Lazy Caturday Reads: Black Cats and Other News

Good Afternoon!!

Today is National Black Cat Appreciation Day!

On Black Cat Appreciation Day, August 17, black cats could use a good spin doctor. They’re so sleek and seductive with their all-knowing yellow eyes, that black cats seldom get positive publicity even though they’re just as adorable as other cats. So, who’s to blame for this negative black cat spin? Superstition! During the Middle Ages, people (mainly the Catholic Church) saw witches as shape-shifting black cats and the damage was done.

Today, pop culture loves black cats.  There’s the sarcastic Thackery Binx in  “Hocus Pocus”,  Salem, in “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and Pyewacket in the classic ”Bell, Book and Candle.” It’s National Black Cat Appreciation Day with big ups to America’s sultry, mysterious and mostly, sweet black cats!

In Other News . . .

By Irina Kalentieva, 1965

Former Trump supporter Anthony Scaramucci is now predicting that Trump won’t be on the ballot in November 2020.

William D. Cohan interviewed Scaramucci for Vanity Fair: “Oh My God, This Jackass”: The Mooch Explains Why He Thinks Trump is “Crazy,” “Narcissistic,” and a “Paper Tiger” Who Will Drop Out By March 2020. Some highlights:

Cohan: But what was the moment the scales actually fell from your eyes?

Scaramucci: The red line was the racism—full-blown racism. He can say that he’s not a racist, and I agree with him, okay? And let me explain to you why he’s not a racist, ’cause this is very important. He’s actually worse than a racist. He is so narcissistic, he doesn’t see people as people. He sees them as objects in his field of vision. And so therefore, that’s why he has no empathy. That’s why he’s got his thumb up in the air when he’s taking a picture with an orphan. That’s why when someone’s leaning over the desk and asks [Nobel Prize–winning human rights activist Nadia Murad], “Well, what happened to your family members?”—they were murdered—he just looks at her and says, “Okay, when are we getting coffee here?”

You know, he doesn’t look at people—and by the way, if you and I were in his field of vision and he had a cold and the two of us had to die for him to get a Kleenex, you’re fucking dead. I mean, there’s no chance. You understand that, right?

Cohan: And then there’s the mental element, right?

The Black Cat, by Christian Schloe

Scaramucci: I think the guy is losing it, mentally. He has declining mental faculties; he’s becoming more petulant; he’s becoming more impetuous. Okay, you see just by the way he’s sweating, his body’s not doing well. It’s obviously not a guy that takes care of himself, right? And he doesn’t listen to anybody. And just think about this, okay? There’s no one—there’s no Jim Mattis; there’s no Gary Cohn; there’s no one to check him anymore. Whatever my differences were with General John Kelly, after he left, this thing has completely unspooled….

He’s gonna drop out of the race because it’s gonna become very clear. Okay, it’ll be March of 2020. He’ll likely drop out by March of 2020. It’s gonna become very clear that it’s impossible for him to win. And is this the kind of guy that’s gonna want to be that humiliated and lose as a sitting president? He’s got the self-worth in terms of his self-esteem of a small pigeon. It’s a very small pigeon. Okay. And so you think this guy’s gonna look at those poll numbers and say—he’s not gonna be able to handle that humiliation. And by the way, he is smart enough to know that that entire Congress hates his guts.

Of course Scaramucci isn’t the first to predict that Trump will have to drop out. Tom Joseph has been documenting Trump’s rapidly advancing dementia symptoms on Twitter for a long time now. Here’s his latest thread on the subject:

Check out his Twitter feed to read more.

Last Tuesday Trump gave a speech to union workers in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t supposed to be a campaign event, but he turned it into one. The Washington Post:

 President Trump criticized the media, mocked his Democratic challengers, critiqued the Academy Awards, lamented losing money while president and boasted of his poll numbers while visiting a construction site here to give remarks about U.S. energy production.

The president spoke for more than an hour, meandering between his prepared remarks and a campaign-style speech listing grievances and currying votes. He touched on his 2016 victory in Pennsylvania, his love of trucks, “fake news,” China, trade, immigration, the Green New Deal, windmills, the Paris climate accord, former president Barack Obama’s $60 million book deal, Iran, veterans and New York energy policies.

Pierrot et le Chat, Theophile Alexandre Steinlen

Standing in a room full of construction workers in the middle of the day, many wearing their fluorescent work vests, Trump urged them to support his reelection and to convince their union leaders to do the same…..

Trump’s visit to Royal Dutch Shell’s Pennsylvania Petrochemical Complex here, about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, was an official White House trip intended to promote the administration’s energy policies.

Yesterday the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the workers were told they would have to attend the speech or lose a day’s pay. They were also ordered not to protest.

