Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

I’ve been struggling with a chest cold and now my sinuses are acting up. This seems to be the story of my wintertime life now. Anyway, I’m not sure how coherent this post will be.

Here are the big stories I’m seeing this morning.

Trump is doing everything he can to sabotage any bipartisan agreements in Congress that would keep the government from shutting down. He’s also hitting back at John Kelly for his remarks to Democrats and Fox News yesterday. Read a brief summary of Kelly’s crimes at Axios: John Kelly risks a Steve Bannon moment.

Late last night, a few hours after Fox News aired Bret Baier’s interview with John Kelly, a source close to the president told me Trump would explode when he saw what his chief of staff said. The source — who has spent a lot of time with Trump — predicted the president would hate the interview because Kelly came off as the mature professional who patiently educated an uninformed Trump, and helped him see the light and evolve on “The Wall.” [….]

What Kelly said that crossed Trump: 

“As we talked about things — where this president is and how much he wants to deal with this DACA issue and take it away — I told them that, you know, there’s been an evolutionary process that this president has gone through as a campaign [sic]. And I pointed out to all of the members that were in the room that they all say things during the course of campaigns that may or may not be fully informed. But this president, if you’ve seen what he’s done, he has changed the way that he’s looked at a number of things. … So he has evolved in the way he’s looked at things. Campaign to governing are two different things, and this president is very, very flexible in terms of what is within the realm of the possible.”

The moron’s Thursday morning tweets:

And finally, Trump doesn’t want children’s health care to be included in a continuing resolution.

Putting CHIP in the mix was the only way Republicans could hope to get any Democratic votes for the CR. It looks like the moron really wants a government shut down.

The Washington Post: Trump Upsets Republican Strategy to Avoid Shutdown.

President Trump blew up Republican strategies to keep the government open past Friday when on Thursday morning he said a long-term extension of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program should not be part of a stopgap spending bill pending before the House….

With a possible government shutdown looming this weekend, the House had planned to vote late Thursday on a stopgap spending bill that would keep government funding flowing to Feb. 16 as delicate negotiations continue to protect young, undocumented immigrants brought illegally as children from deportation.

Republican leaders have spent the week pressuring Democrats to vote for the spending bill, arguing that opposing it would effectively block a six-year extension of the children’s health program, attached to the spending bill as a sweetener for lawmakers in both parties.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin said on Wednesday that it would be “unconscionable” for Democrats to oppose funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program with a “no” vote on the short-term spending bill.

But Mr. Trump’s tweet appeared to give Democrats a ready excuse to oppose the measure: the president wants the health program severed from the spending bill.

Blaming a shutdown on the Democrats won’t work. Republicans control the government, and the “president” can make exceptions to pay the military and other essential services.

Doctors who don’t work for Trump are pushing back on Ronny Jackson’s characterization of the moron’s health as “excellent.”

The New York Times: Trump’s Physical Revealed Serious Heart Concerns, Outside Experts Say.

Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, a rear admiral and the White House physician, said Tuesday in his report on the president’s medical condition that Mr. Trump was in “excellent” cardiac health despite having an LDL cholesterol level of 143, well above the desired level of 100 or less.

Dr. David Maron, the director of preventive cardiology at Stanford University’s medical school, said Wednesday that it was alarming that the president’s LDL levels remain above 140 even though he is taking 10 milligrams of Crestor, a powerful drug that is used to lower cholesterol levels to well below 100.

Dr. Maron said he would “definitely” be worried about Mr. Trump’s risk for having a heart attack if the president were one of his patients. Asked if Mr. Trump is in perfect health, Dr. Maron offered a blunt reply: “God, no.”

Other cardiologists also disputed Dr. Jackson’s rosy assessment of the president’s heart health. Several said Mr. Trump’s goal should be to get his LDL below 100, or even under 70. He has a real risk of having a heart attack or stroke, especially considering his weight and lack of exercise, they said.

Dr. Eric Topol, a cardiologist at the Scripps Research Institute, said that it is impossible to ignore the dangers of the president’s elevated cholesterol levels when providing an overall assessment of Mr. Trump’s health.

“That’s a really high LDL,” Dr. Topol said. “We’re talking about a 70-plus-year-old man who is obese and doesn’t exercise. Just looking at the lab value, you would raise a big red flag.”

He added: “I would never use the words ‘excellent health.’ How you could take these indices and say excellent health? That is completely contradicted.”

Read more expert opinions at the NYT link.

Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: Is Trump’s doctor okay?

Examining the White House physician’s briefing on President Trump’s physical, I was alarmed — not about the president’s health, but the doctor’s.

Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson was so effusive in extolling the totally amazing, surpassingly marvelous, superbly stupendous and extremely awesome health of the president that the doctor sounded almost Trumpian. “The president’s overall health is excellent,” he said, repeating “excellent” eight times: “Hands down, there’s no question that he is in the excellent range. . . . I put out in the statement that the president’s health is excellent, because his overall health is excellent. . . . Overall, he has very, very good health. Excellent health.”

And just how excellent is His Excellency’s excellent health, doctor? “Incredible cardiac fitness,” was Dr. Jackson’s professional opinion. “He has incredible genes. . . . He has incredibly good genes, and it’s just the way God made him.”

Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN, making a rare house call to the White House briefing room, offered a second opinion. “He is taking a cholesterol-lowering medication, he has evidence of heart disease, and he’s borderline obese,” Gupta pointed out, citing Jackson’s own findings. “Can you characterize that as excellent health?”

Dr. Ronny must have gotten a pretty good brow-beating before he went out to face the White House press corps.

That’s probably not coming from a legit “WH senior advisor,” but it sure sounds like the moron in chief.

Here’s some interesting news on the Russia story.

McClatchy: FBI investigating whether Russian money went to NRA to help Trump.

The FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency, two sources familiar with the matter have told McClatchy.

FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA, the sources said.

It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.

It’s unclear how long the Torshin inquiry has been ongoing, but the news comes as Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sweeping investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, including whether the Kremlin colluded with Trump’s campaign, has been heating up.

Read the rest at the link. This might be a good time to reread that big scoop by Ruth May at the Dallas Morning News in December: How Putin’s proxies helped funnel millions into GOP campaigns. Also check out this Twitter thread:

Read the rest of the thread on Twitter.

That’s all I have the strength for right now. What stories are you following today?

 

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Tuesday Reads: Trump and White Backlash

Good Morning!!

Yesterday we celebrated the birthday of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But in our new reality, the day highlighted the fact that in 2016, Americans elected a man who symbolizes “white backlash.” His career in real estate reflected the survival of American racism 50 years after King’s assassination; and his presidency has been about erasing the accomplishments of America’s first black president as well as  making America white again by curbing immigration.

Vann R. Newkirk III at The Atlantic: Five Decades of White Backlash.

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. In response, a week later President Lyndon B. Johnson scrambled to sign into law the Fair Housing Act, a final major civil-rights bill that had languished for years under the strain of white backlash to the civil-rights movement.

Five years later a New York developer and his son—then only a few years out of college—became two of the first targets of a massive Department of Justice probefor an alleged violation of that landmark act. After a protracted, bitter lawsuit, facing a mountain of allegations that the two had engaged in segregating units and denying applications of black and Puerto Rican applicants, in 1975 Trump Management settled with the federal government and accepted the terms of a consent decree prohibiting discrimination. So entered Donald Trump onto the American stage.

The country has changed since those turbulent days. Many of the major policies created to end the era of de jure white supremacy and address King’s campaigns against segregation and for voting rights have become entrenched in law, bureaucracy, and the courts. Overt racism and bigotry have acquired the stink of faux pas, integrated spaces persist in some places, and there’s even been a black president. But in this Pax Americana, the seed of resistance to those ideas and policies that King championed also germinated across generations. Now that the man who made his name flouting the spirit of King is president, the tree has borne its most ripe fruit….

As Trump’s own career indicates, the roots of this pushback reach much further than the topsoil of the Obama era. Indeed, King helped popularize the phrase and idea of “white backlash” during the civil-rights era, after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, and after which Democrats, including President Johnson, feared a strong mobilization of white voters against the reform. “A section of the white population, perceiving Negro pressure for change, misconstrues it as a demand for privileges rather than as a desperate quest for existence,” King wrote in the Saturday Evening Post in November 1964. “The ensuing white backlash intimidates government officials who are already too timorous, and, when the crisis demands vigorous measures, a paralysis ensues.”

