfere in the 2020 elections while the US is focused on Ukraine.

During Sondland’s testimony yesterday, Trump made a complete spectacle, screaming ineffectually at the assembled press on the White House lawn.

 

That is really really not normal. This man needs a complete neurological exam STAT. Speaking of Trump’s obvious dementia symptoms, Newsweek offers this quote from the new book by Anonymous: Trump Regularly ‘Can’t remember what he’s said or been told,’ White House Insider Says.

President Donald Trump regularly struggles to “remember what he’s said or been told,” an anonymous senior government official behind a new exposé on the inner workings of the White House has claimed.

Much of the nearly 260 pages of the anonymous official’s tome, A Warning, which hit bookshelves on Tuesday, has been dedicated to sounding the alarm about Trump’s alarming behavior.

While the anonymous author, who is described only as a “senior official in the Trump administration” admits they are not “qualified to diagnose the president’s mental acuity,” they can say that “normal people who spend any time with Donald Trump are uncomfortable by what they witness.”

“He stumbles, slurs, gets confused, is easily irritated, and has trouble synthesizing information, not occasionally but with regularity,” the official warns.

Often, they say, “the president also can’t remember what he’s said or been told.”

“Americans are used to him denying words that have come out of his mouth,” the senior official writes. “Sometimes this is to avoid responsibility.”

However, they say it often “appears Trump genuinely doesn’t remember important facts.”

One clear example of that, the official recalls, is when the president claimed he was not sure if he had “ever even heard of a Category 5” hurricane, despite having been briefed on at least four other Category 5 hurricanes during his time in office.

“Was he forgetting these briefings?” the author questions. “Or more problematic, was he not paying attention at all? These are events that affect millions of Americans, yet they don’t seem to stick in his brain.”

The official writes that while Trump has often claimed to be highly intelligent, they say they have “seen the president fall flat on his face when trying to speak intelligently” on a number of topics on which he claims to be an expert.

“You can see why behind closed doors his own top officials deride him as an ‘idiot’ and a ‘moron’ with the understanding of a ‘fifth or sixth grader,'” the unnamed senior official says.

More at the link.

One of the biggest reveals from Sondland’s testimony was that Mike Pompeo was involved in the entire Ukraine affair. The New York Times: Pompeo Emerges as a Major Trump Enabler in Ukraine affair.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has for months deflected questions about whether the Trump administration demanded political favors from Ukraine in exchange for military aid. He has refused to explain why he recalled the American ambassador, declared that it was “inappropriate” for his diplomats to testify before Congress and declined to hand over documents to impeachment investigators.

On Wednesday, Gordon D. Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, filled in the blanks: He said Mr. Pompeo and his top aides “knew what we were doing, and why,” and recited emails he wrote to Mr. Pompeo about the quid pro quo demanded by President Trump. “Everyone was in the loop,” Mr. Sondland said.

Mr. Sondland’s testimony has undercut any notion that Mr. Pompeo, the administration’s most powerful national security official, was not a participant in Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine. It also firmly places him at the center of one of the nation’s biggest foreign policy controversies in nearly two decades, since the debate over the intelligence that led to the war in Iraq.

Whatever Mr. Pompeo’s future plans, Mr. Trump’s secretary of state is now tied intimately to the Ukraine controversy. Even before Mr. Sondland’s testimony, Mr. Pompeo was rumored to be seeking an exit from the State Department, perhaps to run for a Senate seat in Kansas, his adopted home state, with an eye toward a presidential bid once Mr. Trump leaves the stage.

Lock. Him. Up.

I’ll end with two breaking news stories.

AP: AP source: FBI has asked for interview with whistleblower

The FBI last month requested an interview with the whistleblower whose complaint fueled the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and Ukraine, a person familiar with the situation said Wednesday.

An agent from the FBI’s Washington field office reached out to the whistleblower’s lawyers last month to seek an interview about the substance of the complaint, according to this person, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the request with The Associated Press.

The person said it was clear from the FBI that the whistleblower was not regarded as the target of any investigation but rather a potential witness. It was not immediately clear what specifically the FBI might be looking into. The requested interview has not taken place.

Could this be related to the reportedly ongoing counterintelligence investigation?

