Tuesday Reads: Spring Has Sprung, Bringing More Snow to the Northeast

Good Afternoon!!

It’s the first day of Spring, but there’s no Spring weather for my neck of the woods.

Happy spring! A fourth nor’easter this month will be landing Wednesday across Southern New England, testing the limits of the Massachusetts psyche when it dumps up to 12-14 inches of snow across the state. Forecasters offered storms specifics in their final forecast Tuesday morning.

The storm is expected to begin Wednesday morning between 5 a.m. – noon, depending on where in the state you are. The farther south the earlier the storm starts. The Boston area can expect the storm around 9 a.m. The snow will be the heaviest Wednesday afternoon into the evening before it begins to taper off early Thursday morning.

The amount of snow pegged to fall has finally been nailed down: The storm is expected to bring between 8-14 inches everywhere east of Springfield, except for the Cape and Islands, which may only see 4-6. (For those who are convinced the “low-end” predictions will finally be realized – that’s about 3-5 inches across Eastern Mass. Good luck.)

There has been another explosion in Texas, this time at a FedEx facility in the town of Shertz, near San Antonio. NBC News:

A package exploded at a FedEx distribution center near San Antonio early Tuesday, just two days after a blast injured two men in Austin — the fourth such incident in Texas’ capital this month.

Tuesday’s explosion occurred in the sorting area of the facility in Schertz, Texas, the city’s police department confirmed on its Facebook page. FedEx said one person was treated for minor injuries.

Spring Now, Edouard Monet

“We are working closely with law enforcement in their investigation,” FedEx said in a statement.

The company didn’t provide additional details. NBC affiliate WOAI reportedone female employee was treated for a headache related to a possible concussion from the blast.

It was not immediately clear whether the explosion was related to the incidents in Austin, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which had officials on the scene.

The FBI also said it had responded to the incident, which WOAI reported happened at 12:30 a.m. local time (1:30 a.m. ET).

In addition, a “suspicious package” is being investigated at a FedEx site near Austin airport. KXAN:

Austin Police are investigating a suspicious package at a FedEx Ground facility in Austin. The city is on high alert after four package explosions in three weeks.

That facility is at 4117 McKinney Falls Parkway, near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. Austin police confirm they are investigating after a call came in at 6:19 a.m. Deputies from the Travis County Sheriff’s Office are also on scene, as well as members of the Austin Fire Department and Austin-Travis County EMS. FedEx employees evacuated and some were told to go home after a meeting with managers. It’s not known how many were working at the time.

At 9 a.m., KXAN received information a FedEx Office Print and Ship Center at 5601 Brodie Lane in south Austin was surrounded by authorities. When KXAN called the office, there was an automated message that said the location was closed for the day. Photos show the area is roped off with crime tape.

A Sunset Valley Police officer at the scene told KXAN’s Alyssa Goard said the package that exploded at the Schertz facility was shipped from the Brodie location. Sunset Valley police says it is assisting the FBI by providing perimeter security as it investigates.

There has been another school shooting. NBC Washington: 2 Students Hurt, Shooter Dead After Md. School Shooting.

Picking Flowers, Pierre Auguste Renoir

A student pulled out a gun and shot two other students at a high school in southeast Maryland Tuesday morning before the shooter was killed, the St. Mary’s County sheriff says.

The gunman entered Great Mills High School in Great Mills at the beginning of the school day and shot a female student in a hallway, Sheriff Tim Cameron told News4. A male student also was hit by a bullet.

Two students are in critical condition, and the shooter was pronounced dead later Tuesday morning.

Information was not available immediately on the relationship between the students, Cameron said. A motive is not yet clear.

The shooter exchanged fire with a school resource officer, a trained, armed deputy sheriff, Cameron said. The shooter was wounded; the officer was not.

The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica story is getting worse and worse. Here’s the latest:

The Guardian: ‘Utterly horrifying’: ex-Facebook insider says covert data harvesting was routine.

Hundreds of millions of Facebook users are likely to have had their private information harvested by companies that exploited the same terms as the firm that collected data and passed it on to Cambridge Analytica, according to a new whistleblower.

Sandy Parakilas, the platform operations manager at Facebook responsible for policing data breaches by third-party software developers between 2011 and 2012, told the Guardian he warned senior executives at the company that its lax approach to data protection risked a major breach.

Spring 1956, Pablo Picasso

“My concerns were that all of the data that left Facebook servers to developers could not be monitored by Facebook, so we had no idea what developers were doing with the data,” he said.

Parakilas said Facebook had terms of service and settings that “people didn’t read or understand” and the company did not use its enforcement mechanisms, including audits of external developers, to ensure data was not being misused.

Parakilas, whose job it was to investigate data breaches by developers similar to the one later suspected of Global Science Research, which harvested tens of millions of Facebook profiles and provided the data to Cambridge Analytica, said the slew of recent disclosures had left him disappointed with his superiors for not heeding his warnings.

“It has been painful watching,” he said. “Because I know that they could have prevented it.”

Read the rest at The Guardian.

The New York Times: Alex Stamos, Facebook Data Security Chief, To Leave Amid Outcry.

As Facebook grapples with a backlash over its role in spreading disinformation, an internal dispute over how to handle the threat and the public outcry is resulting in the departure of a senior executive.

Dolce Far Niente, John Singer Sargent

The impending exit of that executive — Alex Stamos, Facebook’s chief information security officer — reflects heightened leadership tension at the top of the social network. Much of the internal disagreement is rooted in how much Facebook should publicly share about how nation states misused the platform and debate over organizational changes in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections, according to current and former employees briefed on the matter.

Mr. Stamos, who plans to leave Facebook by August, had advocated more disclosure around Russian interference of the platform and some restructuring to better address the issues, but was met with resistance by colleagues, said the current and former employees. In December, Mr. Stamos’s day-to-day responsibilities were reassigned to others, they said.

Mr. Stamos said he would leave Facebook but was persuaded to stay through August to oversee the transition of his responsibilities and because executives thought his departure would look bad, the people said. He has been overseeing the transfer of his security team to Facebook’s product and infrastructure divisions. His group, which once had 120 people, now has three, the current and former employees said.

More at the link.

Bloomberg: FTC Probing Facebook for Use of Personal Data, Source Says.

Facebook Inc. is under investigation by a U.S. privacy watchdog over the use of personal data of 50 million users by a data analytics firm to help elect President Donald Trump.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is probing whether Facebook violated terms of a 2011 consent decree over its handing of user data that was transferred to Cambridge Analytica without their knowledge, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Springtime, Claude Monet

Under the 2011 settlement, Facebook agreed to get user consent for certain changes to privacy settings as part of a settlement of federal charges that it deceived consumers and forced them to share more personal information than they intended. That complaint arose after the company changed some user settings without notifying its customers, according to an FTC statement at the time.

An FTC spokeswoman said in emailed statement that the agency is aware of the issues that have been raised, but can’t comment on whether it is investigating. The agency takes any allegations of violations of consent decrees seriously, the statement said.

If the FTC finds Facebook violated terms of the consent decree, it has the power to fine the company more than $40,000 a day per violation.

Facebook said in a statement it rejected “any suggestion of violation of the consent decree.”

I hope Facebook goes out of business and Mark Zukerberg becomes a pariah. Sorry, I some people here like Facebook…

The only good news is that a blue wave seems to be coming.

Stuart Rothenberg at Roll Call: Insiders See Democratic House Gains of 30-45 seats.

Seven and a half months before the midterm elections, the combination of attitudinal and behavioral evidence leads to a single conclusion: The Democrats are very likely to win control of the House in November.

Just as important, Republican and Democratic campaign strategists also agree that an electoral wave has already formed….

Farm Garden with Sunflowers, 1905-06 (oil on canvas), Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

The new March 10-14 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of adults is consistent with other surveys over the past six months. It shows Democrats with a large generic ballot advantage among younger voters, women, whites with at least a college degree and voters age 65 and older.

The GOP’s great strength in the generic ballot is among two pro-Trump groups, men and whites without a college degree. Unfortunately for the party, the survey also shows Democrats, whites with a college degree and older voters as having the greatest interest in the election (and therefore the greatest likelihood of voting). Each of those groups prefers a Democratic Congress.