The choice for thousands of union workers at Royal Dutch Shell’s petrochemical plant in Beaver County was clear Tuesday: Either stand in a giant hall waiting for President Donald Trump to speak or take the day off with no pay.

“Your attendance is not mandatory,” said the rules that one contractor relayed to employees, summarizing points from a memo that Shell sent to union leaders a day ahead of the visit to the $6 billion construction site. But only those who showed up at 7 a.m., scanned their ID cards, and prepared to stand for hours — through lunch but without lunch — would be paid.

That company and scores of other contractors on site and their labor employees all have their own contracts with Shell. Several said the contracts stipulate that to get paid, workers must be onsite.

Portrait of Mo von Haugk, 1932 – Conrad Felixmüller, (German 1897-1977)

Those who decided not to come to the site for the event would have an excused but non-paid absence, the company said, and would not qualify for overtime pay on Friday.

Shell spokesman Ray Fisher explained that the workers onsite have a 56-hour workweek, with 16 hours of overtime built in. That means those workers who attended Mr. Trump’s speech and showed up for work Friday, meeting the overtime threshold, were being paid at a rate of time and a half, while those who didn’t go to hear the president were being paid the regular rate, despite the fact that both groups did not do work on the site Tuesday.

Show up to cheer for Trump or lose a day’s pay and overtime to boot.

Yesterday, The New York Times’ Glenn Thrush reported that President Obama tried to caution Joe Biden about running for president in 2020 and has been warning Biden that he needs younger advisers.

The two men spoke at least a half dozen times before Mr. Biden decided to run, and Mr. Obama took pains to cast his doubts about the campaign in personal terms.

“You don’t have to do this, Joe, you really don’t,” Mr. Obama told Mr. Biden earlier this year, according to a person familiar with the exchange.

Mr. Biden — who thinks he could have defeated Donald Trump four years ago — responded by telling Mr. Obama he could never forgive himself if he turned down a second shot at Mr. Trump.

In the boudoir, 1869, Lucius Rossi

Mr. Obama has said he will not make an endorsement in the primary, and has offered every candidate his counsel. But he has taken an active interest in the inner workings of his friend’s campaign, to an extent beyond anything offered to other candidates.

In his interactions with Mr. Biden — the pair had a quiet lunch in Washington last month — Mr. Obama has hammered away at the need for his campaign to expand his aging inner circle.

He has communicated his frustration that Mr. Biden’s closest advisers are too old and out of touch with the current political climate — urging him to include more younger aides, according to three Democrats with direct knowledge of the discussion.

Biden also met with Biden’s advisers and issued a warning:

In March, Mr. Obama took the unusual step of summoning Mr. Biden’s top campaign advisers, including the former White House communications director Anita Dunn and Mr. Biden’s longtime spokeswoman, Kate Bedingfield, to his Washington office for a briefing on the campaign’s digital and communications strategy with members of his own staff, including his senior adviser, Eric Schultz.

When they were done, Mr. Obama offered a pointed reminder, according to two people with knowledge of his comments:

Win or lose, they needed to make sure Mr. Biden did not “embarrass himself” or “damage his legacy” during the campaign.

Well Biden has already put his foot in his mouth numerous times, but he’s still leading in the polls. I can only hope voters will wake up before the primaries begin.

Katherina Goncharova – Midday Dream

Yesterday, Benjamin Netanyahu banned Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from traveling to Israel, after he was egged on by Trump. Later in the day, Netanyau told Tlaib she could come to visit her grandmother who lives in the occupied West Bank, with certain restrictions on her freedom of speech. Tlaib declined to accept the conditions. Now Democrats in the House are considering an official response.

The Miami Herald: House Democrats weigh action against U.S. and Israel ambassadors over banned visit.

Senior Democratic members of Congress are considering action against top emissaries of the Israeli government and the Trump administration for their roles in Israel’s decision to bar two House members from entering the country.

About a dozen lawmakers, including senior Jewish members, began discussions on Friday morning over ways to communicate a “deep lack of confidence and trust” in Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

The group is weighing issuing a statement of no confidence in Dermer and opening an inspector general investigation into Friedman’s conduct, the sources said.

Israel banned Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from a planned visit to Israel and the West Bank this weekend, provoking outrage among Democrats and several Republicans, including some who have harshly criticized the two lawmakers on policy grounds.

So . . . that’s it for me. what stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Toni Morrison, Trump’s Gaslighting, and Other News

Gustav Klimt, Tree of Life

Good Morning!!

The news just broke that Toni Morrison has died. I’m sorry to say that I haven’t read her work; maybe now would be a good time to start. The Washington Post: Toni Morrison, Nobel laureate who transfigured American literature, dies at 88.