The New York Times: Prosecutors Subpoena Trump Fund-Raisers Linked to Giuliani Associates.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan issued subpoenas in recent weeks to several players in President Trump’s fund-raising apparatus as part of an investigation into two associates of Rudolph W. Giuliani who have been charged with violating campaign finance laws, according to people familiar with the investigation.

The subpoenas went to a lobbying firm run by a top fund-raiser for Mr. Trump, Brian Ballard, and to two people who have helped raise money for America First Action, a super PAC created to support the president and allied candidates, the people said.

Mr. Ballard and the America First fund-raisers worked to varying extents with Mr. Giuliani’s associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, American citizens who helped Mr. Giuliani wage a pressure campaign on Ukraine that is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump.

The recent activity by prosecutors and F.B.I. agents shows that they have cast a wide net as they collect evidence about Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, who were arrested last month. It also comes as the same prosecutors look into whether Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, violated a federal lobbying law in some of his dealings with Ukrainians.

Lock Giuliani up with Pompeo.

Please treat this post as an open thread/live blog for today’s hearings.


Yet Another Live Blog: November Democratic debate

Image result for November Democratic debates

Hi Sky Dancers!

It’s been a busy day today!

And yet, we’re still here!

And the graphic is from WAPO and this bit of info:

The fifth Democratic debate is being co-hosted by The Washington Post and MSNBC. It’s being held in Atlanta, at Tyler Perry Studios. Ten candidates qualified to be onstage, hitting at least 3 percent in four approved polls or at least 5 percent in two early-state polls, plus bringing in donations from at least 165,000 unique donors:

So, it’s 10 candidates and it’s Atlanta, GA and NBC/ MSNBC news:

Ten candidates will appear on stage: former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, billionaire activist Tom Steyer, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

And most of us are still standing!  Heavy has some suggested your tea sipping/wine sipping suggestions.

 

  • Take a sip if anyone talks about Bernie’s heart attack.

  • Take a sip if Sanders talks about a “radical” idea (and uses the word “radical.”)

  • Take a shot if Andrew Yang tries to give away money again.

  • Take a shot if Tulsi Gabbard calls the debate hosts “despicable” again.

  • Take a sip if Gabbard is wearing white again.

  • Take a sip if Biden steps away from his podium and leans close to another candidate. Take a shot if he actually touches another candidate.

  • Take a sip if Biden gives the wrong website or phone number. If he talks about record players again, take a shot.

  • Take a sip if Harris talks about being a prosecutor and being proud of her record.

  • Take a shot if Harris seems too happy and looks like she had a shot before the debate.

  • Take a shot if Cory Booker makes another marijuana joke like he does in most debates.

  • Take a sip if Booker talks about being vegan.

  • Take a sip if Booker makes an awkward joke.

  • Take a shot if Buttigieg talks about Mike Pence.

  • Take a sip if Buttigieg says a joke that’s funny and makes you literally laugh out loud.

  • Take a sip if someone talks about Buttigieg rising in the polls.

  • Take a sip if Warren says “I have a plan.”

  • Take a sip if Warren talks about her rise in the polls.

  • Take a sip if someone takes a shot at Warren’s decision to hold off on Medicare for All until she’s in office for three years.

  • Take a sip if Warren and Sanders hug.

  • Take a shot the first time Warren or Sanders say anything negative about the other, because that is really are.

  • Take a sip if Klobuchar talks about fundraising.

  • Take a sip if Steyer talks about his money or net worth.

  • Take a sip if someone else gets mad about how much money Steyer has.

Will we get questions on the Impeachment Hearings?  Foreign Policy?  Stay tuned!

Image result for november democratic debates november cartoons

Whatcha y’all think ?

 

 


Live Blog: Sondland Throws them ALL under the Bus

 Rudy

Talk with Rudy

 

If you’re not watching this hearing … you should be …


Tuesday Reads: Week 2 of Impeachment Hearings and Trump’s Health

Good Morning!!

Today’s impeachment hearing begins at 9AM and may last into the night. NPR: Impeachment Hearings Resume With White House, State Department Witnesses.