Moreover, while independents don’t traditionally turn out in big numbers in midterms, one veteran Republican strategist sees them as a huge problem this year. “They are tired of the drama,” he said.

The worst case for the GOP, of course, would be mediocre Republican turnout combined with strong Democratic participation and independents behaving like Democrats (which is what they did in 2006).

If that happens, Republicans would take quite a beating in the fall.

Get all the details at the Roll Call link.

Politico: GOP fears another potential electoral disaster.

National Republicans — on the heels of the Roy Moore and Rick Saccone debacles — worry they’re staring down their latest potential midterm election fiasco: coal baron and recent federal prisoner Don Blankenship.

Spring (Apple Blossoms) 1859 (oil on canvas), John Everett Millais (1829-96)

With Blankenship skyrocketing in the West Virginia Republican Senate primary and blanketing the airwaves with ads assailing his fractured field of rivals as career politicians, senior party officials are wrestling with how, or even whether, to intervene. Many of them are convinced that Blankenship, who served a one-year sentence after the deadly 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine, would be a surefire loser against Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin — and potentially become a national stain for the party.

The discussions have intensified over the past few weeks. During separate meetings with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, aides to Blankenship’s two primary opponents, Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, pointed to Blankenship’s traction and questioned what could be done to stop him. The Senate GOP campaign arm, which heard out the appeals, recently commissioned a survey to gauge the coal king’s electoral strength and determine his staying power in the race.

Those familiar with the party’s deliberations say the results are clear: With a little more than a month until the May 8 primary, Blankenship, a towering figure in West Virginia politics long before this campaign and an avid opponent of unions, has vaulted into essentially a three-way tie with his rivals and is positioned to move ahead.

Republicans can’t field good candidates anymore. Here’s hoping for a huge blue wave in November!

What else is happening? What stories are you following?


Lazy Saturday Reads: St. Patrick’s Day Edition

Robert F. Kennedy at St. Patrick’s Day Parade after announcing his run for POTUS, 50 years ago today.

Good Morning!!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to those who celebrate it.

Judging by his surname, Andrew McCabe is probably part Irish, but he’s most likely spending the day preparing to defend himself against the wannabe tin-pot dictator we’re stuck with thanks to Vladimir Putin and millions of ignorant white people who get their “information” from Fox News, InfoWars, and Russian trolls. I imagine McCabe is already thinking about writing a book like his former boss James Comey.

The New York Times: Andrew McCabe, a Target of Trump’s F.B.I. Scorn, Is Fired Over Candor Questions.

Andrew G. McCabe, the former F.B.I. deputy director and a frequent target of President Trump’s scorn, was fired Friday after Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejected an appeal that would have let him retire this weekend.

Mr. McCabe promptly declared that his firing, and Mr. Trump’s persistent needling, were intended to undermine the special counsel’s investigation in which he is a potential witness.

John F. Kennedy on St. Patrick’s Day 1960

Mr. McCabe is accused in a yet-to-be-released internal report of failing to be forthcoming about a conversation he authorized between F.B.I. officials and a journalist.

In a statement released late Friday, Mr. Sessions said that Mr. McCabe had shown a lack of candor under oath on multiple occasions.

Anyone with half a brain knows that this was a political firing, ordered by Trump.

Mr. McCabe was among the first at the F.B.I. to scrutinize possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. And he is a potential witness to the question of whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice. Mr. Trump has taunted Mr. McCabe both publicly and privately, and Republican allies have cast him as the center of a “deep state” effort to undermine the Trump presidency.

As a witness, Mr. McCabe would be in a position to corroborate the testimony of the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, who kept contemporaneous notes on his conversations with Mr. Trump. Mr. Comey said Mr. Trump prodded him to publicly exonerate the president on the question of Russian collusion and encouraged him to shut down an investigation into his national security adviser.

Trump revealed his complicity in getting McCabe fired just before he could have retired with a full pension after more than 20 years in the FBI.

The Washington Post quotes McCabe’s lawyer:

Michael R. Bromwich, Mc­Cabe’s attorney, said that he had “never before seen the type of rush to judgment — and rush to summary punishment — that we have witnessed in this case.” He cited in particular President Trump’s attacks on McCabe on Twitter and the White House press secretary’s comments about him on Thursday — which he said were “quite clearly designed to put inappropriate pressure on the Attorney General to act accordingly.”

“This intervention by the White House in the DOJ disciplinary process is unprecedented, deeply unfair, and dangerous,” Bromwich said.

McCabe has become a lightning rod in the political battles over the FBI’s most high-profile cases, including the Russia investigation and the probe of Hillary Clinton’s email practices. He has been a frequent target of criticism from Trump.

Read McCabe’s full statement on his firing at HuffPost: Andrew McCabe’s Response To Being Fired Two Days Before His Retirement. An excerpt:

I have been an FBI Special Agent for over 21 years. I spent half of that time investigating Russian Organized Crime as a street agent and Supervisor in New York City. I have spent the second half of my career focusing on national security issues and protecting this country from terrorism. I served in some of the most challenging, demanding investigative and leadership roles in the FBI. And I was privileged to serve as Deputy Director during a particularly tough time.

281 years ago today, Boston hosted its first St. Patrick’s Day Parade; the nation’s longest-running public parade.

For the last year and a half, my family and I have been the targets of an unrelenting assault on our reputation and my service to this country. Articles too numerous to count have leveled every sort of false, defamatory and degrading allegation against us. The President’s tweets have amplified and exacerbated it all. He called for my firing. He called for me to be stripped of my pension after more than 20 years of service. And all along we have said nothing, never wanting to distract from the mission of the FBI by addressing the lies told and repeated about us.

No more.

The investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has to be understood in the context of the attacks on my credibility. The investigation flows from my attempt to explain the FBI’s involvement and my supervision of investigations involving Hillary Clinton. I was being portrayed in the media over and over as a political partisan, accused of closing down investigations under political pressure. The FBI was portrayed as caving under that pressure, and making decisions for political rather than law enforcement purposes. Nothing was further from the truth. In fact, this entire investigation stems from my efforts, fully authorized under FBI rules, to set the record straight on behalf of the Bureau, and to make clear that we were continuing an investigation that people in DOJ opposed.

Read the rest at HuffPost.

Some notable Twitter responses: to Trump’s tweet:

FBI Director James Comey and the three colleagues he told about Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation have either been fired or reassigned. Business Insider:

Former FBI director James Comey told three top FBI officials about conversations he had with President Donald Trump before he was fired last May. All three officials have since been forced out of the bureau, or reassigned within it….

Comey told former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe; his chief of staff, James Rybicki; and FBI general counsel James Baker about his conversations with Trump.

McCabe was fired on Friday, one day before he was set to retire. His firing came amid an internal investigation into his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, which found that he made unauthorized disclosures to the media about the probe while it was ongoing….

1958 New Orleans: “”Not even a heavy rain could dampen the spirit of the Corner Club on St. Patrick’s Day…”

Rybicki [was] resigned from the FBI in late January to accept a job in the corporate sector.

He became a target of Republican criticism for his role in helping craft a memo that exonerated Hillary Clinton in the investigation into her use of a private email server as secretary of state. He answered questions from members of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees earlier in January concerning his work on the Clinton investigation and on Comey’s claims that Trump asked him to pledge his loyalty before firing him in May 2017…


In January Foreign Policy reported that Trump ordered a smear campaign against people in the FBI who could testify against him in Mueller’s probe: Trump Launched Campaign to Discredit Potential FBI Witnesses.

President Donald Trump pressed senior aides last June to devise and carry out a campaign to discredit senior FBI officials after learning that those specific employees were likely to be witnesses against him as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, according to two people directly familiar with the matter.

In testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8, recently fired FBI Director James Comey disclosed that he spoke contemporaneously with other senior bureau officials about potentially improper efforts by the president to curtail the FBI’s investigation of alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Mueller is investigating whether Trump’s efforts constituted obstruction of justice.

1975 St. Patrick’s Day Breakfast, Boston

Not long after Comey’s Senate testimony, Trump hired John Dowd, a veteran criminal defense attorney, to represent him in matters related to Mueller’s investigation. Dowd warned Trump that the potential corroborative testimony of the senior FBI officials in Comey’s account would likely play a central role in the special counsel’s final conclusion, according to people familiar with the matter.