Through the later years of his life, King was acutely aware of and intensely concerned with white backlash, which he perceived as a rebounding force that could over time reduce the gains of integration and equal protection to mere tokens. He also suffered from that rebounding force in his own lifetime, with declining approval ratings and increasingly militant white-supremacist opponents. And then he was killed.

That Trump dared to speak about Dr. King in his “proclamation” on yesterday’s holiday was a sick joke. Then he rubbed our faces in his racism by spending the holiday golfing instead of the public service he recommended for the rest of us.

Last Thursday Trump ensured that this year’s MLK birthday holiday would be marked with discussions of Trump’s own racism. As everyone in the world knows by now, Trump met with lawmakers on that day to discuss an immigration deal on DACA. During the meeting Trump made it clear that he opposes allowing people of color to immigrate to the U.S., calling Haiti, El Salvador, and every African country “shitholes.”

The Washington Post has the background on that infamous meeting: Inside the tense, profane White House meeting on immigration.

When President Trump spoke by phone with Sen. Richard J. Durbin around 10:15 a.m. last Thursday, he expressed pleasure with Durbin’s outline of a bipartisan immigration pact and praised the high-ranking Illinois Democrat’s efforts, according to White House officials and congressional aides.

The president then asked if Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), his onetime foe turned ally, was on board, which Durbin affirmed. Trump invited the lawmakers to visit with him at noon, the people familiar with the call said.

But when they arrived at the Oval Office, the two senators were surprised to find that Trump was far from ready to finalize the agreement. He was “fired up” and surrounded by hard-line conservatives such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who seemed confident that the president was now aligned with them, according to one person with knowledge of the meeting.

Trump told the group he wasn’t interested in the terms of the bipartisan deal that Durbin and Graham had been putting together. And as he shrugged off suggestions from Durbin and others, the president called nations from Africa “shithole countries,” denigrated Haiti and grew angry. The meeting was short, tense and often dominated by loud cross-talk and swearing, according to Republicans and Democrats familiar with the meeting.

It appears that “empty barrel” John Kelly was the one who got Trump “fired up.”

Attendees who were alarmed by the racial undertones of Trump’s remarks were further disturbed when the topic of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) came up, these people said.

At one point, Durbin told the president that members of that caucus — an influential House group — would be more likely to agree to a deal if certain countries were included in the proposed protections, according to people familiar with the meeting.

Trump was curt and dismissive, saying he was not making immigration policy to cater to the CBC and did not particularly care about that bloc’s demands, according to people briefed on the meeting. “You’ve got to be joking,” one adviser said, describing Trump’s reaction.

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was in the room and was largely stone-faced, not giving any visible reaction when Trump said “shithole countries” or when he said Haitians should not be part of any deal, White House advisers said….

In the late morning, before Durbin and Graham arrived, Kelly — who had already been briefed on the deal — talked to Trump to tell him that the proposal would probably not be good for his agenda, White House officials said. Kelly, a former secretary of homeland security, has taken an increasingly aggressive and influential role in the immigration negotiations, calling lawmakers and meeting with White House aides daily — more than he has on other topics. He has “very strong feelings,” in the words of one official.

Yes, we learned of Kelly’s “very strong feelings” when he publicly attacked and lied about Rep. Fredrika Wilson and refused to apologize.

At CNN, Ron Brownstein explains Why Trump voters need the immigrants they want to turn away.

The irony in President Donald Trump’s hostility to immigration, expressed again in reports of his vulgar comments about Africa and Haiti last week, is that in appealing to the racial and cultural resentments of his political base he is directly threatening their economic interests.The equation is unmistakable: as America ages, the older and blue-collar whites at the core of Trump’s electoral coalition in 2016 need more working-age immigrants to pay the taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare.

Rosa Parks

Without robust immigration, each American worker will need to support substantially more retirees in the future than workers do today. And that will greatly increase the pressure for either unsustainable tax increases or biting benefit reductions in the federal retirement programs that the older and blue-collar whites central to Trump’s support rely upon so heavily.

Trump’s hostility to immigration ignores one of the central dynamics of 21st century American life: an increasingly non-white workforce will pay the taxes that support Social Security and Medicare for a rapidly growing and preponderantly white senior population.

“As every baby boomer retires over the next 15 years, we are going to need many more of these (diverse) young people to take their place,” says William Frey, a demographer at the center-left Brookings Institution.

Because the US largely shut off immigration between 1924 and 1965, today’s senior population is preponderantly white. Frey has calculated that three-fourths of all Americans 55 and older are white. Those older whites were the cornerstone of Trump’s coalition in the 2016 election: whites over 45 gave Trump over three-fifths of their votes, and provided a majority of all the votes he received, according to exit polls.

A few more stories of possible interest:

The Washington Post: The Senate’s push to overrule the FCC on net neutrality now has 50 votes, Democrats say.

Fifty senators have endorsed a legislative measure to override the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to deregulate the broadband industry, top Democrats said Monday.

The tally leaves supporters just one Republican vote shy of the 51 required to pass a Senate resolution of disapproval, in a legislative gambit aimed at restoring the agency’s net neutrality rules.

Barack Obama sits on Rosa Parks’ bus

Those rules, which banned Internet providers from blocking or slowing down websites, were swept away in a December vote led by Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Republicans had argued that the rules were too restrictive for industry, while Democrats said they provided a vital consumer protection.

The resolution aims to overturn the FCC’s decision and prohibit the agency from passing similar measures in the future. It has the support of all 49 Democratic senators as well as one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

Natasha Bertrand at Business Insider: Devin Nunes is under mounting pressure to release the transcript of a House Intel interview with Fusion GPS.

The House Intelligence Committee’s top Democrat is calling on the panel’s Republican majority to release the transcript of the panel’s November interview with Glenn Simpson, the cofounder of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS.

“In light of the selective leaks of Mr. Simpson’s testimony and the misleading manner in which Fusion GPS’ role has been characterized, I support releasing the transcript,” Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the panel’s ranking member, said in a statement through his office on Monday.

“The Majority has released transcripts of Dr. Page and Mr. Prince when it suited their interests, and likewise should make an exception here,” Schiff added, referring to Carter Page, an early Trump campaign aide, and Erik Prince, an informal adviser to Trump’s transition team.

A spokeswoman for Fusion GPS, the Washington, D.C.-based opposition research firm that hired the former British spy Christopher Steele to research then-candidate Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, said on Monday that Fusion supports the release of the transcript. The firm had even sent a letter to the committee to that effect, she said, but it has not yet been publicly released.

Miami Herald: Trump’s Mar-a Lago cited by state inspectors for poor maintenance.

A year after the discovery of foods that could sicken people at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, his Winter White House was just cited by inspectors for poor maintenance.

Never mind that it costs $200,000 in initiation fees to join the exclusive club, which has two restaurants and a bed-and-breakfast.

Fresh state records show the B&B needed emergency repairs in order to pass the latest inspection in November.

Trump’s club, located on a beachfront property where the historic main house was built in the 1920s for cereals heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, was cited Nov. 8 for two violations deemed high priority: the lack of smoke detectors capable of alerting the hearing impaired through flashing bright lights; and slabs of concrete missing from a staircase, exposing steel rebar that could cause someone to fall.

“High priority lodging violations are those which could pose a direct or significant threat to the public health, safety, or welfare,” the inspection code reads.

The club was re-checked Nov. 17, a week before Trump’s return for his Thanksgiving vacation, and this time “met inspection standards,” according to the state inspection report.

What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: This Is Our Reality Now

What might have been.

Good Morning!!

The news is ugly today. The “president” calls other countries “shitholes” as he works to turn the United States into a “shithole” full of ignorant white people who live in fear of anyone who doesn’t look and think exactly as they do. On top of the “president’s” classless vulgarity and racism, it looks like next we’re going to be subjected to examinations of the “president’s” degrading sexual history.

This nightmare reality we are living in might have been prevented if only the media weren’t populated by numerous misogynist men who prey on naive young women and at the same time enjoy mocking strong, competent women like Hillary Clinton when they dare to pursue their ambitious dreams.

In the wake of the *shitstorm* over the “president’s” vile and ignorant comments in a meeting about immigration, it looks as if one of the worst media misogynist could finally get his comeuppance.

The Cut: Exclusive: Watch Chris Matthews Joke About His ‘Bill Cosby Pill’ Before Interviewing Hillary Clinton.