House Democrats are set to kick off week two of their open impeachment hearings on Tuesday with witnesses who listened firsthand when President Trump spoke with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25 — a key moment in the Ukraine affair.

And members of Congress also said they’ve added a new witness to those slated to appear this week: David Holmes, the diplomatic aide posted to Ukraine who appeared for a closed-door deposition last week, now is scheduled to appear in an open hearing on Thursday morning.

Alexander Vindman

The hearing on Tuesday scheduled to start at 9 a.m. is set to open with Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army foreign area officer who serves on the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, a foreign service officer detailed to the staff of Vice President Mike Pence.

Vindman and Williams were among the White House staffers who listened in on the phone call.

This afternoon, beginning at 3PM:

Kurt Volker, the former State Department envoy to Ukraine for its peace negotiations and Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council aide.

Volker was at the center of the alternate policy channel for Ukraine run by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Volker helped broker an important meeting between Giuliani and an aide to Zelenskiy this summer.

Morrison was among those who heard the Trump-Zelenskiy call firsthand when it happened and although he testified that he was concerned about what might have happened if it became public, he saw nothing illegal.

Kurt Volker

There will also be public testimony on Wednesday and Thursday. NBC News:

The committee will hear testimony from [Gordon] Sondland on Wednesday morning, and then testimony from Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs and David Hale, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, later in the day.

On Thursday, the panel will hear from Fiona Hill, the former NSC senior director for Europe and Russia who testified that Sondland had told Ukrainian officials they needed to proceed with “investigations” to line up a White House visit for Ukraine’s president. David Holmes, the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine official who overheard a July phone call between Sondland and Trump where the president was demanding “investigations,” will testify alongside Hill, the committee announced Monday.

The Washington Post: Lt. Col. Vindman to describe his alarm over president’s call with Ukrainian leader, girding for Republican attack.

Meanwhile Trump’s response to his possible impeachment is to attack the witnesses and dump them from their jobs.

Jennifer Williams

The Washington Post: Attacking witnesses is Trump’s core defense strategy in fighting impeachment.

Eight weeks into the House impeachment inquiry, President Trump and many of his allies have seized on a core defense strategy by attacking career public servants who are testifying as witnesses in the probe and spreading disinformation about their motives as “unelected bureaucrats.”

The tactic was deployed in a prominent way Monday when Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) laid out criticisms against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official who is poised to give key public testimony Tuesday. Johnson wrote without evidence that Vindman may be a member of a rebellious “deep state” that “never accepted President Trump as legitimate” and is working in secret to end his presidency.

“I believe a significant number of bureaucrats . . . resent [Trump’s] un­or­tho­dox style and his intrusion on their ‘turf,’ ” Johnson wrote to the top Republicans on the House Oversight and Intelligence committees. “They react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office. It is entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile.”

Johnson’s letter intensifies a campaign of attacks on Vindman from Trump and his allies, which has included speculation about the decorated war veteran’s patriotism from conservative commentators and a White House statement on Friday criticizing his job performance. Moves such as these have gained significant traction with Trump’s base, feeding into an echo chamber that stokes supporters’ resentments, broadcasts a single pro-Trump message and demonstrates the power of the online juggernaut Democrats will confront during Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Gordon Sondland

Much of this messaging has taken aim at the career public servants cooperating with the House impeachment inquiry.

Sharing a sentiment on Friday that gained viral popularity among his father’s supporters, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that “America hired [Trump] to fire people like the first three witnesses we’ve seen.” He was referring to former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, acting ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor Jr. and top State Department official George Kent, all of whom testified last week.

CNN: Trump’s aides eye moving impeachment witnesses out of White House jobs.

President Donald Trump’s aides have explored moving some impeachment witnesses on loan to the White House from other agencies, such as Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, back to their home departments ahead of schedule, according to people familiar with the conversations.

As public hearings bring the officials’ allegations to his television screen, Trump is asking anew how witnesses such as Vindman and Ambassador Bill Taylor came to work for him, people familiar with the matter said. He has suggested again they be dismissed, even as advisers warn him firing them could be viewed as retaliation.