In discussions with at least two senior White House officials, Trump repeated what Dowd had told him to emphasize why he and his supporters had to “fight back harder,” in the words of one of these officials.

Click on the link to read the rest.

This morning Dowd called for the Special Counsel’s investigation to be shut down. The Daily Beast:

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, told The Daily Beast on Saturday morning that he hopes Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will shut down the Mueller probe.

Reached for comment by email about the firing of former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, sent The Daily Beast the text of Trump’s most recent tweet on the subject, which applauded the firing. Then he wrote that Rosenstein should follow Sessions’ lead.

“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd then wrote.

Barack and Michelle Obama on St. Patrick’s Day, date unknown

He told The Daily Beast he was speaking on behalf of the president, in his capacity as the president’s attorney.

Dowd also emailed the text below, which is an annotated version of a line from a well-known 20th century play:

“What’s that smell in this room[Bureau}? Didn’t you notice it, Brick [Jim]? Didn’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room[Bureau}?… There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity[corruption]… You can smell it. It smells like death.” Tennessee Williams — ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’


More stories to check out:

The Washington Post: Could getting Andrew McCabe fired come back to bite Trump?

The Guardian: Revealed: 50 million Facebook profiles harvested for Cambridge Analytica in major data breach.

The Washington Post: Facebook bans Trump campaign’s data analytics firm for taking user data.

Paul Rosenzweig at Lawfare: The Trump Malignancy and the Book That Will Not Be Written.

Vanity Fair: Mueller’s Calculated Strike Against The Trump Org Shows His Strategy is Working.

Politico: FEC probes whether NRA got illegal Russian donations.

Miami Herald: FIU says it knew about crack on bridge, and state’s Transportation Department did, too.

The Guardian: Secretive religious charity run by top US housing officials raises questions.

New York Daily News: Infamous hacker who gave up whistleblower Chelsea Manning to the FBI dies in Kansas.

Tech Times: Early Humans Mated With Neanderthal Relative Denisovans At Least 2 Times.

What stories are you following today?



Thursday Reads

Honesty Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye, Wales

Good Morning!!

Someone in the White House was able to get Trump to agree to make a joint written statement on the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Great Britain. Business Insider reports: Trump, May, Merkel and Macron issue joint statement blaming Russia for Sergei Skripal poisoning.

LONDON — The leaders of United States, Britain, France and Germany have released a joint statement condemning Russia for the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in England last week.

Donald Trump, Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel all agreed that there was “no plausible alternative explanation” than that Russia was to blame for the attack.

The leaders called on Russia to “live up to its responsibilities as a member of the UN Security Council,” adding that Russia’s actions “threaten the security of us all.”

The statement marks a significant ramping up of tensions with Russia and comes as members of the NATO council meet to discuss the crisis.

It also follows several days worth of diplomacy by May following an initial reluctance from the French and US government’s to publicly attribute the incident to Russia.

On Wednesday May announced that 23 Russian diplomats would be expelled from the UK following the attack.

Trump still has not personally spoken about the attack, and he’ll probably get a message of support to Putin somehow. After all, he can’t be caught badmouthing his boss in public. Read the full statement at the BI link.

The Strand, New York City

Yesterday Peter Baker wrote about Trump’s refusal to speak out against Putin at The New York Times: Trump, Pressured to Criticize Russia for Poisoning, Leaves Comment to Aides.

ST. LOUIS — Britain’s tough response in holding Russia responsible for a poisoning attack on its soil increased the pressure on President Trump to join with a NATO ally in taking action, even as he has been reluctant to retaliate for Moscow’s intervention in the 2016 election in the United States.

Mr. Trump, who was visiting Missouri on Wednesday, has not personally addressed the attack since London assigned blame to Russia and left it instead to aides to express public solidarity with Prime Minister Theresa May after she expelled 23 Russian diplomats, canceled high-level contacts and vowed to impose more sanctions.

“This latest action by Russia fits into a pattern of behavior in which Russia disregards the international rules-based order, undermines the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide, and attempts to subvert and discredit Western democratic institutions and processes,” the White House said in a written statement. “The United States is working together with our allies and partners to ensure that this kind of abhorrent attack does not happen again.”

But for whatever reason, Mr. Trump avoided saying so personally in public, much as he has generally avoided condemning Russia for its election meddling. He has allowed top advisers to denounce Moscow for its interference in American democracy, but when it comes to his own Twitter posts or comments, he has largely stuck to equivocal language, seemingly reluctant to accept the consensus conclusion of his intelligence agencies and intent on voicing no outrage or criticism of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, for whom he has expressed admiration.

Libreria Acqua Alta, Venice

At Bloomberg, Eli Lake writes that Trump can’t get away with this shit much longer: Time’s Up: Trump Can’t Have It Both Ways on Russia.

From arming Ukraine to appointing hawkish generals like James Mattis, John Kelly and H.R. McMaster, a case could be made that Trump’s soft rhetoric on Russia was not reflected in his government’s tough measures against this adversary. After all, U.S. forces killed Russian mercenaries that attacked a U.S. base in Syria. Watch what the government does, not what the president says. (And as for those allegations of Russian support for the Trump campaign, the president has good reasons to distrust the retired intelligence chiefs who keep impugning him. A few of them endorsed his opponent.)

The expiration date on this Janus-faced approach to Russia has arrived. The specific moment was on Tuesday after Trump had fired his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. Speaking to reporters before boarding Air Force One, Trump couldn’t bring himself to endorse the findings of the British government that Russia poisoned Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the U.K. He hedged. “As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be,” he said.

Trump here is either deliberately or accidentally playing into Russia’s disinformation campaign. Since the attack last week, when the former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned with a neurological toxin developed by the former Soviet Union, Russia’s propaganda networks have flooded their airwaves with speculation about a false flag.

Selexyz Dominicanen, Maastricht, The Netherlands

Give Moscow credit. They know how to troll. One voice that keeps cropping up on the matter is Russian lawmaker Andrei Lugovoi. He says he can’t rule out that the whole thing was a provocation from the British themselves. Lugovoi has some experience when it comes to poisoning: A British public inquiry in 2016 concluded he was one of the men who irradiated former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London.

As Trump repeatedly says, “We’ll see what happens.” Let’s not forget that Trump still refuses to impose the sanctions on Russia that were overwhelmingly approved by Congress.

Apparently people in the administration other than Trump are realizing they can’t keep playing footsie with Russia in public. This just broke at Politico: U.S. imposes new sanctions on Russian entities over 2016 election meddling.

The Treasury Department on Thursday slapped new sanctions on two dozen Russian entities and individuals for interfering in the 2016 election and conducting a series of damaging cyberattacks.

“The administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyberattacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. “These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia.”

Shakespeare and Company, Paris

Mnuchin added that Treasury is planning to impose additional sanctions “to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilizing activities by severing their access to the U.S. financial system.” [….]

Thursday’s sanctions go after the individuals that special counsel Robert Mueller indicted last month for participating in a sweeping plot to use online trolls to inflame social divides and undermine faith in U.S. institutions during the 2016 election.

The sanctions target the Internet Research Agency, the Russian organization that Mueller’s team alleged was responsible for the extensive online trolling effort, that court documents say was years in the making, involving millions of dollars and potentially hundreds of individuals.

So that’s interesting. Again, we’ll see what happens.

You probably heard about Trump’s disgusting performance at a private fund-raiser in St. Louis last night in which he bragged about making up “facts” in a meeting with Canada’s Justin Trudeau. The Washington Post reports:

President Trump boasted in a fundraising speech Wednesday that he made up information in a meeting with the leader of a top U.S. ally, saying he insisted to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the United States runs a trade deficit with its neighbor to the north without knowing whether that was true.

Atlantis Books, Oía, Santorini, Greece

“Trudeau came to see me. He’s a good guy, Justin. He said, ‘No, no, we have no trade deficit with you, we have none. Donald, please,’ ” Trump said, mimicking Trudeau, according to audio of the private event in Missouri obtained by The Washington Post. “Nice guy, good-looking guy, comes in — ‘Donald, we have no trade deficit.’ He’s very proud because everybody else, you know, we’re getting killed.