On January 5, 2016, MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews interviewed Hillary Clinton in an Iowa fire station during the Democratic primary season. Network footage obtained by the Cut shows Matthews, during the interview setup, making a couple of “jokes” about Clinton. He asks, “Can I have some of the queen’s waters? Precious waters?” And then, as he waits for the water, he adds, “Where’s that Bill Cosby pill I brought with me?” Matthews then laughs, delighted with the line, for an extended moment, as the staffers around him react with disbelief, clearly uncomfortable. (Cosby has been accused of sexual impropriety by dozens of women, some of whom allege that they were drugged and raped by the comedian.)

“This was a terrible comment I made in poor taste during the height of the Bill Cosby headlines,” Matthews said to the Cut. “I realize that’s no excuse. I deeply regret it and I’m sorry.”

Really? Fuck you Tweety. It’s time for you to retire.

Back to The Cut:

Matthews has a long history of talking disparagingly about Hillary Clinton, whom he once called “witchy,”and often seems to channel what a hypothetical sexist Republican might say about a woman candidate: “she-devil,” “Madame Defarge.” In 2005, he wondered whether the troops would “take the orders” from a (female) President Clinton. “Is she hemmed in by the fact that she’s a woman and can’t admit a mistake,” he asked in 2006, “or else the Republicans will say, ‘Oh, that’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind,’ or ‘another fickle woman’? Is her gender a problem in her ability to change her mind?” He once pinched her cheekfollowing an interview, and, though he later apologized, on another occasion suggested that she only got as far as she did on the political stage because her husband had “messed around.”

We’re all familiar with Tweety’s garbage talk. To paraphrase Trump: “Take him out!”

Also worth reading, tweets by Matthew Gertz of Media Matters. A couple of examples:

That’s part of a long thread about Matthews ugly sexist remarks about Clinton you can read on Twitter.

And now let’s check out some of the latest stories about the “president” Chris Matthews and his kind helped put in the White House.

Trump’s racism

The New York Times Editorial Board on the “president’s” “shithole” shitstorm: Donald Trump Flushes Away America’s Reputation.

Where to begin? How about with a simple observation: The president of the United States is a racist. And another: The United States has a long and ugly history of excluding immigrants based on race or national origin. Mr. Trump seems determined to undo efforts taken by presidents of both parties in recent decades to overcome that history.

Mr. Trump denied making the remarks on Friday, but Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, who attended the meeting, said the president did in fact say these “hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly.”

Of course he did. Remember, Mr. Trump is not just racist, ignorant, incompetent and undignified. He’s also a liar.

Even the president’s most sycophantic defenders didn’t bother denying the reports. Instead they justified them. Places like Haiti really are terrible, they reminded us. Never mind that many native-born Americans are descended from immigrants who fled countries (including Norway in the second half of the 19th century) that were considered hellholes at the time.

Read the rest at the NYT link. How appropriate that the headline contains the word “flushes.”

Adam Serwer at The Atlantic: Trump Puts the Purpose of His Presidency Into Words.

Francis Amasa Walker had fought to preserve the Union in the Grand Army of the Republic, but by 1896 he saw its doom in the huddled masses coming from Eastern Europe. The “immigrants from southern Italy, Hungary, Austria, and Russia,” Walker lamented in The Atlantic, were “beaten men from beaten races; representing the worst failures in the struggle for existence,” people who had “none of the ideas and aptitudes which fit men to take up readily and easily the problem of self-care and self-government, such as belong to those who are descended from the tribes that met under the oak-trees of old Germany to make laws and choose chieftains.”

More than a century later President Donald Trump would put it differently, as he considered immigration from Africa, wondering, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” instead suggesting that America take in more immigrants from places like Norway.

These remarks reflect scorn not only for those who wish to come here, but those who already have. It is a president of the United States expressing his contempt for the tens of millions of descendants of Africans, most of whose forefathers had no choice in crossing the Atlantic, American citizens whom any president is bound to serve. And it is a public admission of sorts that he is incapable of being a president for all Americans, the logic of his argument elevating not just white immigrants over brown ones, but white citizens over the people of color they share this country with.

Please go read the whole thing.

Philip Kennicott at The Washington Post: What did the men with Donald Trump do when he spoke of ‘shithole countries’?

Over the past year, as our political culture has grown more coarse and corrupt, I’ve felt different things: sometimes, anger; often, bitter resignation; and occasionally, a bemused sense of pure absurdity. But the past two nights I have actually wept. Why now? Why in response to these particular prompts? A confused and ailing woman in a thin medical gown was tossed to the roadside in freezing weather by security guards from the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus in Baltimore. Who orders such a thing, and why would anyone carry out that order? Then, the president of the United States calls Haiti, El Salvador and African nations “shithole” countries. Who says that kind of thing? Who thinks it? Who listens to it without reflexive outrage?

Back to the Post article:

According to a few of the president’s defenders, this is what we all really think. “This is how the forgotten men and women of America talk at the bar,” said a Fox News host, imputing to ordinary Americans sentiments they wouldn’t suffer to be said at their own dinner tables. There was the usual talk about “tough” language, as if using racist language was merely candor or an admirable impatience with euphemism.

His defenders seemed to say that if the president says things that we would be ashamed even to think, he is somehow speaking a kind of truth. But while there may be countries that are poor and suffer from civil discord, there are no “shithole” countries, not one, anywhere on Earth. The very idea of “shithole” countries is designed to short-circuit our capacity for empathy on a global scale.

These two incidents, in Baltimore and in the Oval Office, seem related — inhumane indifference from a hospital and blatant bigotry from the president — which is even more troubling. They are about who is on what side of the door, or the wall, or any other barrier that defines the primal “us and them” that governs so much of the worst of our human-made world. When Trump called disfavored countries “shitholes,” he was indulging the most lethal and persistent tribalism of all: pure, unabashed racism. After a candidacy and now a presidency marked by implications of racism, the president has grown more comfortable with speaking in overtly racist terms, condemning whole countries and their people for not being more like “Norway,” one of the whitest countries on Earth….

Remarks like these from the president are still shocking but hardly surprising, given the frequency with which they occur. What I want to know is how the men in the room with him reacted. This is the dinner table test: When you are sitting and socializing with a bigot, what do you do when he reveals his bigotry? I’ve seen it happen, once, when I was a young man, and I learned an invaluable lesson. An older guest at a formal dinner said something blatantly anti-Semitic. I was shocked and laughed nervously. Another friend stared at his plate silently. Another excused himself and fled to the bathroom. And then there was the professor, an accomplished and erudite man, who paused for a moment, then slammed his fist on the table and said, “I will never listen to that kind of language, so either you will leave, or I will leave.” The offender looked around the table, found no allies and left the gathering. I don’t know if he felt any shame upon expulsion.

Again, please go read the rest.

On the Trump scandal front:

Raw Story: Haitian government claims ousted dictator ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier laundered stolen money through Trump Tower.

Trump and Baby Doc

More than a fifth of Trump’s condominiums in the U.S. have been purchased since the 1980s in secretive cash transactions that fit a Treasury Department definition of suspicious transactions, reported Buzzfeed News.

Records show more than 1,300 Trump condos were purchased through shell companies, which allow buyers to shield their finances and identities, and without a mortgage, which protects buyers from lender inquiries.

Those two characteristics raise alarms about possible money laundering, according to statements issued in recent months by the Department of Treasury, which has investigated transactions just like those all over the country….

According to the Buzzfeed News report, the Haitian government complained in the 1980s that former dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier laundered money stolen from the Caribbean nation’s treasury by purchasing an apartment in Trump Tower.

Duvalier, nicknamed “Baby Doc,” was overthrown in 1986, but three years earlier used a Panamanian shell company called Lasa Trade and Finance to buy apartment 54-K in Trump’s Manhattan tower for $446,875 cash.

Trump, the future U.S. president, signed the deed of sale.

I tried to read the Buzzfeed story yesterday, but it got to be too much to deal with. Now I plan to go read it carefully.

CNN: James O’Keefe says Trump asked him to go on birther-linked mission.

James O’Keefe

Donald Trump in 2013 asked James O’Keefe, the controversial conservative filmmaker, if he could “get inside” Columbia University and obtain President Obama’s sealed college records, according to a passage in O’Keefe’s forthcoming book, a copy of which was reviewed by CNN.