The possible move of officials out of the White House could still be viewed by some as evidence of retribution for their testimony. Trump’s frustration at his own officials comes as he attacks witnesses on Twitter, including during Friday’s public hearing with the ousted ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Trump appears to have adopted a strategy of maligning the officials, despite some allies encouraging him not to.

David Holmes

The uncertain fate and public thrashing of these officials has created a thorny situation for a White House wading through the impeachment process. Trump’s impulse to dismiss them hasn’t been realized, but he’s made clear nevertheless he views them as unwelcome.

It’s one of the persistent anomalies of the impeachment inquiry: most of the witnesses airing concerns at Trump’s approach to Ukraine remain employed by him, despite his claims they are “Never Trumpers” and his overt suggestions they’ve already been fired.

In other news, Trump has not been seen in public since Saturday when he was rushed to Walter Reed hospital for an unscheduled medical examination.

The Washington Post: Trump’s health under scrutiny again after unplanned visit to Walter Reed.

President Trump’s impromptu weekend visit to a doctor brought fresh questions about the status of his health after the White House released a memo late Monday denying “speculation” that he had been treated for a medical emergency.

Trump, 73, made an unscheduled trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., on Saturday, a visit that remained shrouded in secrecy for two days as Trump stayed away from the public eye and the White House dodged questions about his health.

In a memo released by the White House late Monday, Trump’s doctor, Sean Conley, wrote that Trump’s “interim checkup” over the weekend had been “routine,” and was only kept secret because of “scheduling uncertainties.”

“Despite some speculation, the President has not had any chest pain, nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues,” Conley wrote in the memo. “Specifically, he did not undergo any specialized cardiac or neurologic evaluations.”

Sure, Jan.

Sarcastic Christine Taylor GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

While Trump claimed that he had begun “phase one” of his annual physical, Conley said Trump would have a “more comprehensive examination” next year. Trump described his condition on Twitter as “very good (great!)”; Conley’s memo did not characterize the president’s overall health. It did include cholesterol figures that had dropped since Trump’s last physical exam in February.

It is unusual for a president to undergo a physical exam in multiple stages months apart, and the circumstances surrounding Trump’s visit renewed questions about the White House’s handling of his medical information, according to several experts.

Time: Trump’s Unscheduled Hospital Visit Raises Suspicions About His Health.

A lack of notice. Past failures to level with the American people. A tough week for the White House as public impeachment hearings got under way.

Add it all up, and President Donald Trump’s unscheduled weekend visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center raised suspicions about his health, despite White House officials’ insistence that the president was merely getting a head start on his annual physical.

Laura Cooper

For any president, a sudden trip to the hospital would raise questions. But such scrutiny was magnified with a president who has a history of exaggeration and playing loose with the facts, giving skeptics room to run with their own theories.

“The one thing you can be absolutely sure of is this was not routine and he didn’t go up there for half his physical,” tweeted Joe Lockhart, a press secretary under President Bill Clinton, who was himself impeached for perjury and obstruction. “What does it mean? It means that we just won’t know what the medical issue was.”

The president’s medical appointment wasn’t listed on his Saturday public schedule, and his last physical was just nine months ago. Press secretary Stephanie Grisham said the 73-year-old president was “anticipating a very busy 2020” and wanted to take advantage of “a free weekend” in Washington to begin portions of his routine checkup.

She did not specify which tests he’d received or explain why the visit had not been disclosed in advance. Trump’s 2018 and 2019 physicals were both announced ahead of time. Grisham said after the visit that the president had gotten “a quick exam and labs.”

Fiona Hill

Jack Schaeffer at Politico: Yes, It’s OK to Speculate on the President’s Health.

Approximately 1,000 days and 13,500 documented faleshoods into his presidency, Donald Trump paid a two-hour visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Saturday afternoon under unusual, unprecedented circumstances.

Trump’s exam was not on his public schedule and no advance notice of the event had been given, unlike his two previous physicals; the exam fell on a Saturday rather than a weekday; and according to CNN, Walter Reed medical staff did not get its usual staffwide notice of Trump’s visit. Reportedly, the local police got no advance warning of the Trump motorcade’s arrival, and reporters were directed not to report his trip until he arrived at Walter Reed.