“… So, he’s proud. I said, ‘Wrong, Justin, you do.’ I didn’t even know. … I had no idea. I just said, ‘You’re wrong.’ You know why? Because we’re so stupid. … And I thought they were smart. I said, ‘You’re wrong, Justin.’ He said, ‘Nope, we have no trade deficit.’ I said, ‘Well, in that case, I feel differently,’ I said, ‘but I don’t believe it.’ I sent one of our guys out, his guy, my guy, they went out, I said, ‘Check, because I can’t believe it.’

‘Well, sir, you’re actually right. We have no deficit, but that doesn’t include energy and timber. … And when you do, we lose $17 billion a year.’ It’s incredible.”

That last bit isn’t true either.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative says the United States has a trade surplus with Canada. It reports that in 2016, the United States exported $12.5 billion more in goods and services than it imported from Canada, leading to a trade surplus, not a deficit.

You can read the entire repulsive transcript at the WaPo. It just a bunch of stream-of-consciousness nonsense. And this *thing* is supposedly the president of the U.S. {Gagging}

I have a lot more stories to recommend, so I’ll give yo the rest in link dump fashion.

El Ateneo Grand Splendid, Buenos Aires

The Atlantic: Telling the Truth About CIA Torture.

The Daily Beast: ‘She Should Be in Jail’—Rights Groups Rally to Stop Torture Overseer Turned Trump CIA Pick Gina Haspel.

Axios: In Trumpworld, nobody knows anything.

Just Security: How Trump Might Replace Sessions with Pruitt as Attorney General.

The Post and Courier: Dylann Roof’s sister arrested for carrying weapons to school on day of national walkout.

CNN: Another Trump attorney involved in Stormy Daniels case.

Politico: BuzzFeed maneuver could free Stormy Daniels to speak on Trump.

CNN: Is North Korea’s silence on the Trump-Kim summit a worry?

Vox: The real problem with the New York Times op-ed page: it’s not honest about US conservatism.

Politico: Extreme secrecy surrounds Comey book manuscript.

Vanity Fair: Trump Wants Them Out of There: After Swinging the Axe at Tillerson, Trump Mulls What to Do with McMaster, Sessions, Jared and Ivanka.

NOTE: The bookstore photos are from an article at the Literary Hub: THE 10 MOST FAMOUS BOOKSTORES IN THE WORLD. See more photos and read about the bookstores there.

So . . . what stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: A Blizzard of News

Boston Common at Twilight, Frederick Childe Hassam, 1885-86

Good Morning!!

It’s March 13, and we’re under a blizzard warning here in Greater Boston. The winds are gusting at 60mph; and I can’t see out my windows right now–all I see is white. It’s a good day to hunker down and read a good book. I’ve got a copy of Russian Roulette, by Michael Isakoff and David Corn, on my Kindle, so I’m all set (The hardcover appears to be sold out on Amazon). Yahoo News has a new revelation from the book: Papadopoulos says that Trump personally encouraged him to arrange meeting with Putin, new book reports.

George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign and potentially a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, told federal investigators that before the election, Donald Trump personally encouraged him to pursue a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a new book being published Tuesday.

George Papadopoulos

Papadopoulos’s account to Mueller — as reported in “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump,” by Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff and Mother Jones’ David Corn — contradicts the public accounts of what took place at a critical meeting of Trump’s foreign policy team on March 31, 2016. It was at that meeting that Papadopoulos first informed Trump and the then candidate’s other foreign policy advisers that he had contacts in Britain who could arrange a summit between the GOP candidate and Putin.

Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Papadopoulos told Mueller’s investigators that Trump encouraged him, saying he found the idea “interesting,” according to the book, which cites sources familiar with his questioning by Mueller’s investigators.

Trump looked at Sessions, as if he expected him to follow up with Papadopoulos, and Sessions nodded in response, the authors write. Sessions has said he has “no clear recollection” of the exchange with Papadopoulos. A White House official said that others at the meeting remember it differently than Papadopoulos.

More turnover in the Trump administration: Rex Tillerson has been fired, to be replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. MSNBC and CNN are reporting that Tillerson learned about it from Trump’s tweet, but the Washington Post says he was told on Friday (see story below).

Some twitter reactions:

The Washington Post: Trump ousts Tillerson, will replace him as secretary of state with CIA chief Pompeo.

President Trump has ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and plans to nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to replace him as the nation’s top diplomat, orchestrating a major change to his national security team amid delicate negotiations with North Korea, White House officials said Tuesday.

Trump last Friday asked Tillerson to step aside, and the embattled diplomat cut short a trip to Africa on Monday to return to Washington.

Tension between Trump and Tillerson has simmered for many months, but the president and his top diplomat reached a breaking point over the past week, officials said.

The reason for the latest rift was unclear. A spokesman for Tillerson said the secretary of state “had every intention of staying” in his job and was “unaware of the reason” for his firing.

Pompeo is much more of “a hawk” according to Mark Landler of The New York Times last November: Replacing Tillerson With Pompeo Would Supplant a Moderate With a Hawk.

For all his political and bureaucratic stumbles, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has been a steady voice of moderation in how the Trump administration engages with the world.

That voice will be lost if, as expected, President Trump replaces Mr. Tillerson at the State Department with Mike Pompeo, a hard-line former Republican congressman who has brought an avowedly political edge to the Central Intelligence Agency, where he is the director.

Mr. Pompeo, a West Point graduate best known for savaging Hillary Clinton’s response to the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, when she was secretary of state, has called for the Iran nuclear agreement to be ripped up, played down talk of Russia’s interference in the 2016 electionand suggested that regime change in North Korea would be a welcome development.

Those views have put him in good stead with Mr. Trump, whom White House aides said has come to value Mr. Pompeo’s pungent opinions and hard-charging style during his presidential daily briefings. Mr. Trump, by contrast, has publicly undermined Mr. Tillerson while the secretary of state has responded with thinly veiled contempt….

“Pompeo has done nothing but talk about how we need to take the gloves off,” said Stephen M. Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard’s Kennedy School. “There’s no reason to believe he would change his views if you put him in charge of the State Department.”

Mr. Pompeo’s hard-edge views, as the nation’s chief diplomat, might reinforce, rather than restrain, Mr. Trump’s instincts. That could further stiffen American policy toward Iran, where Mr. Tillerson, along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, urged Mr. Trump not to scrap the nuclear deal negotiated by President Barack Obama.

As for Gina Haspel, whom Trump has nominated to replace Pompeo at the CIA, Matthew Rosenberg wrote at The New York Times on Feb. 2, 2017: New C.I.A. Deputy Director, Gina Haspel, Had Leading Role in Torture.

As a clandestine officer at the Central Intelligence Agency in 2002, Gina Haspel oversaw the torture of two terrorism suspects and later took part in an order to destroy videotapes documenting their brutal interrogations at a secret prison in Thailand….

Gina Haspel

The elevation of Ms. Haspel, a veteran widely respected among her colleagues, to the No. 2 job at the C.I.A. was a rare public signal of how, under the Trump administration, the agency is being led by officials who appear to take a far kinder view of one of its darker chapters than their immediate predecessors.

Over the past eight years, C.I.A. leaders defended dozens of agency personnel who had taken part in the now-banned torture program, even as they vowed never to resume the same harsh interrogation methods. But President Trump has said repeatedly that he thinks torture works. And the new C.I.A. chief, Mike Pompeo, has said that waterboarding and other techniques do not even constitute torture, and praised as “patriots” those who used such methods in the early days of the fight against Al Qaeda.

Ms. Haspel, who has spent most of her career undercover, would certainly fall within Mr. Pompeo’s description. She played a direct role in the C.I.A.’s “extraordinary rendition program,” under which captured militants were handed to foreign governments and held at secret facilities, where they were tortured by agency personnel.

There’s more at the link.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Trump’s personal assistant John McEntee was

escorted out of the White House on Monday, two senior administration officials said. The cause of the firing was an unspecified security issue, said a third White House official with knowledge of the situation.

The WSJ article is behind a paywall; here’s a bit more from Political Wire:

“President Trump’s personal assistant, John McEntee, was escorted out of the White House on Monday… The cause of the firing was an unspecified security issue,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Mr. McEntee was removed from the White House grounds on Monday afternoon without being allowed to collect his belongings… He left without his jacket.”