Toni Morrison, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist who conjured a black girl longing for blue eyes, a slave mother who kills her child to save her from bondage, and other indelible characters who helped transfigure a literary canon long closed to African Americans, died Aug. 5 at a hospital in the Bronx. She was 88….

Ms. Morrison spent an impoverished childhood in Ohio steel country, began writing during what she described as stolen time as a single mother, and became the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize in literature. Critically acclaimed and widely loved, she received recognitions as diverse as the Pulitzer Prize and the selection of her novels — four of them — for the book club led by talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

Ms. Morrison placed African Americans, particularly women, at the heart of her writing at a time when they were largely relegated to the margins both in literature and in life. With language celebrated for its lyricism, she was credited with conveying as powerfully, or more than perhaps any novelist before her, the nature of black life in America, from slavery to the inequality that went on more than a century after it ended.

Morrison begins the essay, published in 2015 in the 150th anniversary edition of The Nation, by recalling her despairing thoughts after George W. Bush was reelected in 2004. Was she foreshadowing our future under Trump?

Dictators and tyrants routinely begin their reigns and sustain their power with the deliberate and calculated destruction of art: the censorship and book-burning of unpoliced prose, the harassment and detention of painters, journalists, poets, playwrights, novelists, essayists. This is the first step of a despot whose instinctive acts of malevolence are not simply mindless or evil; they are also perceptive. Such despots know very well that their strategy of repression will allow the real tools of oppressive power to flourish. Their plan is simple:

1. Select a useful enemy—an “Other”—to convert rage into conflict, even war.

2. Limit or erase the imagination that art provides, as well as the critical thinking of scholars and journalists.

3. Distract with toys, dreams of loot, and themes of superior religion or defiant national pride that enshrine past hurts and humiliations.

Harmonia Rosales, the Birth of Eve

The Nation could never have existed or flourished in 1940s Spain, or 2014 Syria, or apartheid South Africa, or 1930s Germany. And the reason is clear. It was born in the United States in 1865, the year of Lincoln’s assassination, when political division was stark and lethal—during, as my friend said, times of dread. But no prince or king or dictator could interfere successfully or forever in a country that seriously prized freedom of the press. This is not to say there weren’t elements that tried censure, but they could not, over the long haul, win.

In these demoralizing days and nights in Trump world, we need artists and journalists so much more than in Bush’s awful presidency.

We are still feeling the aftershocks of the latest mass shootings in California, Texas, and Ohio. Yesterday Trump was forced to read someone else’s words from a teleprompter; it didn’t take long for him to go back to tweeting his resentments. We all knew he was gaslighting us. Nothing he could ever say or do will erase the damage he has done with the ugly racism, xenophobia, and hatred he has spewed since he announced his campaign for president in 2015. He words and deeds have enabled white supremacists and encouraged them to act out violently.

Politico: Trump attacks Obama for statement on shootings.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday attacked former President Barack Obama over the latter’s statement on the weekend’s mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, tweeting edited quotes from Fox News hosts to make his point and again claiming he is “the least racist person” in the world.

“From the Dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz to the Revolution – The Revolutionaries.” 1957-65, Diego Rivera

“‘Did George Bush ever condemn President Obama after Sandy Hook. President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign. Not many people said Obama is out of Control,’” Trump wrote online. “’Mass shootings were happening before the President even thought about running for Pres.’ @kilmeade @foxandfriends”

Trump’s message was a distillation of a sentiment “Fox & Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade expressed on air shortly after 6 a.m. Tuesday morning. The president followed up that tweet with another post paraphrasing a comment from Kilmeade’s morning show colleague, Ainsley Earhardt.

“‘It’s political season and the election is around the corner. They want to continue to push that racist narrative.’ @ainsleyearhardt @foxandfriends,” Trump continued. “And I am the least racist person. Black, Hispanic and Asian Unemployment is the lowest (BEST) in the history of the United States!”

Obama on Monday afternoon lamented the violence that transpired Saturday morning in El Paso, Texas, and early Sunday morning in Dayton, Ohio, which left at least 31 people dead and injured dozens more.

In his statement, Obama called on Americans to “soundly reject language coming out of the mouths of any of our leaders that feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments.” The former president did not mention Trump, or any other politician, by name.

Obama simply did what Trump could not and would not do: act like a president.

Gizmodo: Trump Boosts Fired Google Engineer Who Proposed Richard Spencer Fundraiser, Suggested Skinheads Rebrand.