This touched off a weekend flurry of speculation in Washington about what was actually going on, and Twitter erupted with inventive theories of why a 73-year-old man might suddenly visit a hospital. With a private citizen, that kind of speculation would have been wildly inappropriate. With this White House, it’s almost a national obligation.

David Hale

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement claiming Trump was taking advantage of a “free weekend here in Washington” to begin parts of his annual physical exam—even though his last “annual” physical came in February 2019. While it’s not inconceivable that Trump would motorcade 11 miles to suburban Maryland on the spur of the moment on a Saturday afternoon to get a jump on his February physical, it’s not how things are normally done with the U.S. president. White House facilities are equipped to perform many routine lab tests. Trump seconded his press secretary’s explanation shortly after midnight on Sunday, tweeting that this was “phase one” of his yearly physical. “Everything very good (great!). Will complete next year,” Trump continued.

But Trump and Grisham’s rationalizations for his spur-of-the-moment visit just don’t add up. Given what we know about Trump’s medical health—he’s obese and was judged in 2018 of being at moderate risk of having a heart attack in the next three to five years—we have every reason to question the Trump-Grisham account. That Trump has proven himself a liar several thousand times over during his presidency and his long-running caginess about his medical state contribute to the doubt.

Read the rest at Politico.

Today’s hearings are about to begin, and I’ll be watching as much as I can. If you’re watching too, please share your reactions in this open thread.


Monday Before The Storm Reads

Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), Mountain Living in Autumn. 23⅝ x 17¾ in (58.4 x 43.2 cm). Estimate $200,000-300,000. This lot is offered in Fine Chinese Paintings on 19 March 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), Mountain Living in Autumn.

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

A busy week is in store for us!  It includes yet another stage packed with Democratic candidates “debating” and more impeachment hearings.  The impeachment hearings are especially BFDs because the star witnesses are central to the plot Trump cooked up to get the Ukrainians to chase down a conspiracy theory and interfere in the 2020 election for him.

Here’s a new story from CBS in keeping with all the Trumpist Corruption surrounding US Foreign Policy: “Possible pay-to-play scheme for ambassador role in Trump administration uncovered by CBS News”.

A CBS News investigation has uncovered a possible pay-for-play scheme involving the Republican National Committee and President Donald Trump’s nominee for ambassador to the Bahamas. Emails obtained by CBS News show the nominee, San Diego billionaire Doug Manchester, was asked by the RNC to donate half a million dollars as his confirmation in the Senate hung in the balance, chief investigative correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

When Hurricane Dorian ravaged the Bahamas in September, Manchester wanted to help. So the San Diego real estate developer, who prefers the nickname “Papa Doug,” loaded up his private jet with supplies and headed for the hard-hit Caribbean country where he owned a home – and hoped to soon be serving as U.S. ambassador.

A Trump supporter, Manchester donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration fund. He was offered the Bahamas post the day after Mr. Trump was sworn in. Manchester said Trump told him, “I should probably be the ambassador to the Bahamas and you should be president.”

Then, for two and a half years, Manchester’s nomination stalled in the Senate.

His Bahamas relief trip caught the attention of the President. Trump tweeted, “I would also like to thank ‘Papa’ Doug Manchester, hopefully the next Ambassador to the Bahamas, for the incredible amount of time, money and passion he has spent on helping to bring safety to the Bahamas.”

Three days after the tweet, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel hit up Manchester for a donation. It was no small sum. In an email, obtained exclusively by CBS News, she asked Manchester, “Would you consider putting together $500,000 worth of contributions from your family to ensure we hit our ambitious fundraising goal?”

Shin – Hanga Hasui Kawase Japanese Woodblock Print 1946 Snow Storm At Shiobara

Well, there’s a situation that should be looked at by the FBI.  But how far will it go with Trump Fuckboi Bill Barr as AG?  The vast majority of Americans, however, know wrong when they see it as suggested by this ABC Poll: “70% of Americans say Trump’s actions tied to Ukraine were wrong: POLL”.  However, move on down to the idea of punishing the illegitimate POTUS and the results are less enthusiastic.

An overwhelming 70% of Americans think President Donald Trump’s request to a foreign leader to investigate his political rival, which sits at the heart of the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry, was wrong, a new ABC News/Ipsos poll finds.