O’Keefe, a guerrilla filmmaker whom critics have decried for his tactics and who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for entering federal property in 2010 under false pretenses, writes in “American Pravda: My Fight for Truth in the Era of Fake News” that during a meeting in New York City Trump complimented his ACORN sting videos (“That pimp and hooker thing you did, wow!”). But, O’Keefe writes, Trump “was a man with a plan” and “did not agree to this meeting to sing my praises.” [….]

According to O’Keefe, Trump “suspected Obama had presented himself as a foreign student on application materials to ease his way into New York’s Columbia University, maybe even Harvard too, and perhaps picked up a few scholarships along the way.”

O’Keefe wrote that during the 2013 meeting Trump suggested O’Keefe infiltrate Columbia and obtain the sealed records: “‘Nobody else can get this information,'” O’Keefe quoted Trump as saying. “‘Do you think you could get inside Columbia?'”

Read more at CNN.

The Washington Post: After drubbing by media, Trump’s ambassador to the Netherlands apologizes for anti-Muslim remarks.

Pete Hoekstra and Trump

The embattled U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Peter Hoekstra apologized Friday for making unsubstantiated anti-Muslim claims at a conference in 2015, after his first week in the post was clouded by questions about the incendiary statements.

Hoekstra, a former Republican congressman from Michigan and recent political appointee, made the apology during an interview Friday with De Telegraaf, one of the largest Dutch newspapers, at the end of a particularly rough introduction for the new ambassador.

“Looking back, I am shocked I said that,” he told the newspaper. “It was a wrong statement. It was wrong.”

Hoekstra made the remarks in question during a conference on terrorism hosted by the right-wing David Horowitz Freedom Center. He talked about the supposed “chaos” brought to Europe by immigrants from Islamic countries and repeated a baseless theory about so-called “no-go zones” that is popular in right-wing media.

“Chaos in the Netherlands. There are cars being burned. There are politicians that are being burned,” Hoekstra said at the time. “With the influx of the Islamic community — and yes, there are no-go zones in the Netherlands. All right? There are no-go zones in France.”

Considering the quality of people Trump is appointing to diplomatic posts, I’m sure we can expect more embarrassing episodes like this.

So . . . I could go on and on. I deliberately left out the story of Trump and the two porn stars. It’s still difficult for me to believe this horrible man is POTUS. He has to go before he completely wrecks this country and destroys any hope of our regaining respect around the world.

What stories are you following?


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

I finished reading Glenn Simpson’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. Senator Diane Feinstein is a true shero for releasing it to  the public. The contrast between the questioning by the Republican and Democratic staffs is truly shocking. The Democrats focused on the Steele dossier itself and the process by which it was produced, and the Republicans spent their time trying to find ways to undermine and smear Steele, Simpson, and his company Fusion GPS.

Brian Buetler at Crooked has a great summary of the testimony and as well as a description of the partisan questioning by Senator Chuck Grassley’s staff:

By my count, over the course of about five hours, Chuck Grassley’s lawyers asked Simpson literally zero questions designed to increase their own understanding of Russian efforts to disrupt the election. They likewise asked no questions aimed at establishing Simpsons’ level of confidence in the information in the dossier, or in documentary evidence he compiled of Trump’s involvement in money laundering and his ties to organized crime.

They spent their hours instead trying without much success to impeach Simpson’s credibility and paint him as a partisan. They were particularly interested in skewing the composition of Simpsons’ client base to make it seem tilted to Democrats (it isn’t), and in getting Simpson to testify that he had a financial interest in triggering an FBI investigation of the Trump campaign (he didn’t). Confronted with the allegation that the Trump campaign was complicit in a criminal plot to sabotage the Clinton campaign, Grassley’s representatives wanted to know why Simpson had the nerve to try to alert the public, through the media.

Woman reading “Fire and Fury” in CT bookstore

Grassley doesn’t work for Trump and neither do his aides, but their conduct blends seamlessly into the obstructive behavior Trump and his advisers exhibited during the campaign and after, and thus represents a total abdication of their Constitutional roles. Rather than alert the FBI, as requested,  about Russian meddling, the Trump campaign cooperated with Russian hackers, and used their stolen materials to maximum benefit. When the FBI acknowledged the existence of its investigation of the Trump campaign, Trump called it a witch hunt and tried to quash it, along with parallel investigations limping along on Capitol Hill. Grassley’s efforts began where Trump’s left off. The special counsel’s investigation of the Trump campaign continues, so Grassley has devoted himself to proving that it is the fruit of poisonous partisanship. First, they hoped Simpson would melt and confess to being a high-rent version of Roger Stone. When they failed to discredit Simpson, Steele, and the dossier, or to establish that the dossier triggered the FBI’s investigation, Grassley tried to bury the testimony, and then to discredit the dossier by proxy with a baseless accusation that Steele is a criminal.

Trump’s lickspittle propagandists remain as determined as ever to manufacture a scandal out of the nexus between law enforcement and the private investigators who tipped them off, based solely on the identities of the investigators’ clients. Before Feinstein posted Simpson’s testimony, they alleged, without evidence, that Steele’s dossier was the progenitor of the FBI’s Trump investigation. Amid the ruins of that theory, they have unblinkingly adopted the incompatible view that the real outrage is that the FBI tipped its hand to a witness that an investigation was already underway.

Click on the link to read a summary of what questioning by Sen. Feinstein’s staff revealed.

Did you watch that ridiculous “immigration meeting” that Trump held a couple of days ago? The purpose obviously was to demonstrate that Trump is not the raving lunatic described in the book Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff. Then yesterday he had another photo op “cabinet meeting” in which he bragged that he “got great reviews from everybody” on his “performance.” Mediaite reports:

Welcome back to the studio,” Trump said as he began his address from the Cabinet Room. He proceeded to revisit his list of triumphs — as he perceives them — such as the GOP tax reform bill, the stock market’s performance, and jobs creation.

Eventually, Trump bragged about how allowing the media to film his bipartisan immigration negotiations yesterday with several members of Congress. The discussions drew rare praise from his critics and complaints fromhis base. Naturally, Trump was more focused today on the former.

“It was a tremendous meeting, actually. It was reported as incredibly good, and my performance…got great reviews from everybody other than two networks who were phenomenal for about two hours. Then after that they were called by their bosses who said “oh, wait a minute” and unfortunately, a lot of those anchors sent us letters saying that was one of the greatest meetings they’ve ever witnessed.”

Trump also claimed he had received letters from news anchors praising his handling of the immigration discussion. Last night Anderson Cooper had a little fun with that. The Hill: Anderson Cooper mocks Trump’s claim that news anchors sent him letters of praise.

Cooper on his program late Wednesday gave “major kudos” to the United States Postal Service for “delivering those letters so fast.”

“So fast, it’s almost like it wouldn’t even be humanly possible,” Cooper said.

“Quick question though: Who are these anchors who wrote letters congratulating the president on one of the greatest meetings they’ve ever witnessed, which is a highly believable, totally normal thing that would absolutely happen?”

Cooper joked that letter writing is one of the first things taught in “anchor school.”

He said he did not send the president a letter of congratulations on his meeting.

“Everyone knows when I want to do something totally normal, I send the president one of those big cookies with ‘congratulations on the meeting’ in icing or one of those edible arrangements,” he said.

Cooper added that when CNN asked the White House to back up its claim that Trump received letters of praise for the meeting from anchors, the White House gave the network a list of “two CNN videos and 19 tweets.”

“To be fair, this list does have words on it and those words are actually made up of letters,” the CNN anchor added,  “but that’s not generally accepted in reality to mean the same thing as ‘letters of congratulation that anchors sent to the president.'”

Video at The Hill.

What the televised meetings showed was that the “president” is completely clueless about his own supposed policies. He simply agreed with the last person who spoke to him and then had to be bailed out by nervous Republicans who explained tried to explain his positions to him.

The Atlantic: The President Who Doesn’t Understand His Own Positions.

The president was able to garner some positive reviews for his session with congressional leaders on Tuesday—though as one of those reviewers, Peter Baker of The New York Timesacknowledged, “The bar, of course, was historically low given that Democrats and even some Republicans have been describing him as so unstable that he should be removed from office.”