On Monday morning, President Donald Trump finally took the time to issue a (hollow and thoroughly unconvincing) denunciation of white supremacy in the wake of mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas over the weekend that collectively resulted in at least 31 deaths and scores of injuries—in the latter case involving a gunman whose manifesto clearly reflected Trump’s racist immigration rhetoric and reportedly targeted Hispanics.

Tree of Hope Remain Strong, Frida Kahlo

Of course, it never takes long for him to return to his usual bullshit. So it’s the opposite of surprising that by Monday evening, Trump was posting clips from a Fox News interview with a former Google engineer who claimed the company discriminated against him for his conservative political views. In reality, said employee had reportedly urged other Googlers to contribute to a “bounty” to find an individual who punched white supremacist Richard Spencer, as well as suggested that the Golden State Skinheads (GSS) rebrand so as to provide better “branding” for the “American nationalist Right.”

In the clip from Lou Dobbs Tonight posted to the president’s feed at 9:33 p.m. ET, former Google engineer Kevin Cernekee parroted debunked claims that the company’s executives “want to use all the power and all the resources that they have to control the flow of information to the public and make sure that Trump loses in 2020.” This dovetails nicely with Trump’s grudge against Google, which along with all of the president’s other perceived political enemies, he has targeted with baseless smears and doctored videos asserting a devious conspiracy against him.

While many news outlets were reporting on the stunning hypocrisy of Trump’s speech on the mass shootings, The New York Times chose to take Trump’s words at face value with a headline that was quickly attacked on Twitter.

The Washington Post: ‘The headline was bad’: New York Times amends front page on Trump’s response to mass shootings after backlash.

The New York Times weathered intense backlash Monday night for its front-page headline about President Trump’s response to the pair of mass shootings that read: “TRUMP URGES UNITY VS. RACISM.”

A preview of Tuesday’s front page shared to social media sparked instant criticism from members of the public, journalists and politicians, including several 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, many of whom took issue with how the publication framed Trump’s comments on the weekend attacks in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, that left at least 31 people dead and dozens injured. In the aftermath of the tragedies, major media outlets have faced scrutiny from all sides over how they confront Trump and his often inflammatory rhetoric.

About an hour after the headline went viral, the Times announced it had amended its wording.

“The headline was bad and has been changed for the second edition,” a spokesperson for the Times told The Washington Post in an email.

Later editions of the print paper feature the words, “ASSAILING HATE BUT NOT GUNS.” Subheads above the two stories about Trump’s speech were also changed.

It’s the new “but her emails.” It’s time for executive editor Dean Baquet to resign.

The Washington Post story was more in line with reality: Teleprompter Trump meets Twitter Trump as the president responds to mass slayings.

Teleprompter Trump repudiated Twitter Trump in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on Monday.

Speaking in the wake of two mass shootings in less than 24 hours that left at least 31 dead over the weekend, President Trump spoke of “the inherent worth and dignity of every human life” and the scourge of “destructive partisanship.”

Venceremos (We Will Win), Rina Lazo, 1954

“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry, and white supremacy,” the president said, reading from a script that scrolled on a teleprompter in front of him. He added, “Now is the time to set destructive partisanship aside — so destructive — and find the courage to answer hatred with unity, devotion and love.”

That unifying message stood in stark contrast tomore than 2½ years of name-calling, demonizing minorities and inflaming racial animus, much of it carried out on Twitter. Just two hours before his White House speech, Trump tweeted an attack on the “Fake News” media for contributing to a culture of “anger and rage.” And in another set of tweets, the president suggested pairing “strong background checks” with “desperately needed immigration reform” — then dropped the matter entirely during his speech.

Such is the picture of a divisive leader trying to act as a healer, particularly in the aftermath of Saturday’s anti-immigrant attack in El Paso, where officials are still investigating but believe the alleged gunman posted a manifesto that echoed Trump’s harsh rhetoric on immigrants, including describing his attack as “a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” Trump, in tweets and in rallies, has repeatedly decried the “invasion” of undocumented immigrants across the nation’s southern border.

More stories to check out:

Max Fisher at The New York Times: White Terrorism Shows ‘Stunning’ Parallels to Islamic State’s Rise.

Ali Soufan at The New York Times: I Spent 25 Years Fighting Jihadis. White Supremacists Aren’t So Different.

The Daily Beast: DHS Official: Trump Can’t Admit ‘This Is Terrorism.’

Los Angeles Times: Foreign countries are warning their citizens about U.S. travel after mass shootings.

Los Angeles Times: Trump officials have redirected resources from countering far-right, racism-fueled domestic terrorism.

USA Today: Hypocritical talk, worse action: Trump dismantled tools to fight white supremacist terrorism.

The Dallas News: Donald Trump, who’s going to El Paso this week, owes city more than $500K for his February rally.