A slim majority of Americans, 51%, believe Trump’s actions were both wrong and he should be impeached and removed from office. But only 21% of Americans say they are following the hearings very closely.

In addition to the 51%, another 19% think that Trump’s actions were wrong, but that he should either be impeached by the House but not removed from office, or be neither impeached by the House nor convicted by the Senate. The survey also finds that 1 in 4 Americans, 25%, think that Trump did nothing wrong.

Still, nearly 1 in 3, 32%, say they made up their minds about impeaching the president before the news broke about Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which Trump urged his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

John Constable RA, Rainstorm over the Sea

Rainstorm over the Sea, ca. 1824-1828 John Constable RA (1776 – 1837)

Meanwhile, Trump continues to be a tempest in a teapot when it comes to attacking every one that doesn’t share his view of his “perfect” calll.  This is from NBC News: “Trump’s impeachment ire turns on Pompeo amid diplomats’ starring roles. Impeachment hearings have created a rift between the president and one of his staunchest allies in the administration.”

The impeachment inquiry has created the first rift between President Donald Trump and the Cabinet member who has been his closest ally, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to four current and former senior administration officials.

Trump has fumed for weeks that Pompeo is responsible for hiring State Department officials whose congressional testimony threatens to bring down his presidency, the officials said. The president confronted Pompeo about the officials — and what he believed was a lackluster effort by the secretary of state to block their testimony — during lunch at the White House on Oct. 29, those familiar with the matter said.

Inside the White House, the view was that Trump “just felt like, ‘rein your people in,’” a senior administration official said.

Trump particularly blames Pompeo for tapping Ambassador Bill Taylor in June to be the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, the current and former senior administration officials said.

Taylor has provided the House Intelligence Committee with some of the most damaging details on the White House’s effort to pressure Ukraine into investigating one of the president’s potential rivals in the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden.

A crack in the seemingly unbreakable bond between Trump and Pompeo is striking because Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, is viewed as the “Trump whisperer” who has survived — and thrived — working for a president who has routinely tired of and discarded senior members of his team.

But the impeachment inquiry has put Pompeo in what one senior administration official described as an untenable position: trying to manage a bureaucracy of 75,000 people that has soured on his leadership and also please a boss with outsized expectations of loyalty.

Chiura Obata (American, b. Japan, 1885–1975), Dust Storm, Topaz, March 13, 1943, watercolor on paper

US Ambassador Gordon Sondland is also taking the heat as seen in this Daily Beast analysis: “Gordon Sondland Stepped In ‘and Things Went Really Off the Rails’. “Erratic,” “very emotional,” and “lots of yelling.” Those are some of the words used to describe Sondland’s performance in a White House meeting with top Ukrainian officials. ‘  Sonderland will testify on Wednesday and has had to adjust his story and testimony as the folks who witnessed his acts and words testified.

Ukrainian officials arrived at the White House on July 10 expecting something approaching normal. They were in Washington for a scheduled meeting with then-National Security Adviser John Bolton with a plan to propose a new path for U.S.-Ukrainian relations under the umbrella of energy and security cooperation. All seemed to go well—until U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland stepped in. “That’s when things really went off the rails,” one person in the room said.

It’s been widely noted in testimonies by multiple House impeachment witnesses that Sondland interrupted the conversation between Bolton and the Ukrainians when he suggested that the Kyiv officials open investigations into Hunter Biden and the gas company he worked for if they wanted President Volodymyr Zelensky to land a White House meeting with Donald Trump.

Ukrainian officials arrived at the White House on July 10 expecting something approaching normal. They were in Washington for a scheduled meeting with then-National Security Adviser John Bolton with a plan to propose a new path for U.S.-Ukrainian relations under the umbrella of energy and security cooperation. All seemed to go well—until U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland stepped in. “That’s when things really went off the rails,” one person in the room said.

It’s been widely noted in testimonies by multiple House impeachment witnesses that Sondland interrupted the conversation between Bolton and the Ukrainians when he suggested that the Kyiv officials open investigations into Hunter Biden and the gas company he worked for if they wanted President Volodymyr Zelensky to land a White House meeting with Donald Trump.