But at the same time—in that Tuesday meeting, over the weekend at Camp David, and on Twitter Thursday morning—Trump has demonstrated that he continues to have no functional grasp of policy, including the putative positions of his administration. He demonstrated this Thursday with regards to the FISA Amendments Act, which Congress is preparing to reauthorize before it expires. But reformers, including libertarian-leaning Republicans like Representative Justin Amash and Senator Rand Paul and Democrats like Representative Zoe Lofgren and Senator Ron Wyden, have sought new privacy safeguards in response to the revelations produced by Edward Snowden.

Here are the conflicting tweets from this morning:

The tweets were two hours apart, so someone in the WH must have explained to Trump that he was disagreeing with his own policy in the first one.

Read more at The Atlantic.

Bradley P. Moss has an interesting piece at Politico on the upcoming interview Trump will have to have with the Special Counsel: This is How Trump’s Lawyers Are Probably Prepping Him for the Mueller Showdown.

First things first: Even putting aside his constitutional title, the president is no ordinary client. He is in his 70s, has a healthy (albeit fragile) ego, and, after decades in the business world, is largely set in his ways about how he likes to do things. He is not a deeply analytical person, and he doesn’t like to get bogged down in details. He will not, for example—no matter how much his lawyers would like him to—be able to replicate the document-specific preparedness Hillary Clinton brought to her marathon, 11-hour congressional testimony concerning the tragedy in Benghazi, Libya. That has not been and will never be who Trump is and trying to prepare him in that manner would be a disservice to him, as it would only irritate and confuse him.

That aside, if the president is going to navigate this interview without stepping on any legal or political land mines, he absolutely must listen to the advice his lawyers are likely giving him and take this seriously….

The stakes are high: I am assuming that Mueller does not primarily intend to use the interview of the president, which he reportedly told Trump’s lawyers on Monday that he was likely to request, as a fact-finding inquiry. (Trump countered on Wednesday that an interview with Mueller “seems unlikely.”) If there are relevant and material facts to be found, Mueller’s team has likely already obtained them through the plethora of subpoenas, interviews and grand jury testimony that have already occurred. Mueller’s objective is more likely to evaluate the president’s demeanor when answering questions, particularly when he’s addressing allegations that he tried on more than one occasion to obstruct the Russia investigation. The president’s motivation—particularly whether he had “corrupt intent”—in taking steps like firing FBI Director James Comey is something that can more easily be extrapolated by observing how Trump explains the context of those actions under pressure from a prosecutor than through a dry review of factual information in and of itself.

This means that the president’s lawyers must prepare him to address any number of potential topics, and also thoroughly coach him on how he will talk about them. They’ll do this with mock interviews. A standard mock session could consist of multiple lawyers jumping in with questions at different times, placing documents in front of Trump and seeking to trip him up on the facts. It would be advisable—although it is debatable whether the president would agree to it—for several mock interview sessions to be conducted before the president sits down with Mueller.

Read the rest at Politico. It’s fascinating. No wonder Trump is freaking out.

I know much more is happening. What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads

Ginger Rogers reading Romola Nijinsky’s Life of Nijinsky, Lincoln Kirstein (1933)

Good Afternoon!!

UPDATE: News just broke that Sen. Diane Feinstein has released the Senate testimony of Fusion GPS’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Take that Sen. Grassley! 

Finally, the Boston area has emerged from the deep freeze and back to more normal January temperatures. It’s 41 degrees here today and it might hit 56 degrees on Friday.

On another front, though, Massachusetts may be headed for an ugly fight thanks to good old Jeff Sessions and his anti-marijuana crusade. The Boston Globe: US attorney throws future of legal pot in Mass. into doubt.

The state’s top federal prosecutor on Monday refused to rule out a crackdown on the voter-authorized marijuana industry, prompting howls from advocates and politicians and moving Massachusetts to the forefront of the battle between the Trump administration and the dozens of states where cannabis is legal.

“I cannot . . . provide assurances that certain categories of participants in the state-level marijuana trade will be immune from federal prosecution,” said US Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew E. Lelling.

The pronouncement followed US Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision last week to grant regional federal prosecutors broader discretion to enforce the longstanding national prohibition on cannabis, which the Obama administration had limited in states that have approved the drug for recreational or medical use.

Lelling was just confirmed in December. Attorney General Maura Healy is having none of it:

“The people of Massachusetts voted to legalize the responsible sale and use of marijuana,” said a Healey spokeswoman. “Our office is com-mitted to helping implement legalization effectively and as safely as possible. We encourage the US attorney to further clarify his enforcement priorities to provide guidance to Massachusetts municipalities, residents, and businesses.”

Ingrid Bergman reading

Lelling’s stance also miffed a range of Massachusetts leaders who have been grappling with regulating the state’s nascent marijuana market.

Geoff Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said the newly hostile signals from the federal government threaten to confuse ongoing local efforts to prepare for recreational marijuana.

“This is a knuckleball late in the process,” Beckwith said. “It’s a disruptive intrusion by the federal government into the activities of state and local governments, who have been working on this structure and implementing the will of the voters.”

Massachusetts decriminalized individual use of marijuana in 2008 and legalized medical marijuana in 2012. People approved for medical marijuana can grow small amounts on their property. Recreational use an commercial saleof the drug was approved in 2016. Now the feds are going to step in and make a mess of state laws? I don’t think so.

Before his announcement, Lelling sent an email to local police departments.

This could get really ugly. I wonder if Sessions has found other anti-marijuana people to appoint in other states?

In other news, Scientists have confirmed the existence of a fourth dimension. International Business Times: 4D World: Light Moving In Fourth Dimension Observed During Quantum Hall Experiment.

Any mention of the fourth dimension and one’s mind immediately wanders to the possible wonders of time travel. Since Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was introduced in 1905, the fourth dimension has helped our understanding of “the dimension of time.”

Eartha Kitt reading

In our physical world, we can perceive three dimensions and one extra dimension of time as we move through the Universe.

But two recent quantum experiments have for the first time shown the existence of a fourth spatial dimension.

The teams of scientists from the U.S. and Europe have shown that, in addition to the conventional three-axis where an object can move up-down, left-right or forward-backward to an observer, there exists a fourth spatial dimension which could introduce new directions of motion.

Oded Zilberberg, ETH researcher, and a professor at the Institute for Theoretical Physics oversaw the two experiments that provided the data for the discovery. By placing together two specially designed 2D setups to study the quantum Hall effect, they were able to catch a glimpse of this fourth spatial dimension.

Read the rest at IB Times. I don’t understand it, but it seems exciting.

Back in Trump world, the “president” attended the Alabama-George national championship game, and we learned that the moron doesn’t know the words to the National Anthem.

The Washington Post: Trump revives criticism of national anthem protests, but critics wonder: Does he know the song?

Before heading to the college national football championship Monday, President Trump reiterated his views on athletes using the national anthem to protest racial discrimination and police violence in America.

“We want our flag respected,” Trump told the annual gathering of the American Farm Bureau Federation in Nashville. “We want our national anthem respected also.”

“There’s plenty of space for people to express their views and to protest, but we love our flag and we love our anthem, and we want to keep it that way,” he said.

But at the Alabama vs. Georgia game in Atlanta, as the president stood with the color guard during the anthem and appeared to mouth the words to the song, some questioned: Does Trump know the words to the entire first verse of the national anthem?

Pool reporters traveling with the president said he mouthed what appeared to be some of the words to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but they could not tell exactly what he was saying or singing. Trump seemed more excited to sing along near the end of the song, according to the pool report.

At CNN, Wayne Drash and Ben Tinker ask: With nuclear codes in hands, why doesn’t the president get a thorough mental check?

With a tell-all book raising concerns about US President Trump’s mental stability, there is a renewed question asking why the most powerful man in the world is not required to pass a thorough mental health exam.

Trump defended himself as a “very stable genius” in a tweetstorm over the weekend. But his remarks have done little to quell questions swirling about why the man with the nation’s nuclear codes doesn’t have to undergo more rigorous mental health evaluations.

“I think it’s totally legitimate to ask about that and to have that as part of the examination,” said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and a CNN contributor. “I generally think that once someone’s president — or once someone’s even running for office — this should be fair game.

“This isn’t about scandal, and it’s not some kind of exposé. It’s understanding whether someone is fit to hold the office and whether there is any problem that the president himself — or his advisers, or the country — should be aware of.”

Jane Russell

Trump, 71, is to undergo a medical exam on Friday by White House physician Dr. Ronny Jackson, who performed President Barack Obama’s last several physicals while he was in office. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has promised a readout of the results as soon as information becomes available, but it’s ultimately up to the president as to what information he wants to share with the public.