The Texas Tribune: A racist manifesto and a shooter terrorize Hispanics in El Paso and beyond.

The Texas Tribune: Running while brown: How Julián Castro is navigating white presidential politics.

The Washington Post: Ex-girlfriend says Dayton shooter heard voices, talked about ‘dark, evil things.


Christmas Evening Open Thread

Good Evening!!

I hope everyone had a lovely day despite the self-absorbed asshole living in the White House and his mountain of grievances. Here’s a bit of his so-called Christmas message to the troops today. CNN reports:

In President Donald Trump’s Christmas Day telling, the drugs are flowing over the border, the Federal Reserve is imperiling the economy and the Democrats are preparing to harass him with oversight requests.

“It’s a disgrace, what’s happening in our country,” Trump fumed, seated behind the Resolute Desk on Tuesday, after decrying Democrats as hypocrites and recalling — unprompted — his firing of former FBI Director James Comey.
“But other than that,” he said, his hands gesturing outward, “I wish everybody a very merry Christmas.”

Celebrating the holiday at the White House instead of his Palm Beach estate, Trump used a phone call session with American troops to advance his case for a border wall, his isolationist foreign policy views and his insistence that his campaign did not collude with Russia.
Trump acknowledged the standoff with Democrats over funding for his long-promised border wall has no foreseeable end date.

“I can’t tell you when the government is going to be open. I can tell you it’s not going to be open until we have a wall, a fence, whatever they would like to call it,” he said.

I’m sure the men and women serving overseas found that very edifying . . . not. Here’s mash-up of his public whining:

Remember when we had a real president? It’s hard to believe it has only been two years since the Obamas sent out their final Christmas message.

I just got home after spending the day with family. I thought I’d share a few stories that have caught my attention tonight.

NBC News: Trump becomes first president since 2002 not to visit troops at Christmastime.

Texas Tribune: ICE dumps hundreds of migrants with nowhere to go at a bus station on eve of Christmas without warning shelters.

Post and Courier: Do a ‘marginal’ number of 7-year-olds believe in Santa? That’s what Trump told a SC girl.

Raw Story: Trump bizarrely claims ‘many’ federal workers want to go without paychecks until he gets his wall.

The Washington Post: The sermon Trump heard on Christmas Eve featured a cruel emperor, migrants seeking refuge and ‘the hardest of years’

The New York Times: Trump’s King Minus Touch.

The New Yorker: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Nephew on Winning the Aunt Lottery.

Scientific American: There Is No Such Thing as Conscious Thought.

 

 

Happy Holidays, Sky Dancers!!


Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

It’s another busy day in tRumpville–not for him, of course, just for us peons. King Donald is so bored that he went out to meet a White House tour group this morning.

So the Muslim ban is back with a vengeance. Plus the GOP “health care” plan is out and it’s even worse than anyone imagined. Dakinikat wrote about tRump’s immigration policies yesterday, but we’re getting more details this morning. As for Ryancare or trumpcare or whatever the f$ck you want to call the health insurance plan from hell, it looks like it will be dead on arrival.

On top of all that Russia and Wikileaks released a bunch of CIA files to try to distract everyone from the antics circus clown they put in charge of what used to be the USA. I don’t have room to write about everything, but here are a few reads to get you started.

Politico: Trump plan pays for immigration crackdown with cuts to coastal, air security.

The Trump administration wants to gut the Coast Guard and make deep cuts in airport and rail security to help pay for its crackdown on illegal immigration, according to internal budget documents reviewed by POLITICO — a move that lawmakers and security experts say defies logic if the White House is serious about defending against terrorism and keeping out undocumented foreigners.

The Office of Management and Budget is seeking a 14 percent cut to the Coast Guard’s $9.1 billion budget, the draft documents show, even as it proposes major increases to other Department of Homeland Security agencies to hire more border agents and immigration officers and construct a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The budget numbers mark the most detailed breakdown yet about how President Donald Trump envisions restructuring DHS to meet his pledge to halt illegal immigration and deport some of the millions already here.

Overall, DHS would get a 6 percent boost to its budget, to $43.8 billion. But to help pay for that, the administration would slice the budget of the Coast Guard and cut 11 percent in spending from the TSA — reductions that critics say would weaken safeguards against threats arriving by sea or air.

OMB also wants to cut 11 percent from the budget of FEMA, which oversees the national response to disasters such as floods and hurricanes.

The stupid is strong in this one. Obviously the mass deportation agenda has absolutely nothing to do with national security.

Speaking of national security, tRup appears to be mostly ignoring the international crisis being fomented by North Korea–at least he has said nothing publicly about how he plans to handle it. Rex Tillerson hasn’t said anything about this situation either. Has anyone seen or heard from him?  The Washington Post reports: North Korea says it was practicing to hit U.S. military bases in Japan with missiles.