Interesting. Politico reports that McEntee will now work on Trump’s reelection campaign: Trump body man Johnny McEntee leaving White House for campaign.

Johnny McEntee

President Donald Trump’s personal aide and body man John McEntee — known within the West Wing simply as Johnny — is leaving the White House and taking a position on Trump’s re-election campaign, the campaign announced Tuesday.

McEntee is the latest member of Trump’s original inner circle, which included communications director Hope Hicks and bodyguard Keith Schiller, to leave the White House.

An administration official confirmed that McEntee was abruptly escorted out of the White House on Monday, but did not know why. Another official said he would be mailed his belongings.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that McEntee’s departure was triggered by a security issue.

The move comes at a time of intense turbulence within the West Wing and throughout the administration. Trump announced Tuesday morning that he was putting forward CIA director Mike Pompeo to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and also said he is considering CNBC pundit and outside economic adviser Larry Kudlow to succeed outgoing National Economic Director Gary Cohn.

Read more about McEntee at Politico. Meanwhile, I just found out what the “security issue” is.

OK. Then why is Kushner still working the White House? Oh yeah–nepotism.

Of course yesterday’s big news was that the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee decided to shut down their Russia investigation without bothering to notify the Democrats on the committee. Jonathan Chait: House Republicans Conclude Pretend Russia Investigation, Declare Trump Innocent.

House Republicans have barely even pretended to investigate Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections, and now even the bare pretense is coming to an end. The GOP majority is releasing a report that will declare no collusion took place between Russia and the Trump campaign. Indeed, the report will go even farther and insist Russia did not even want to help Trump win at all, contradicting the assessment of U.S. intelligence.

This outcome was completely predictable from the outset, when the committee’s chairman, Devin Nunes, snuck off to the White House late at night to produce an explosive but eventually debunked charge that Trump had been the victim of nefarious “unmasking” by Obama officials in 2016. Nunes continued to churn out explosive but false countercharges depicting the Russia investigation as a Deep State conspiracy against the completely innocent Trump campaign.

Read more sarcasm at New York Magazine. John Brennan reacted on Twitter:

One more before I wrap this up. Rick Wilson: The Walls Are Closing In on Trump.

The Fox and Trump media enterprise today launched into a spasm of complete ecstasy as the House Intelligence Committee declared their investigation of Russian interference in our elections and their contacts with and collaboration with the Trump campaign over, done, solved. In their alternate reality, they’re declaring the CASE CLOSED.

They might not want to get too far over their skis on this one because both the Senate and Bob Mueller are still taking this question seriously, as opposed to the clownish covering of Donald Trump’s ample ass by the Republicans on the House Intel Committee. Its chairman Devin Nunes and the committee itself are both hopelessly compromised. Nunes has done everything in his power to cover for the President, his staff, and their Russian contacts, and to elide Vladimir Putin’s stated intent and obvious actions.

When secret agent man Devin Nunes raced to the White House to break a phony story of illegal and inappropriate surveillance from a mysterious “whistleblower,” it turned out the super-secret intel he set his ass on fire to reveal came from… wait for it… the White House itself.  Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Michael Ellis, both employees of the White House, provided Nunes with top secret material outside the approved channels to push one of many of the White House’s endless variations on the “no collusion—no puppet, you’re the puppet” defense.

Read the rest at The Daily Beast.

What are you hearing? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.

Lazy Saturday Reads: The Endless Scream

Parody of Edvard Munch’s The Scream by Svetlana Petrova

Happy Saturday!!

Our formerly great country has sunk into ridiculousness. In a little over a year, Trump has turned us into a laughing stock around the world. I wonder if there is any way to come back from the disaster he has created. Somehow we have to keep hanging on, hoping that the midterm elections will deliver a blue wave and that Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors and investigators will dig up enough evidence to bring Trump down through impeachment, indictment, or resignation.

I want to begin with a potential disaster of Trump’s making that hasn’t gotten enough attention. Remember Trump’s decision to shrink the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah by 85 percent? Well, in the parts of the previously public land that Trump is turning over to oil companies, there has been an important scientific discovery. The Washington Post on Feb. 22: Spectacular fossils found at Bears Ears — right where Trump removed protections.

One of the world’s richest troves of Triassic-period fossils has been discovered in an area of Bears Ears National Monument that just lost its protected status, scientists announced Thursday. President Trump signed a proclamation in December that shrank the national monument by 85 percent.

The discovery of intact remains of crocodile-like animals called phytosaurs came to light this week when researchers announced it at the Western Association of Vertebrate Paleontologists conference at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. Based on an initial excavation, the 70-yard-long site, its depth yet unknown, “may be the densest area of Triassic period fossils in the nation, maybe the world,” Rob Gay, a contractor at the Museums of Western Colorado, said in a statement.

In an interview, Gay, who led a team of researchers on last year’s expedition, called it the “largest and most complete bone bed in the state of Utah, and one of, if not the largest, anywhere in the United States.” He called the discovery of three intact toothy, long-snouted fossils from the period extremely rare, adding that the “density of bone is as high or greater than all the other Triassic sites in the country.”

The fossil bed is part of the Chinle Formation, ancient river and flood plain deposits that run through the center of the original monument President Barack Obama designated in December 2016. But that sedimentary rock also contains uranium, which made it more commercially attractive than other parts of Bears Ears.

In December, The Washington Post reported that the firm Energy Fuels Resources lobbied Interior Department officials to shrink the boundaries of the monument, in part to allow the company greater access to areas where it held uranium mining rights. Trump’s Bears Ears proclamation, which took effect Feb. 2, cut more than 1 million acres from its original 1.35-million-acre expanse. A separate proclamation reduced another national monument in Utah, Grand Staircase-Escalante, by about 800,000 acres.

Please go read the rest. Something must be done to protect these important scientific finds.

This article in the Salt Lake City Tribune provides more background on this story: A search for an ancient crocodile in Utah’s Bears Ears leads to a major discovery of Triassic fossils. A brief excerpt from the end of the piece:

Conservationists have heavily promoted Gay’s discovery because it highlights what they say was the shortsightedness of President Donald Trump’s decision to shrink the Bears Ears monument, a move that is being challenged in court.

“While a discovery of this magnitude certainly is a welcome surprise, protecting such resources was the very purpose of Bears Ears National Monument,” said Scott Miller of the Wilderness Society, an environmental group.

“That President Trump acted to revoke protections for these lands is outrageous, and that he did so despite the Department of the Interior knowing of this amazing discovery is even more shocking,” Miller said. “I hope the courts will act quickly to restore protections for Bears Ears National Monument before any more fossils are looted from the area and lost to science.”

Whatever the outcome of the court case, however, the fossils will remain under the jurisdiction of the Paleontological Resources Protection Act, a 2009 law that carries criminal penalties for those who loot fossils from public lands.

More background on the court battle:

The Washington Post, Dec. 2017: Trump is being sued to stop him from shrinking Bears Ears national monument by 85 percent. Who will win?

Salt Lake City Tribune, Dec. 2017: Feds ask for Bears Ears lawsuits to be consolidated.

Salt Lake City Tribune, Feb. 2018: Tribes fight to keep Bears Ears lawsuit in D.C.

I plan to keep an eye on this story.

And now, back to current disasters. So many people are leaving the Trump administration that the White House staff has been reduced mostly to Trump family members and fanatical loyalists. More resignations and firings are apparently coming soon.

David Smith at The Guardian: ‘Hollowed out’ White House: Trump is on a dangerous path toward no advisers. In recent days, Trump has lost two important White House staff members–Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn– and it looks like more will be leaving soon.

There has never been such a rapid turnover of personnel in a US administration in modern times. If anything, the stampede to the exits appears to be accelerating, raising fears of a “brain drain” that will leave key jobs unfilled and make it ever harder to recruit new talent.

“One of the problems here is the White House is getting hollowed out and the number of people capable of doing things, of doing real things whether you agree or disagree ideologically, is getting smaller and smaller,” Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, told reporters. “So the mess-ups we’ve seen this past week, I think we’re going to see over and over and over again.”

Trump, who spent a decade as host of The Apprentice, has enjoyed pulling back the curtain to allow White House meetings to be televised. But he also appears to be copying the reality TV format of eliminating a member of his administration or cabinet on a weekly basis, leaving the audience in suspense: who’s next?