CNN reached out to multiple former White House physicians to learn what is routinely covered during the exams and what sort of mental health evaluations, if any, are done, but they were all unreachable or declined to comment.

At The Washington Post, James Hohmann points out that Trump is likely knee-capping the GOP with his immigration extremism and his shameful treatment of Puerto Rico: Trump systematically alienates the Latino diaspora — from El Salvador to Puerto  Rico and Mexico.

The administration announced Monday that it will terminate the provisional residency permits of about 200,000 Salvadorans who have lived in the United States since at least 2001, leaving them to face deportation. Trump previously ended what is known as Temporary Protected Status for Nicaraguans and Haitians, and he’s expected to cut off Hondurans later this year.

This is part of a strategic, full-court press to make America less hospitable to immigrants, both legal and illegal. Immigration enforcement arrests are up 40 percent, Trump has slashed the number of refugees allowed into the United States to the lowest level since 1980 and the Justice Department has tried to crack down on “sanctuary cities” during his first year.

Audrey Hepburn

Most consequentially, Trump created an artificial political crisis by announcing the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows about 700,000 undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and obtain work permits.

The president is now trying to use the “dreamers” as bargaining chips to force Congress to pony up $18 billion for his border wall, breaking a campaign promise that Mexico would pay. Congressional Republicans are also offering to negotiate an extension of TPS protections in exchange for scaling back the diversity visa lottery program.

There is a chance of a government shutdown in the next several weeks over the wall and/or DACA.

Read more at the WaPo link.

Finally, Andrew Desiderio breaks the news that Mike Pence was responsible for stopping the bipartisan fix for Obamacare.

A bipartisan effort to stabilize the U.S. health-insurance markets collapsed last month after anti-abortion groups appealed directly to Vice President Mike Pence at the 11th hour, The Daily Beast has learned.

Amid opposition from conservatives in the House of Representatives, a group of pro-life activists met with Pence to lobby the Trump administration against supporting a health-insurance market-stabilization bill on the grounds that it does not contain sufficient language on abortion restrictions, according to sources with direct knowledge of the meeting. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was also in attendance at the Dec. 19 meeting, three of the sources said.

The next day, key lawmakers involved in crafting the legislation announced they were punting on the issue until 2018.

A spokeswoman for the vice president confirmed the meeting to The Daily Beast. A spokesman for McConnell did not respond to requests for comment.

Efforts to pressure Pence, a hardline social conservative and a former lawmaker, are thrusting abortion back onto the national stage in a debate over the future of health care in America, as Republicans deliberate behind closed doors on whether to try to scrap Obamacare again in 2018.

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Gorilla TV

Patrick, a lowland gorilla, at the Dallas Zoo watching a National Geographic special on gorillas on T.V.

Good Morning!!

For the past few days, the media and we political junkies have been obsessed with the new book by Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. TV talking heads have spent hours discussing the whether Donald Trump is temperamentally and cognitively fit for the office he holds. Of course most of us concluded during the 2016 campaign that he was not. But now Trump himself has definitively answered the question in one of his morning tweet storms.

Oh. Ohhh-kaaay. I’m convinced. Are you?

One person who apparently will defend Trump until the bitter end is Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

Share Blue: Sarah Sanders: Americans who aren’t “celebrating” Trump are “mentally unfit.”

Donald Trump and his allies are fiercely resisting the allegations in Michael Wolff’s explosive new book, “Fire and Fury,” that Trump lacks the basic mental competence for the day-to-day functions of the presidency — a question that even before the book’s release, was being hotly debated.

But White House attempts to beat back the allegations are not going well.

Appearing on Fox News to discuss the book’s charges of Trump’s unfitness, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders essentially resorted to the argument of “I know you are, but what am I?”

KILMEADE: That’s the president’s position on that. What’s yours?

SANDERS: Look, I think it’s absolutely insane to think all of these individuals, reporters and others, who suddenly have a medical degree and think that they can diagnose somebody, many times who they’ve never even had a conversation with. It’s absolutely outrageous to make these types of accusations, and it’s simply untrue, and it’s sad that people are going and making these desperate attempts to attack the president. What I think is really mentally unstable is people that don’t see the positive impact that this president is having on the country. The economy is booming, we’re crushing ISIS, day after day things are getting better for Americans all over this country. And I think it’s really sad that these people don’t see that, and that they’re not celebrating and trying to join in the president’s efforts to turn our country around.

A slightly more intelligent response to the book from David Remnick at The New Yorker: The Increasing Unfitness of Donald Trump.

What made the Emperor Nero tick, Suetonius writes in “Lives of the Caesars,” was “a longing for immortality and undying fame, though it was ill-regulated.” Many Romans were convinced that Nero was mentally unbalanced and that he had burned much of the imperial capital to the ground just to make room for the construction of the Domus Aurea, a gold-leaf-and-marble palace that stretched from the Palatine to the Esquiline Hill. At enormous venues around the city, he is said to have sung, danced, and played the water organ for many hours—but not before ordering the gates locked to insure that the house would remain full until after the final encore. Driven half mad by Nero’s antics, Romans feigned death or shimmied over the walls with ropes to escape.

Chaotic, corrupt, incurious, infantile, grandiose, and obsessed with gaudy real estate, Donald Trump is of a Neronic temperament. He has always craved attention. Now the whole world is his audience. In earlier times, Trump cultivated, among others, the proprietors and editors of the New York tabloids, Fox News, TMZ, and the National Enquirer. Now Twitter is his principal outlet, with no mediation necessary.

The President recently celebrated the holidays at Mar-a-Lago, the Domus Aurea of Palm Beach, and nearly every day, before setting out for the golf course, he thumbed his bilious contempt for . . . such a long list! Science itself did not escape his scorn:

In the East, it could be the COLDEST New Year’s Eve on record. Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against. Bundle up!

Future scholars will sift through Trump’s digital proclamations the way we now read the chroniclers of Nero’s Rome—to understand how an unhinged emperor can make a mockery of republican institutions, undo the collective nervous system of a country, and degrade the whole of public life.

Click on the link to read the rest.

Trump is at Camp David right now with his cabinet (except for Jeff Sessions, who has been frozen out) and Republican leadership supposedly to discuss the administration’s agenda for the coming year.

Last night Rachel Maddow suggested that perhaps Sessions was left out because the rest of the Trump crowd might be planning to fire him.

Other Twitter folks think it’s because Sessions might interfere with the planned activities.

The New York Daily News: Jeff Sessions not invited to Trump meet, as EPA chief Scott Pruitt reportedly voices interest in attorney general post.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is one of the few cabinet members who will not attend an inner-circle legislative meeting hosted by President Trump this weekend, fueling speculation about growing tensions between the two men.

Meanwhile, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who will attend the meeting at Camp David, indicated this week that he’d be willing to lead the Justice Department, according to a report.

Pruitt has been telling close associates at the EPA that he would be up to fill Sessions’ shoes if Trump gives him the boot, one person familiar with the matter told Politico….

Trump’s weekend meeting will focus on national security, immigration and economic legislation priorities for this year, according to a White House statement. In addition to Pruitt, the sit down will be attended by senior House and Senate Republicans as well as a majority of Trump’s cabinet, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Sessions’ absence is particularly conspicuous since an attorney general is usually deeply involved in the issues that will be discussed during the Camp David rendezvous.

Kumbuka the gorilla may have been recaptured – but Donald Trump is still on the loose | The Independent

I hate to say this, but I almost think Sessions would preferable to Scott Pruitt as Attorney General.

Philip Ewing at NPR: The Russia Investigations: Sessions On Edge, Bannon Exiled And Internecine Combat.

Following the heavy cyclone of news this week, dawn in Washington, D.C., on Saturday found Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the slippery sand — and that could also mean peril for Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

An explosive New York Times scoop revealed that Sessions tried to smear then-FBI Director James Comey before he was fired. The report, by Michael Schmidt, also said President Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to lean on Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia probe, and when Sessions did recuse, the president fustigated him. Sessions offered to quit but Trump said no.

So not only is Sessions persona non grata with the president — that’s been the case for months. Now the public and people inside the Justice Department know Sessions was actively trying to undermine his own FBI director, as part of a pattern of conduct directed by Trump — who himself had asked Comey to lay off then-national security adviser Mike Flynn, then fired Comeyetc.