North Korea was practicing to strike United States military bases in Japan with its latest barrage of missiles, state media in Pyongyang reported Tuesday, and it appeared to be trying to outsmart a new American antimissile battery being deployed to South Korea by firing multiple rockets at once.

Kim Jong Un presided over Monday’s launch of the four missiles, “feasting his eyes on the trails of ballistic rockets,” the state-run Korean Central News Agency reported in a statement that analysts called a “brazen declaration” of the country’s intent to strike enemies with a nuclear weapon if it came under attack.

“If the United States or South Korea fires even a single flame inside North Korean territory, we will demolish the origin of the invasion and provocation with a nuclear tipped missile,” the KCNA statement said.

The four ballistic missiles fired Monday morning were launched by the elite Hwasong ballistic missile division “tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan,” KCNA said. The United States has numerous military bases and about 54,000 military personnel stationed in Japan, the legacy of its postwar security alliance with the country.

Three of the four missiles flew about 600 miles over North Korea and landed in the sea, within Japan’s exclusive economic zone off the Oga Peninsula in Akita prefecture, home to a Japanese self-defense forces base. The fourth fell just outside the zone.

One thing that’s happening is that the US is sending an anti-missle defense system to South Korea, according to NBC News:

The United States has begun shipping a controversial anti-missile system to South Korea after North Korea test-launched four medium-range missiles on Monday, U.S. officials told NBC News.

The system, called THAAD, which stands for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, is an anti-missile system designed to counter a threat like that from North Korea.

Other THAAD systems are already active in Hawaii and Guam to defend against North Korea, but the shield hadn’t yet been deployed to South Korea — a scenario that Beijing has denounced as a “clear, present and substantive threat to China’s security interests.”

Two mobile launchers landed in South Korea late Monday, part of a missile defense system that the U.S. military says is meant to defend the country against a North Korean attack.
U.S. Forces Korea

I wonder if tRump will give us a heads-up if he decides to start a war with China and North Korea? Huffington Post: North Korea Warns Of ‘Actual War’ Over Military Exercises.

North Korea said on Tuesday it would pursue its nuclear deterrent and weapons program as huge U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises it says model a “pre-emptive nuclear attack” against Pyongyang continued.

South Korea and the United States, which led condemnation of North Korea’s latest missile tests at the Conference on Disarmament, said their military drills were to test defensive readiness against possible aggression from the North.

North Korean diplomat Ju Yong Choi told the United Nations-backed forum that the allies’ annual exercises were “a major cause of escalation of tension that might turn into actual war”.

“The DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is firm in its determination to further bolster its defense capabilities with a nuclear deterrent as a pivot so as to put an end to danger of nuclear war caused by the United States,” Ju said.

During the 90-minute session, envoys from more than 20 countries, including North Korea’s main ally China, as well as Britain, France, Russia and the United States, condemned North Korea’s test-firing of four ballistic missiles on Monday.

On the health insurance (definitely not health care) bill, here’s Sarah Kliff at Vox: The American Health Care Act: the Republicans’ bill to replace Obamacare, explained. Also at Vox, Ezra Klein: The GOP health bill doesn’t know what problem it’s trying to solve. You’ll need to go read both of those–there’s much too much to excerpt.

But here’s a little news from the ridiculous Jason Chaffetz. Think Progress: GOP congressman says Trumpcare will force people to choose between new iPhone and health insurance.

During a Tuesday morning appearance on CNN, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) suggested that under Trumpcare, Americans will face some tough choices — like buying an iPhone or making sure they can see a doctor.

Pressed by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota about whether he’s concerned Trumpcare’s reduced tax incentives and lack of individual mandate will result in less people having insurance, Chaffetz said, “Well, we’re getting rid of the individual mandate. We’re getting rid of those things that people said that they don’t want.” ….

The cost of a new iPhone 7 without a contract is roughly $700. By comparison, the per-capita cost of health care in the U.S. last year was $10,345. Even when insurance coverage that defrays some of that cost is factored in, Americans still spend way less on phones than they do on health care….

If too many healthy people decide to forego health care they don’t think they’ll need in favor of new phones under Trumpcare, prices will go up for those remaining in the health insurance market, creating a “death spiral.”

Chaffetz is such a nasty man, to paraphrase tRump on Hillary.

CIA headquarters in Langley, VA

The New York Times on the Wikileaks story, which sounds very serious: WikiLeaks Releases Trove of Alleged C.I.A. Hacking Documents.