Bolton immediately cut the get-together short, witnesses said, in an attempt to save what had until then been a normal meeting. But what’s been less clear—until now—is what happened moments later, when Sondland guided the Ukrainians into the White House’s Ward Room. Three individuals familiar with the conversation described what happened next.

Sondland continued to not just relay, but demanded ferociously, that the Ukrainians open the Biden investigations, saying it was the only chance for Washington and Kyiv to develop any further meaningful relationship, two individuals with knowledge of Sondland’s overtures said.

Sondland raised his voice several times in his attempt to persuade the Ukrainian officials sitting across from him, including Andriy Yermak, a close aide to Zelensky, and Zelensky’s then-national security adviser Oleksandr Danylyuk. One individual told The Daily Beast that Sondland “got very emotional,” adding that “there was lots of yelling.” Another individual called the meeting “erratic” and said the Ukrainians began to ignore Sondland and instead turned to Fiona Hill, who ran the National Security Council’s Russia desk at the time, for clarification on Washington’s messaging.

Biss, Earl (1947-1998) “Storm Riders” Oil on Canvas

Fiona Hill also testifies this week.  The AP has found some evidence of the stress and duress experienced by the Ukrainians over the Trumpist Regime’s demands.

Despite his denials, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was feeling pressure from the Trump administration to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden before his July phone call with President Donald Trump that has led to impeachment hearings.

In early May, staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, including then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, were briefed on a meeting Zelenskiy held in which he sought advice on how to navigate the difficult position he was in, according to two people with knowledge of the briefings.

He was concerned that Trump and associates were pressing him to take action that could affect the 2020 U.S. presidential race, the people said. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic and political sensitivity of the issue.

The briefings show that U.S. officials knew early that Zelenskiy was feeling pressure to investigate Biden, even though the Ukrainian leader later denied it in a joint news conference with Trump in September. The officials said in their notes circulated internally at the State Department that Zelenskiy tried to mask the real purpose of the May 7 meeting __ which was to talk about political problems with the White House __ by saying it was about energy, the two people said.

Congressional Republicans have pointed to that public Zelenskiy statement to argue that he felt no pressure to open an investigation, and therefore the Democrats’ allegations that led to the impeachment hearings are misplaced.

So, this week’s hearings should send the Russian Potted Plant back to Walter Reed for another fake physical for sure. While several Dem candidates have been able to purchase their way to a ticket to the debate stage on Wednesday night, one voice will be missed.   So far, he’s still in.  This analysis is by New York Magazine’s Zak Cheney-Rice.

The great tragedy of Julián Castro’s presidential campaign is that it’s happening during Donald Trump’s presidency. Democratic strategists and voters alike are so fixated on ousting the commander-in-chief that panic has consumed the primary, driven above all else by anxiety about which candidate is the most likely to defeat him. Joe Biden has benefitted in an outsized manner from this worry. He’s coasted to the top of most polls on sheer familiarity and goodwill generated by his relationship with Barack Obama, despite signs of mental decline exacerbating his well-documented tendency toward gaffes. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have cornered the market on leftists and progressive voters, respectively, who feel that class warfare from below will not just oust Trump but upend the society that gave him rise.

These three candidates combined command the allegiances of more than half of prospective primary voters, according to most polls, leaving little room for the remainder of an unprecedentedly vast, diverse, and perpetually expanding field to gain traction. Which is a shame, because a different cycle might’ve been more amenable to a candidate like Castro, whose singular perspective on racism and justice would, in a better world, find him in the upper tier of candidates. Alas, it looks increasingly like it wasn’t meant to be: Politico reported late Wednesday that the former Housing Secretary and San Antonio mayor has failed to qualify for the November debate, making him the only active candidate to participate in last month’s debate in Ohio who won’t make the trip to Atlanta. The deadline to qualify was midnight, and the threshold was receiving donations from 165,000 unique contributors, plus hitting 3 percent in four DNC-approved polls or 5 percent in two conducted in the early states. Castro reached the fundraising goal but didn’t eclipse 3 percent in a single poll. This is emblematic of his broader campaign, which has consistently found him hovering around 1 percent.