Ewing notes that Pruitt has been angling for Sessions’ job, apparently thinking Trump’s AG could be gone soon.

What does it all mean? Sessions has been in hot water before with Trump but came through it, in part thanks to steadfast support from his longtime allies in the Senate. How strong is that firewall now? Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has said he had no plans to confirm a new attorney general. And Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., has threatened to hold up all Justice Department nominees after Sessions rescinded earlier permissive guidelines on marijuana enforcement.

So if Sessions were to go for real this time, Trump might not be able to quickly and easily appoint someone else — someone not recused from the Russia probe — to wrangle the Justice Department on the president’s behalf. But if the political dynamics change, that could change the play for the White House. As NPR’s Carrie Johnson has reported, replacing the leadership at Justice is one way that Trump could try to control or get rid of Mueller.

Meanwhile the Russia investigation continues, along with the GOP’s efforts to interfere with it. A few updates:

LA Times: Mueller calls back at least one participant in key meeting with Russians at Trump Tower.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has recalled for questioning at least one participant in a controversial meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016, and is looking into President Trump’s misleading claim that the discussion focused on adoption, rather than an offer to provide damaging information about Hillary.

Some defense lawyers involved in the case view Mueller’s latest push as a sign that investigators are focusing on possible obstruction of justice by Trump and several of his closest advisors for their statements about the politically sensitive meeting, rather than for collusion with the Russians.

The Times agreed with its source not to name the individual who has been called back for more questioning.

Investigators also are exploring the involvement of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who did not attend the half-hour sit-down on June 9, 2016, but briefly spoke with two of the participants, a Russian lawyer and a Russian-born Washington lobbyist. Details of the encounter were not previously known.

It occurred at the Trump Tower elevator as the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and the lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, were leaving the building and consisted of pleasantries, a person familiar with the episode said. But Mueller’s investigators want to know every contact the two visitors had with Trump’s family members and inner circle.

That’s interesting. So did Ivanka get advance notice of the meeting? And did her father send her down to exchange “pleasantries” with her brother’s guests?

Good old George Papadopoulos is still in the news. Sydney Morning News: ‘Romantic encounter’ set off Australia’s role in triggering Donald Trump investigation.

It was a chance romantic encounter by George Papadopoulos that set in train the events that led to the Australian government tipping off Washington about what it knew of Russian hacking efforts to swing the US presidential election.

Fairfax Media can reveal a woman in London with whom Papadopoulos became involved happened to know Alexander Downer and told the Australian High Commissioner about Papadopoulos, a newly signed staffer for Donald Trump. Downer, being a canny diplomat, followed it up and arranged a meeting with the young American, who was mostly living in London at the time.

What followed was the now infamous May 2016 conversation over many glasses of wine at the swanky Kensington Wine Rooms, during which the 28-year-old Papadopoulos spilled to Downer that he knew of a Russian dirt file on the rival Clinton campaign consisting of thousands of hacked emails.

That night was a key moment that helped spark the FBI probe – since taken over by respected former FBI director Robert Mueller as a special counsel – into possible Trump campaign collusion with the Kremlin, including its hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

Read more at the link.

The Trump campaign’s digital director sent out a series of interesting tweets yesterday. Natasha Bertrand wrote up the story at Business Insider: Trump campaign digital director: ‘Not one person made a decision’ without Kushner and Eric Trump’s ‘approval.’

The digital director of the Trump campaign said Friday that the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and son Eric Trump “were joint deputy campaign managers” whose “approval” was required for every decision before the 2016 election.

“Nobody else. Not one person made a decision without their approval,” the digital director, Brad Parscale, tweeted. “Others just took credit for this family’s amazing ability. I’m done with all these lies. They will be embarrassed!”

Kushner was Parscale’s “patron,” according to a person familiar with the campaign’s inner workings, which could explain their closeness.

Kushner got Parscale hired, the person said, “despite the fact that a number of people in the campaign wondered whether he had any idea what he was doing.”

“He’s Jared’s boy,” the person added. “I had [campaign] deputies telling me they couldn’t question anything the guy did or said, and they were unhappy about that.”

But Eric Trump? Who knew he was so central to the operation?

Parscale’s tweet also raises new questions about how involved Kushner and Eric Trump were in episodes that have drawn the most scrutiny from investigators probing the campaign’s ties to Russia.

Those include agreeing to with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and other Russian nationals at Trump Tower in June 2016; green-lighting a trip to Moscow for Carter Page, an early campaign aide, in July 2016; and altering the GOP’s Ukraine platform during the Republican National Convention that month.

Page told the House Intelligence Committee last year that days before the convention, Corey Lewandowski, then the campaign manager, gave him permission to travel to Russia. Lewandowski has denied that, but Page has said he has emails to prove it. It is not clear whether Lewandowski consulted with Kushner beforehand.

Parscale’s statement also raises questions about what Kushner and Eric Trump knew about George Papadopoulos, the former campaign aide who was charged late last year with making false statements to the FBI.

Interesting. On the GOP obstruction side:

The New York Times: Republican Senators Raise Possible Charges Against Author of Trump Dossier.

More than a year after Republican leaders promised to investigate Russian interference in the presidential election, two influential Republicans on Friday made the first known congressional criminal referral in connection with the meddling — against one of the people who sought to expose it.

Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a senior committee member, told the Justice Department that they had reason to believe that a former British spy, Christopher Steele, lied to federal authorities about his contacts with reporters regarding information in a dossier, and they urged the department to investigate. The committee is running one of three congressional investigations into Russian election meddling, and its inquiry has come to focus on, in part, Mr. Steele’s explosive dossier that purported to detail Russia’s interference and the Trump campaign’s complicity.

The decision by Mr. Grassley and Mr. Graham to single out the former intelligence officer behind the dossier infuriated Democrats and raised the stakes in the growing partisan battle over the investigations into Mr. Trump, his campaign team and Russia.

The Senate Judiciary Committee effort played into a far broader campaign waged by conservatives to cast doubt on the Trump-Russia investigations, and instead turn the veracity of the dossier and the credibility of its promulgators into the central issue.

The story goes on to describe other GOP attempts at obstruction and distraction–including efforts to once again investigation Hillary Clinton.

USA Today: FBI documents: Andrew McCabe had no conflict in Hillary Clinton email probe.

FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whom President Trump has blamed for influencing the decision not to criminally charge Hillary Clinton for her use of private email server, did not oversee that inquiry while his wife was running for state office in Virginia as a Democrat, according to bureau records released Friday.

The internal documents, published on the FBI’s website, support what the bureau has asserted previously: that McCabe had no conflicts when he assumed oversight of the Clinton investigation. His role began in February 2016, following his appointment as deputy director and three months after his wife, Jill McCabe, lost her bid for a state Senate seat.

McCabe has been repeatedly targeted by Trump and some Republican lawmakers, who accuse the long-time FBI official of exerting undue and partisan influence over the Clinton probe.

As recently as last month, Trump seized on McCabe’s role in the Clinton inquiry and his wife’s political bid, noting that Jill McCabe received nearly $470,000 from a political action committee associated with Clinton ally and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers! What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: Bomb Cyclone Edition

Sea ice floats in Boston Harbor (Boston Globe)

Good Morning

Jim Cantore is in Rockport on the North Shore and another Weather Channel guy is on the South Shore, in Plymouth, so I guess the storm is going to be bad here in New England. Bombogenesis is still expected to happen off the New England Coast later today. Here’s the explanation of what’s happening from the Boston Globe: Bombogenesis? Bomb cyclone? What exactly these terms mean and how they relate to Thursday’s storm.

The terms were popularized by a 1980 paper by MIT professors Frederick Sanders and John R. Gyakum, who studied “explosive cyclogenesis” (the rapid development of a storm) in the Northern Hemisphere in the 1970s.

According to the NOAA, bombogenesis is a “popular term” to describe the process in which a storm rapidly strengthes. Specifically, it refers to when the storm’s pressure system drops more than 24 millibars in 24 hours.

“This can happen when a cold air mass collides with a warm air mass, such as air over warm ocean waters,” says the agency’s website.

According to Sanders and Gyakum’s paper, bombogenesis is predominantly a cold-season event and occurs over water. The National Weather Service says it is “solely a meteorological term” and does not describe the effects of the storm.

That said, the resulting storm from bombogenesis is called a “bomb” or “bomb cyclone.”