WASHINGTON — WikiLeaks on Tuesday released thousands of documents that it said described sophisticated software tools used by the Central Intelligence Agency to break into smartphones, computers and even Internet-connected televisions.

If the documents are authentic, as appeared likely at first review, the release would be the latest coup for the anti-secrecy organization and a serious blow to the C.I.A., which maintains its own hacking capabilities to be used for espionage.

The initial release, which WikiLeaks said was only the first part of the document collection, included 7,818 web pages with 943 attachments, the group said. The entire archive of C.I.A. material consists of several hundred million lines of computer code, it said.

Among other disclosures that, if confirmed, would rock the technology world, the WikiLeaks release said that the C.I.A. and allied intelligence services had managed to bypass encryption on popular phone and messaging services such as Signal, WhatsApp and Telegram. According to the statement from WikiLeaks, government hackers can penetrate Android phones and collect “audio and message traffic before encryption is applied.”

The source of the documents was not named. WikiLeaks said the documents, which it called Vault 7, had been “circulated among former U.S. government hackers and contractors in an unauthorized manner, one of whom has provided WikiLeaks with portions of the archive.”

WikiLeaks said the source, in a statement, set out policy questions that “urgently need to be debated in public, including whether the C.I.A.’s hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers and the problem of public oversight of the agency.” The source, the group said, “wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.”

The documents, from the C.I.A’s Center for Cyber Intelligence, are dated from 2013 to 2016, and WikiLeaks described them as “the largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.” One former intelligence officer who briefly reviewed the documents on Tuesday morning said some of the code names for C.I.A. programs, an organization chart and the description of a C.I.A. hacking base appeared to be genuine.

It will be very interesting to see how tRump responds to this disastrous situation, which obviously is the work of his buddy Vladimir Putin.

Here’s an interesting article by Noah Feldman at Bloomberg on tRump’s accusation that former President Barack Obama “wiretapped” phones in tRump Tower: Trump’s Wiretap Tweets Raise Risk of Impeachment.

The sitting president has accused his predecessor of an act that could have gotten the past president impeached. That’s not your ordinary exercise of free speech. If the accusation were true, and President Barack Obama ordered a warrantless wiretap of Donald Trump during the campaign, the scandal would be of Watergate-level proportions.

But if the allegation is not true and is unsupported by evidence, that too should be a scandal on a major scale. This is the kind of accusation that, taken as part of a broader course of conduct, could get the current president impeached. We shouldn’t care that the allegation was made early on a Saturday morning on Twitter.

The basic premise of the First Amendment is that truth should defeat her opposite number. “Let her and Falsehood grapple,” wrote the poet and politician John Milton, “who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”

But this rather optimistic adage only accounts for speech and debate between citizens. It doesn’t apply to accusations made by the government. Those are something altogether different.

In a rule of law society, government allegations of criminal activity must be followed by proof and prosecution. If not, the government is ruling by innuendo.

Shadowy dictatorships can do that because there is no need for proof. Democracies can’t.

Thus, an accusation by a president isn’t like an accusation leveled by one private citizen against another. It’s about more than factual truth or carelessness.

Read the rest at the link.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a terrific Tuesday!


Lazy Saturday Reads

This apt visual analogy has been going around Twitter for a couple of days.

This apt visual analogy has been going around Twitter for a couple of days.

Good Morning!!

It’s just under two weeks until President Obama steps down and the Kremlin controls our government. Congressional Republicans are salivating–dreaming of taking away health care from millions of people and finally destroying Medicare and Social Security. They just can’t wait to destroy everything President Obama has accomplished, crash the economy again, and destroy as many jobs as they possibly can–all while claiming they are doing good work.

The New York Times: Erasing Obama, by Timothy Egan.

And Obama? He bequeaths the incoming president “the longest economic expansion and monthly job creation in history,” as my colleague Andrew Ross Sorkin noted. Trump, the pumpkin-haired rooster taking credit for the dawn, has already tried to seize a bit of that achievement as his own. Thanks, Obama. But he’s also likely to screw it up, perhaps by a trade war, or a budget-busting tax cut.

Already, Trump has flirted with treason, flouted conflict-of-interest rules, bullied dissidents and blown off the advice of seasoned public servants. He has yet to hold a news conference since winning the election. And did another day just pass without a word of the promise to “reveal things that other people don’t know” about Russian interference with our election? Maybe he’s waiting for more whispers in his ear from the Kremlin

n advance of his farewell adIdress next week, the president has tried to Trump-proof a climate pact that commits the world’s second leading producer of earth-warming pollutants — the United States — to making this little orb of ours a less perilous place for Sasha’s and Malia’s and Ivanka’s kids. Trump has promised to go rogue on the planet, as quickly as he can.