There’s been no announcement yet about Castro’s next move, though failure to qualify for a debate has been a death knell for other campaigns this cycle, like that of Kirsten Gillibrand. Beto O’Rourke’s low polling numbers similarly prompted him to drop out of the race last month. One can attribute Castro’s shortfall to several factors — his relatively low national profile, his specificity of vision in a cycle where mass appeal is prioritized, his identity as a Mexican-American at a time when candidates are vying for support from a majority-white electorate that backed Trump, whose animus toward Latinos was a vital part of his success. But his failure to gain traction also belies the most admirable feature of his campaign: He’s sought to differentiate himself not by convincing voters of his attractiveness to white suburban Wisconsinites or sanctimonious Never Trumpers, but by promising to advocate on behalf of the most vulnerable among us, particularly black and brown people caught up in the criminal-legal system.

Image result for paintings by masters storm

Luigi Crisconio CAPRI, SEA STORM IN MARINA PICCOLA

Has Louisiana shown us a way to beat Trump and his cronies in upcoming elections?  I was part of the GOTV actions and it was huge and effective.  I have to say that Bel Edwards winning a second term was a relief. But, he’s not the candidate I’ve been most aligned with or most proud of supporting. I did know that he was the right candidate for this crazy state.

I’d like to thank every single African American Voter in the state and the massive support by the Black community organizers. It wouldn’t have happened with out them.   Getting out the black vote is key which is why every Dem pol needs to realize #BlackVotesMatter.

Another key  to victory was the suburbs in the large cities.  It’s pretty clear that a number of voters in suburbs are not enthusiastic about Trump.  The black vote and suburban vote in three key Louisiana Cities–New Orleans, Shreveport, Baton Rouge–virtually disappeared on the Republicans.  Again, I’d like to say that JBE is not what we would consider a Democratic Candidate.  He reminds me a lot more of middle of the country Republicans prior to the takeover of the party by White Evangelical religions nutters.  He’s a small town son of its sheriff who hunts and supports the second amendment.  He is one of the worst governors ever on Reproductive Rights but he did expand medicaid and overall, he was definitely the only choice we really had.  Rispone gave speeches like an unrepentant racist at a KKK rally.  His ads were far worse.  The Caddo Parish Magrat rally undoubtedly turned out the high Caddo Parish AA vote.

Experience in both Louisiana and other races like Kentucky might prove useful in planning for 2020.  I suggest candidates and the party itself take very good notes.

Not only were Republicans less likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by President Donald Trump, but African-Americans voters were more motivated to turnout. From the New York Times:

“Forcing Trump down people’s throats in television, mail and radio produced a backlash among Democratic voters, especially African-Americans,” said Zac McCrary, a pollster on Mr. Edwards’s campaign, alluding to Mr. Rispone’s Trump-centric message. “The intense negatives outweigh the intense positives for Trump, which speaks to the turnout.”\

State and local Democrats were more careful targeting their message, linking Mr. Rispone to Mr. Trump on radio stations with black audiences and in tailored mailers.

Over at The Resurgent, Erick Erickson makes two points worth considering. First, we now have two cases in which suburban voters have been selective their displeasure, discerning the Trump-like from the traditional conservative:

Like in Kentucky, the GOP swept the state except that race. That race was, in fairness, most closely identified with the President and some voters did react there. But this also gives a path forward for the GOP. Consider that in Louisiana, the state legislature is now the most conservative legislature it has ever had. The GOP disconnected from Trump did just fine in the state.

Secondly, the GOP has a substance abuse problem — in that a party built around a single personality has no use for substantive policy that allows voters to think well of themselves:

Voters want a reason to vote for someone, not against someone else. President Trump needs to spend way more time giving voters reasons to vote for him, not just against the Democrats. The GOP needs to as well. The party seems out of ideas and that is in large part because the President can turn on a dime so no one wants to stake out a position on public policy.

So, that’s it for me today!

What’s on your reading and blogging list?

 


Sunday Reads: Fever, You Give Me…

Yes…I have impeachment fever! So let’s take a look at some of these cartoons:

Could we all be suffering together?

And by the way…

This is an open thread.