We’re supposed to get at least winds around 60-70 mph and 12 to 18 inches of snow, so it’s basically a just a blizzard with caused by the crazy weather happening out over the ocean.

More from The Washington Post: No need to duck and cover — this is the ‘bomb cyclone,’ explained.

Though it seems as if meteorologists are using hyperbole to draw in more viewers, for a storm to be classified as a “bomb” it actually has to meet a stringent set of criteria. “Explosive bombogenesis” occurs most often in the winter, and it’s almost always referring to a storm that tracks up the East Coast. Nor’easters tend to be bombs.

A cyclone’s strength depends on its air pressure. The lower the pressure, the stronger the storm. Air pressure is the weight of the atmosphere. In a storm, air is rising, so the pressure is lower.

Typical surface-air pressure tends toward 1010 millibars. That’s how we measure how much air is sitting over us. Most of the big storm systems that sweep rain and snow across the United States clock in around 995 or 990. But for a storm to rank a “bomb,” it must rapidly intensify — it has to drop at least 24 millibars in 24 hours.

The storm expected to ride up the East Coast and strike New England looks as if it will be a classic bomb cyclone, with the expectation of a 50-millibar drop in about 24 hours

When a storm strengthens this quickly, it’s a signal of how much air is being drawn into the storm’s circulation. It then spirals inward toward the center, rises and exits through the top. If more air is leaving the storm than is sucked inward, the pressure falls even more and the system will continue to grow.

It’s not rare, but bombogenesis is still a sight to behold from a meteorological perspective. It is most common in nor’easters, the fierce gales that spin up off the East Coast in the late fall and winter. They feed off the temperature contrast between the cold land and adjacent Atlantic waters still holding on to heat left over from the summertime.

More details at the WaPo.

Of course there’s another cyclone happening in Washington, D.C.–a metaphorical one anyway. Yesterday New York Magazine published an excerpt from Michael Wolff’s soon-to-be-released book, Fire and Fury. If you haven’t read it yet, you need to. I know the media has been highlighting bits of it constantly, but reading the whole thing is a whole different experience. The piece is so shocking that I had to read it in sections over the course of the day yesterday.

Today Wolff has released another excerpt in The Hollywood Reporter: “You Can’t Make This S— Up”: My Year Inside Trump’s Insane White House. I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but it begins as a background piece on how Wolff got nearly unrestricted access to Trump and his minions.

I interviewed Donald Trump for The Hollywood Reporter in June 2016, and he seemed to have liked — or not disliked — the piece I wrote. “Great cover!” his press assistant, Hope Hicks, emailed me after it came out (it was a picture of a belligerent Trump in mirrored sunglasses). After the election, I proposed to him that I come to the White House and report an inside story for later publication — journalistically, as a fly on the wall — which he seemed to misconstrue as a request for a job. No, I said. I’d like to just watch and write a book. “A book?” he responded, losing interest. “I hear a lot of people want to write books,” he added, clearly not understanding why anybody would. “Do you know Ed Klein?”— author of several virulently anti-Hillary books. “Great guy. I think he should write a book about me.” But sure, Trump seemed to say, knock yourself out.

Since the new White House was often uncertain about what the president meant or did not mean in any given utterance, his non-disapproval became a kind of passport for me to hang around — checking in each week at the Hay-Adams hotel, making appointments with various senior staffers who put my name in the “system,” and then wandering across the street to the White House and plunking myself down, day after day, on a West Wing couch.

The West Wing is configured in such a way that the anteroom is quite a thoroughfare — everybody passes by. Assistants — young women in the Trump uniform of short skirts, high boots, long and loose hair — as well as, in situation-comedy proximity, all the new stars of the show: Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Jared Kushner, Mike Pence, Gary Cohn, Michael Flynn (and after Flynn’s abrupt departure less than a month into the job for his involvement in the Russia affair, his replacement, H.R. McMaster), all neatly accessible.

The nature of the comedy, it was soon clear, was that here was a group of ambitious men and women who had reached the pinnacle of power, a high-ranking White House appointment — with the punchline that Donald Trump was president. Their estimable accomplishment of getting to the West Wing risked at any moment becoming farce.

A bit more:

“You can’t make this shit up,” Sean Spicer, soon to be portrayed as the most hapless man in America, muttered to himself after his tortured press briefing on the first day of the new administration, when he was called to justify the president’s inaugural crowd numbers — and soon enough, he adopted this as a personal mantra. Reince Priebus, the new chief of staff, had, shortly after the announcement of his appointment in November, started to think he would not last until the inauguration. Then, making it to the White House, he hoped he could last a respectable year, but he quickly scaled back his goal to six months. Kellyanne Conway, who would put a finger-gun to her head in private about Trump’s public comments, continued to mount an implacable defense on cable television, until she was pulled off the air by others in the White House who, however much the president enjoyed her, found her militancy idiotic. (Even Ivanka and Jared regarded Conway’s fulsome defenses as cringeworthy.)

Steve Bannon tried to gamely suggest that Trump was mere front man and that he, with plan and purpose and intellect, was, more reasonably, running the show — commanding a whiteboard of policies and initiatives that he claimed to have assembled from Trump’s off-the-cuff ramblings and utterances. His adoption of the Saturday Night Live sobriquet “President Bannon” was less than entirely humorous. Within the first few weeks, even rote conversations with senior staff trying to explain the new White House’s policies and positions would turn into a body-language ballet of eye-rolling and shrugs and pantomime of jaws dropping. Leaking became the political manifestation of the don’t-blame-me eye roll.

The surreal sense of the Trump presidency was being lived as intensely inside the White House as out. Trump was, for the people closest to him, the ultimate enigma. He had been elected president, that through-the-eye-of-the-needle feat, but obviously, he was yet … Trump. Indeed, he seemed as confused as anyone to find himself in the White House, even attempting to barricade himself into his bedroom with his own lock over the protests of the Secret Service.

Some pundits have argued that, like Trump, Wolff is a self-promoter. Are we really supposed to believe his reporting? But this morning Axios reported that Wolff has everything on tape.

Rick McKee / Augusta Chronicle

Michael Wolff has tapes to back up quotes in his incendiary book — dozens of hours of them.

— Among the sources he taped, I’m told, are Steve Bannon and former White House deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh.

— So that’s going to make it harder for officials to deny embarrassing or revealing quotes attributed to them in “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” out Tuesday.

— In some cases, the officials thought they were talking off the record. But what are they going to do now?

— Although the White House yesterday portrayed Wolff as a poseur, he spent hours at a time in private areas of the West Wing, including the office of Reince Priebus when he was chief of staff.

With all this insanity finally on public display, there is more public discussion of exactly how crazy Trump actually is.

Politico: Washington’s growing obsession: The 25th Amendment.

Lawmakers concerned about President Donald Trump’s mental state summoned Yale University psychiatry professor Dr. Bandy X. Lee to Capitol Hill last month for two days of briefings about his recent behavior.

In private meetings with more than a dozen members of Congress held on Dec. 5 and 6, Lee briefed lawmakers — all Democrats except for one Republican senator, whom Lee declined to identify. Her professional warning to Capitol Hill: “He’s going to unravel, and we are seeing the signs.”

In an interview, she pointed to Trump “going back to conspiracy theories, denying things he has admitted before, his being drawn to violent videos.” Lee also warned, “We feel that the rush of tweeting is an indication of his falling apart under stress. Trump is going to get worse and will become uncontainable with the pressures of the presidency.”

Lee, editor of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” which includes testimonials from 27 psychiatrists and mental health experts assessing the president’s level of “dangerousness,” said that she was surprised by the interest in her findings during her two days in Washington. “One senator said that it was the meeting he most looked forward to in 11 years,” Lee recalled. “Their level of concern about the president’s dangerousness was surprisingly high.”

Many of us, including Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, saw the signs during the 2016 campaign and tried to raise alarms. Unfortunately, the media was too busy focusing on Hillary’s emails to notice that Russia was using active measures to infiltrate Trump’s campaign and make him POTUS. They convinced themselves that Trump could never win no matter how much they hammered Hillary. After he won, many of these “journalists” argued that Trump would “pivot” and suddenly begin acting like a normal, sane person.

And now here we are with an insane would-be tyrant in the While House and a Republican Party that refuses to put any kind checks on his power.

In honor of the “bomb cyclone” I give you Toots and the Maytals.