Multiple reports have suggested that it could be HR McMaster, the national security adviser whose style is said to grate with Trump, or Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state who has been repeatedly marginalised.

In addition, John Kelly, the chief of staff once seen as a stabilising force, has been under pressure over his handling of allegations of domestic abuse against his close aide Rob Porter. And Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, looks especially vulnerable after his security clearance was downgraded and the Russian collusion investigation closes in.

Click on the link to read the rest.

The Boston Globe: AP reports Trump wants to rely less on White House staff.

His staff hollowing out and his agenda languishing, President Donald Trump is increasingly flying solo.

Always improvisational, the president exercised his penchant for going it alone in a big way this week: first, by ordering sweeping tariffs opposed by foreign allies and by many in his own party, then hours later delivering the stunning news that he’ll meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The president has long considered himself his own best consultant, saying during the presidential campaign: “I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”

Trump has told confidants recently that he wants to be less reliant on his staff, believing they often give bad advice, and that he plans to follow his own instincts, which he credits with his stunning election, according to two people who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about private conversations.

Trump’s latest unilateral moves come at a moment of vulnerability for the president. Top staffers are heading for the exits, the Russia investigation continues to loom and Trump is facing growing questions about a lawsuit filed by a porn actress who claims her affair with the president was hushed up.

Is Trump deliberately imitating the brutal dictators he admires by centering decision-making in himself and his family? It sure seems that way, and it’s frightening. Links to check out on Trump’s latest snap decision–a meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un:

Politico: Trump’s bold stroke on North Korea dissolves into confusion.

The White House on Friday appeared to set tougher conditions for a meeting between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, saying that the North must take “concrete steps” toward denuclearizing.

The White House also seemed to back away from the two-month timeframe laid out by South Korean officials on Thursday evening during a highly unusual press announcement in the White House driveway.

“Look, they’ve got to follow through on the promises they made,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during a briefing Friday—raising the possibility that a meeting may never happen – even though the White House had touted it as a major achievement less than 24 hours earlier….

The North Korea announcement’s sudden roll-out, followed by confusion and then tons of caveats, also followed a pattern of policymaking in the Trump White House, in which pronouncements often come before detailed plans are concrete.

At issue Friday was the nature of what the North Koreans had promised. Sanders called “denuclearization” a precondition for any direct meeting between Trump and Kim. But experts called the prospect of North Korea dismantling its nuclear program before the start of talks totally unimaginable.

Yuki Tatsumi at HuffPost: It Only Takes One Trump Tweet To Fall Into North Korea’s Trap.

If the Trump-Kim summit happens, it would mark a real breakthrough in the increasingly dangerous situation that has threatened Northeast Asia for the last 25 years. But for now, for many reasons, it is too soon to be optimistic.

The offer Kim made to South Korean presidential envoy Chung Yi-Eung is almost too good to be true. The North Korean dictator committed to suspending nuclear and missile tests, and also reportedly showed understanding that “the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue.” Above all, Kim expressed his commitment to denuclearization.

The Trump White House has been quick to take credit for Kim’s softened stance, arguing it is the result of the administration’s steadfast efforts to exert maximum pressure on North Korea. It is certainly possible the White House is correct. It is possible that, faced with an American president who does not hesitate to talk about the “annihilation” of North Korea, Kim decided to cement his legacy as the leader who demonstrated his capacity to make his nation a nuclear state, but who agreed to denuclearize and led the country to peace with its old enemy ― and scored a meeting with a sitting U.S. president to boot.

On the other hand, Kim’s gesture could be an extremely cunning trap for the Trump administration, and if Trump falls into it, he could drive a lasting wedge between the U.S. and its allies in the region.

Japan for example. Business Insider: One of America’s closest allies could be the biggest loser if talks between Trump and Kim Jong-Un go south.

While President Donald Trump’s acceptance of an invitation to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un shocked the world on Thursday, no other nation could have been more alarmed than Japan.

The Japanese government received no warning of Trump’s decision, according to The New York Times. Trump is believed to have immediately accepted the invitation after South Korean officials briefed him at the White House. They, too, who were reportedly bewildered by his quick response.

After accepting the offer, Trump called Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and reassured him that the US would continue to exert maximum pressure on North Korea — a talking point that White House officials touted heavily on Friday in the hours after South Korean leaders announced the Kim Jong-Un invite in front of the White House.

Officials say that during Trump’s call with Abe the Japanese prime minister requested a meeting with the US president. Abe told reporters afterward that the US and Japan would be “together 100%” and that he would meet Trump in April.

Read more at the link.

At least we’ve finally reached the weekend and maybe we’ll have some time to recover from another week of news overload. What stories are you following?

Thursday Reads: International Women’s Day and News Overload

Young Woman in the Garden, by Eduoard Manet

Good Afternoon!!

Today is International Women’s Day; and to demonstrate how far women have advanced in American society (NOT!), the sitting “president” is being sued by a porn star.

In honor of the day supposedly dedicated to women’s progress, The New York Times offers an “interactive feature” entitled “Overlooked” that examines the lives of 15 historically important women whose deaths were ignored by the New York Times obituaries. The fifteen overlooked women are: Ida B. Wells, Qui Jin, Mary Ewing Outerbridge, Diane Arbus, Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Plath, Henrietta Lacks, Madhubala, Emily Warren Roebling, Nella Larsen, Ada Lovelace, Margaret Abbott, Belkis Ayón, Charlotte Brontë, Lillias Campbell Davidson. Read their newly written obituaries at the NYT.

Two more pieces to check out:

Brookings: Happy (not so) International Women’s Day.

We’ve heard it all before. Women are sexually harassed and assaulted. Women are discriminated against in the workplace. Women are excluded from political decision-making. Even women who “have it all” can’t seem to get it right. Working mothers are reprimanded for not being present enough for their children or at work.

Vautier, Otto (1863-1919) Femme lisant

International Women’s Day comes and goes every year. But it fails to account for the diverse grievances, needs, and expectations of women in varied contexts. Some criticize it as an occasion that turns the recognition of women and their achievements into an exceptional circumstance, a day-long celebration on the 8th of March. After that, normality resumes – a normality in which the patriarchy dismisses issues affecting women, and in which women are discriminated against, harassed, and marginalized on a daily basis.

Read the rest at the link.

Jeff Green Bloomberg: Women Must Wait a Century For Equal Pay.

The United Nations first recognized International Women’s Day in 1975, sparking 38 years of annual demonstrations, private and public proclamations and a general recognition that even in the modern era, gender equality has a long way to go.

More recently, the day has been an opportunity to consider how much has changed, which is especially apt in 2018 as the #MeToo movement continues to expose sexual harassment and misconduct. Nevertheless, this year’s slew of reports are sobering as they suggest backsliding for women’s economic empowerment and for women in business.

The World Economic Forum now estimates global pay parity is a century away, an increase from about 80 years in 2016 — in part because the path for women to the most highly paid jobs is less clear. Executive teams globally slipped to being just 24 percent women from 25 percent in the most recent year, according to Grant Thornton. And among new CEO hires globally, less than 4 percent went to women in 2016, professional services firm PwC said.

Young woman reading, by John Singer Sargent, 1911

In the U.S. and in the U.K., there’s even more bad news. The number of women CEOs at the largest U.S. companies will slip to 24 from 27, according to Catalyst, which tracks diversity in companies. Among the 92 largest companies in the U.K., 6.5 percent had women CEOs, a dip from 7.8 percent in 2016, according to executive recruiter Egon Zehnder.

Read more at Bloomberg.

This week there have been several major stories every day about the Russia investigation. It’s difficult to keep up, even if you have as much time to follow news as I do. On top of that, the porn star scandal has broken out of the tabloids and into big-time news outlets.

I won’t recap all the Russia and Stormy Daniels news that broke yesterday, but here are some headlines to check out in case you missed them:

The New York Times: Trump Spoke to Witnesses About Matters They Discussed With Special Counsel.

The Washington Post: Mueller gathers evidence that 2017 Seychelles meeting was effort to establish back channel to Kremlin.

NBC News: Hope Hicks told House Intelligence Committee she was hacked, sources say.

NBC News: Stormy Daniels sues Trump, says ‘hush agreement’ invalid because he never signed

NBC News: Trump lawyer Michael Cohen tries to silence adult-film star Stormy Daniels.

More news on these stories broke this morning. At the top of the heap is a long excerpt at Yahoo News–part 1 of 2–from the new book by Michael Isakoff and David Corn: Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump.

Yahoo News: Miss Universe in Moscow: How Trump’s beauty contest spawned a business deal with Russians and a bond with Putin.

It was late in the afternoon of Nov. 9, 2013, in Moscow, and Donald Trump was getting anxious.

Reading at lamp light Delphin Enjolras

This was his second day in the Russian capital, and the brash businessman and reality TV star was running through a whirlwind schedule to promote that evening’s extravaganza at Moscow’s Crocus City Hall: the Miss Universe pageant, in which women from 86 countries would be judged before a worldwide television audience estimated at 1 billion.

Trump had purchased the pageant 17 years earlier, partnering with NBC. It was one of his most-prized properties, bringing in millions of dollars a year in revenue and, perhaps as important, burnishing his image as an international playboy celebrity. While in the Russian capital, Trump was also scouting for new and grand business opportunities, having spent decades trying — but failing — to develop high-end projects in Moscow. Miss Universe staffers considered it an open secret that Trump’s true agenda in Moscow was not the show but his desire to do business there.

Yet to those around him that afternoon, Trump seemed gripped by one question: Where was Vladimir Putin?

Trump was already obsessed with Putin in 2013 and had dreamed of building a Trump tower in Moscow for decades. Putin never showed up, but he did have his “right hand man and press spokesman” Dmitry Peskov speak to Trump on the phone.

In the lead-up to making the deal that would take the Miss Universe pageant to Russia, Trump went with his entourage and his Russian guest Emin Agalarov to a Las Vegas nightclub called the Act.

Girl reading, William Morris Hunt

Shortly after midnight, the entourage arrived at the club. The group included Trump, Emin, Goldstone, Culpo, and Nana Meriwether, the outgoing Miss USA. Trump and Culpo were photographed in the lobby by a local paparazzi. The club’s management had heard that Trump might be there that night and had arranged to have plenty of Diet Coke on hand for the teetotaling Trump. (The owners had also discussed whether they should prepare a special performance for the developer, perhaps a dominatrix who would tie him up on stage or a little-person transvestite Trump impersonator. They nixed that idea.) [….]

The Act was no ordinary nightclub. Since March, it had been the target of undercover surveillance by the Nevada Gaming Con­trol Board and investigators for the club’s landlord — the Palazzo, which was owned by GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson — after complaints about its performances. The club featured seminude women performing simulated sex acts of bestiality and grotesque sadomasochism — skits that a few months later would prompt a Nevada state judge to issue an injunction barring any more of its “lewd” and “offensive” performances. Among the club’s regular acts cited by the judge was one called “Hot for Teacher,” in which naked college girls simulate urinating on a professor. In another act, two women disrobe and then “one female stands over the other female and simulates urinating while the other female catches the urine in two wine glasses.” (The Act shut down after the judge’s ruling. There is no public record of which skits were performed the night Trump was present.)

As the Act’s scantily clad dancers gyrated in front of them late that night, Emin, Goldstone, Culpo and the rest toasted Trump’s birthday. (He had turned 67 the day before.)

Hmm . . . Do you supposed that performance gave Trump ideas?

More news breaking this morning:

Róbert Berény ~ Hungarian painter, 1887 – 1953

CNN: Amid renewed scrutiny, Erik Prince to host fundraiser for Russia-friendly congressman.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince will host a fundraiser this month for Russia-friendly Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, as Prince faces new questions over a 2017 meeting currently being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Prince and Rohrabacher have been friends and mutual supporters for years: Prince interned for the California congressman on Capitol Hill in 1990, and Rohrabacher vigorously defended Prince when Blackwater faced congressional scrutiny during President George W. Bush’s administration.
The fundraising event, slated for March 18 at Prince’s Middleburg, Virginia residence, is expected to be attended by GOP Reps. Tom Garrett Jr. and Dave Brat, and Lt. Colonel Oliver North, according to an invitation obtained by CNN. Tickets start at $1,000 for the general reception, although donors paying $2,700 will also be invited to attend a VIP event beforehand.
But the fundraiser comes at an uneasy moment for the longtime allies.

Prince, an associate of President Donald Trump, is confronting renewed questions regarding a January 2017 trip to the Seychelles islands, where he met with a Russian banker, Kirill Dmitriev and Emirati officials. Also in attendance was George Nader, a Middle East specialist with ties to Emirati leaders. Nader is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigation, CNN has learned.

The Washington Post: Republicans flee the storm over Stormy Daniels and President Trump.

Leisure, by William Worcester Churchill

Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), whose pithy comments have made him a favorite among congressional reporters, was tight-lipped Wednesday when asked how Republicans would have reacted if President Barack Obama was accused of having had an affair with a porn star.

“I don’t know,” Kennedy said before offering up a blanket condemnation of sexual harassment. “That’s the way I feel about it. This is no country for creepy old men.”

After starting to walk away, Kennedy quickly turned back to a reporter with an urgent clarification: His comments were not intended to reflect poorly on President Trump.

And so it went Wednesday in the wake of the latest development in the Stormy Daniels saga — a lawsuit from the adult film star arguing that her hush-money arrangement not to talk about an alleged affair was null and void because Trump never signed it.

Most Republicans on Capitol Hill sought to avoid the topic altogether, while those who were willing to talk about it were careful not to criticize Trump for allegations that would have sent previous White Houses into a tailspin.

CNN: Trump upset with Sanders over Stormy Daniels response.

President Donald Trump is upset with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders over her responses Wednesday regarding his alleged affair with porn star Stormy Daniels, a source close to the White House tells CNN….

A Girl Reading, Frank Duvenek 1877

On Wednesday, Sanders told reporters that the arbitration was won “in the President’s favor.” The statement is an admission that the nondisclosure agreement exists, and that it directly involves the President. It is the first time the White House has admitted the President was involved in any way with Daniels.

“POTUS is very unhappy,” the source said. “Sarah gave the Stormy Daniels storyline steroids yesterday.”

CNN: US allies are upset. The top economist quit. Trump doesn’t care.

President Donald Trump’s demand that new tariffs be slapped on steel and aluminum imports has spooked markets, prompted his chief economist’s resignation, rattled major US allies and widened a rift with establishment Republicans.

But he nevertheless signaled on Thursday he was intent on moving forward, despite the lingering legal questions and steep resistance from opponents.

The move was widely expected to set off a trade battle that Trump insists the US can win — but which even some of his closest advisers worry could seriously damage a growing American economy.

“Looking forward to 3:30 P.M. meeting today at the White House,” Trump wrote in a morning tweet. “We have to protect & build our Steel and Aluminum Industries while at the same time showing great flexibility and cooperation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military.”

Will today be as overwhelming news-wise as Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were? State tuned. What stories have you been following?

Tuesday Reads And Reading Women

Blue Girl Reading, 1912, by August Macke

Good Afternoon!!

I’m still digesting the news from yesterday and preparing myself for the upcoming nor’easter. This one will drop snow on us. Luckily I got out to the store yesterday, so I have plenty of supplies.

Could Wednesday’s nor’easter unleash 2 feet of snow on Massachusetts? Newly released weather maps have dropped a load of fresh information on the upcoming storm, including rapidly increasing snow forecast totals that are beginning to get out of control.

The National Weather Service on Tuesday morning released a new snow total map that increases the high-end totals in parts of northern Mass. to 18-24 inches while moving the rain/snow line farther east, meaning heavier snow totals in parts of Eastern Mass. Communities north and west of Boston could now be getting up to 18 inches, while the Boston area itself is still looking at 6-8 inches.

Areas south of Boston, many of which make up the more than 20,000 still without power from the last storm, are expected to get primarily rain. 

Our beloved Pat will be dealing plenty of white stuff on Thursday.

I woke up early this morning and made the mistake of turning on MSNBC. Joe Scarborough thinks it’s impossible for anyone not to feel sorry for Sam Nunberg, whom he refers to as “a kid.” Nunberg is 36. Scarborough also empathizes with Michael Flynn because he’s selling his house to cover his legal fees. ABC News:

Michael Flynn, the retired Army general and ex-Trump national security adviser who pleaded guilty last year to lying to FBI agents about his Russian contacts, has put his Virginia home up for sale to pay mounting legal fees, friends and family members told ABC News.

Inspiration, by Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky

Flynn’s 13-year-old, three-bedroom townhouse in Old Town Alexandria outside Washington, which he bought three years ago, was listed for sale in December with an asking price of $895,000 — money he will use to pay his high legal defense debts, his brother Joe Flynn said Monday.

The retired three-star general and former Defense Intelligence Agency director withdrew to his hometown of Middletown, R.I., last year after he was dismissed by President Donald Trump 24 days into his role as national security adviser, later becoming embroiled in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

In other words, Flynn is trying to sell his second home? Well, boo hoo. I don’t care if he ends up in a trailer park. Maybe he should have thought twice before acting as a foreign agent for Russia and Turkey, not to mention leading “lock her up” chants at Trump rallies.

As for Nunberg, McKay Coppins reports that “the kid” was celebrating his publicly televised meltdown last night: Sam Nunberg’s Spectacular Stunt.

“By the way, you know I’m the number one trending person on Twitter?”

It was just after 8:00 p.m. on Monday night, and the suddenly-famous Sam Nunberg had phoned me from Dorrian’s Red Hand Restaurant, a yuppie hangout on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, where he was reveling in his triumph.

After announcing earlier that day his intention to defy a grand-jury subpoena he says he received in the Russia investigation (“Arrest me,” he’d dared prosecutors), the former Trump aide had spent the day conducting a manic media blitz—popping up on multiple cable-news programs, granting interviews to dozens of journalists, and hijacking the news cycle with a car-crash procession of blustery soundbites. Legal experts were warning that his failure to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s  investigation could put him in serious legal jeopardy—but at this moment, it seemed, Nunberg was in a celebratory mood.

Woman Reading, by Vasile Ion

As we spoke, Nunberg alternated between this unalloyed bravado and a kind of meta amusement at the media frenzy his performance had commanded. He seemed to take special pleasure in speculating about how Mueller might be reacting to the spectacle. “You know what the funny thing is?” he boasted. “He’s thinking I’m, like, playing eight-dimensional chess with Donald Trump.”

Well, I asked, are you?

He guffawed. “No!

Nunberg seems to think he’s become a junior version of his mentor Roger Stone. Coppins:

The mystery of his motivations had hovered over the day’s astonishing events, and theories attempting to explain his bizarre behavior had proliferated quickly. Some believed he was responding to being caught in a genuine conspiracy—auditioning for immunity, perhaps, or covering up crimes committed by allies in the president’s orbit….

I won’t venture a guess as to which theory best explains his actions. But as anyone who’s known Nunberg for a while can attest, his behavior Monday doesn’t necessarily require special explanation. He’s been pulling stunts like this for years—this is just the first time he’s gotten the kind of audience he’s always craved.

Whatever. But do I feel sorry for Nunberg like Joe Scarborough does? Hell no! I hope Mueller throws the book at him.

CNN has a shocking story out of Tennessee: Tennessee school removes Confederate flag, lynching murals.

A painting of a Confederate flag and a mural depicting a lynching have been removed from the walls of a Tennessee school gymnasium.

The mural showed a white man, dressed in blue, hanging from a rope tied to a tree branch. Another person was standing nearby, in a red jersey, and holding a Confederate flag.
The painting was intended to depict an athletic team rivalry.

L’edition deluxe, Lillian Westcott Hale 1910

It’s unclear how long the paintings have been inside the South Cumberland Elementary School, located 100 miles east of Nashville, but a complaint was first made in December by a concerned janitor of a nearby elementary school.

On Friday, after months of calls and emails to the superintendent and the school board, David Clark, took his concerns public.
“Germany does not display Nazi symbols. This is not heritage, it is racism,” he wrote on a Facebook post.

“No action has been planned or taken as of today so I am asking people to call and let them know in a respectful manner, how you feel about these racist symbols being on full public display where children can see them.”

Less than 24 hours later, the post had at least 500 comments and more than 200 shares. Later that same day, the Confederate flag was gone and the mural was repainted to scrap the lynching.

WTF?! What happens to kids who are exposed to images like this in elementary school? Here’s a story from NPR that should serve as a warning: 5 Killings, 3 States And 1 Common Neo-Nazi Link.

At first glance, five killings in three states since last May appeared to be unrelated, isolated cases.

But a common thread is emerging. Three young men have been charged, and all appear to have links to the same white supremacist group: the Atomwaffen Division.

Atomwaffen is German for “atomic weapons,” and the group is extreme. It celebrates Adolf Hitler and Charles Manson, its online images are filled with swastikas and it promotes violence.

A video on its website shows young men in face scarves and camouflage firing rifles during military-style training. The video begins with group members shouting in unison, “Race War Now,” and concludes with the tag line, “Join Your Local Nazis.”

Josef Loukota (Czech, 1879-1967). Reading Girl in Studio

“Atomwaffen no doubt takes some of the white supremacist rhetoric to another level. The views that they articulate are white supremacists on steroids,” said Joanna Mendelson, who follows extremist groups for the Anti-Defamation League in Los Angeles.

“And what is the change they want to see? Real-world violence. Real-world apocalyptic violence,” she added.

Read the rest at NPR.

Of course, as long as we have a white supremacist in the White House, nothing is going to be done about these white extremist groups.

Nothing will be done about Russian influence in our elections or on our foreign policy either. At Crooked Media, Brian Beutler makes some important points: If Russia Owns Trump, It Owns American Policies. Beutler notes that for the first time Paul Ryan is making a half-hearted attempt to stand up to Trump–over trade issues.

For the first time in the two years since people began asking questions about Trump’s relationship with the Russian government, Ryan has taken a lonely stand against the president and his benefactors in Moscow. Not by forcing Trump to divest from his businesses, or to disclose his opaque finances, or by replacing House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes with a competent investigator who hasn’t himself been compromised.

Instead, Ryan is using at least some of his official heft to oppose Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum. His office has publicly implored Trump to reverse himself, and is distributing news articles to reporters tying the tariffs to bad economic and financial news.

But the reason it probably won’t work is that Trump doesn’t care. He’s making U.S. policy based on what’s best for Russia.

The problem, for Ryan and the rest of us, with treating Trump’s behavior as mere heterodoxy, is that it offers no redress for the likelihood that Trump isn’t making policy in the public interest. Ryan can slap back at unwelcome policy proposals as they arise, but as long he allows Trump’s underlying corruption to go unaddressed, they will keep coming, and we’ll have no way of knowing what Trump’s true motives are.

Woman Reading, by Felix Edouard Vallotton

What do steel and aluminum tariffs have to do with Russia? Possibly nothing! But straining ties within the Western alliance, and specifically between the U.S. and Europe, has been a Russian geopolitical goal for decades. Fostering a trade war between America and the E.U. fits that bill perfectly.

And because people like Ryan have allowed Trump to reach the pinnacle of global power without submitting to the most basic transparency norms, we’re all left to wonder whether Trump is being stubborn about tariffs for legitimate political reasons, or for genuinely corrupt ones.

That’s the problem all right. At this point, I’m completely convinced that Trump is acting as an agent of Putin and his oligarchs. We’d better hope the Democrats can win big in the midterms, despite Russian interference.

More headlines to check out:

BBC News: Emails show UAE-linked effort against Tillerson

The Guardian: Woman in Russian spy mystery is Sergei Skripal’s daughter

ABC News: Senator on NRA’s ties to Russia: ‘I remain concerned’

Raw Story: ‘It’s like a black mark’: Conservatives in Trump’s DC whine that liberal women want no part of dating them

Dana Millbank at the Washington Post: President Trump is blessedly weak

Vanity Fair: “I Don’t Think There’s Anything…Gates Doesn’t Know”: Why Manafort’s Lackey Now Holds All The Cards

The Washington Post: Trump’s name is stripped from Panama hotel

ABC News: Police evict Trump staff from Panama hotel amid ongoing dispute

Vanity Fair: “All The Money Is His”: At Mar-A-Lago, Trump Polls Guests About Kushner’s Bad Press


So . . . What stories are you following today? Please share!