Until Day 1, Trump is just a 70-year-old man with a twitchy Twitter account. But on Jan. 20, he becomes what Grover Norquist wished for in a pliantly conservative president: “A Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen.”

With that pen, the new president can take health care from 20 million Americans, free Wall Street to once again wildly speculate and smash things up for the rest of us, and require schools to let people carry guns into classrooms — all campaign promises.

Please read the whole thing at the NYT.

Fortunately, the intelligence community has stated conclusively that Vladimir Putin ordered his cyberspies to interfere with the election. At this point, tRump can only be seen as an illegitimate POTUS. Unfortunately, tRump is threatening to neuter the intelligence community. He doesn’t need their help, because he gets his orders from Russia. If you think I’m just joking, look what intelligence expert Malcolm Nance had to say about it.

If that doesn’t scare every sane American, nothing will.

Nance published a book months ago about the Russian attack on our democracy, and it’s very similar to the report the intelligence community just issued. It’s fascinating reading, with lots of historical background on Russia’s spying activities.

This is from an ad at Yahoo News, but it’s a good summary of the book: Malcolm Nance, US intelligence expert, delivered Russian hacking details months before the CIA’s report.

In The Plot to Hack America, published one month before the election, New York Times bestselling author and MSNBC contributor Malcolm Nance not only identifies the hackers as Russian but digs deep into the biggest political scandal since Watergate.

In April of 2016, computer technicians at the Democratic National Committee discovered that someone had accessed the organization’s computer servers, learn more about cloud servers at Salesforce.com. In the days and weeks that followed, they learned that the cyberthieves had helped themselves to everything: sensitive documents, emails, donor information, even voicemails. Nance’s investigations led him to none other than Russia’s spy service. Their method: A new hybrid cyber warfare called Kompromat.

In The Plot to Hack America, we learn how technicians discovered that Russia’s spy agency was responsible for the hack, how the Russians have devastated individuals, political groups, and entire nations with their cybercrimes, and how they may have cultivated Donald Trump as an unwitting “asset” to facilitate their ultimate foreign policy goals: disband NATO, dominate Eastern Europe, and replace America as the world’s superpower.

But why would Vladimir Putin want to tip the scales of an American election? Nance follows the fascinating real-life spy story through a labyrinth of cyber espionage, the history of Russia’s spy services, and Vladimir Putin’s rise through the KGB from junior officer to spy-in-chief. And he details Donald Trump’s many disturbing personal associations with Putin and Russia’s oligarchy, as well as Trump’s loose affiliation of advisors nicknamed “the Kremlin Crew.”

The Plot to Hack America reads like a spy thriller, but it’s all too real.

I highly recommend it.

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Fortunately, the intelligence community has stated conclusively that Vladimir Putin ordered his cyberspies to interfere with the election. Unfortunately tRump is threatening to neuter the intelligence community. He doesn’t need their help, because he gets his orders from Russia. If you think I’m just joking, look what intelligence expert Malcolm Nance had to say about it.

Now check this out from WaPo conservative columnist Kathleen Parker: If Obama is a Muslim, is Trump a Russian spy?

No, I don’t really think he’s a spy because, unlike the man himself, I’m not given to crazy ideas. But what’s with this double standard? Under similar circumstances, how long do you think it would have taken for Obama to be called a traitor for defending a country that tried to thwart our democratic electoral process?

Seconds.

How surreal to realize that the man who soon will become president was long committed to a rumor soaked in paranoia and propagated by conspiracy theorists whose pursuit of truth stops at the point where facts and willful ignorance collide.

How perfectly terrifying.

And now? What is so obviously a conspiracy of Russian leadership, hackers and spies, Trump has repeatedly dismissed as lousy intelligence. Why would he do such a thing? Is it that he’s so thin-skinned he can’t tolerate anyone thinking that he might have benefited from the cyberattack? Or is it that he knew about it in advance and doesn’t want to be found out? This is how conspiracy theories get started. Then again, sometimes a conspiracy is just a conspiracy — and a fool is just a fool.

Actually, there’s little doubt that tRump is at least an unwitting tool of Putin; and if you look at his top advisers and cabinet choices, it seems quite likely that there was collusion between Russian spies and the tRump campaign.

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David Remnick: Trump, Putin and the Big Hack.

Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s foreign minister, once remarked while on a trip to Berlin in the early days of the Cold War, “The trouble with free elections is that you never know how they will turn out.”

On the morning of November 9th, Molotov’s grandson, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of the Russian Duma’s foreign-affairs committee, announced to the parliament, “Three minutes ago, Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the American Presidential elections. And just this second Donald Trump began his speech as President-elect.” The Duma members cheered and applauded.

In the days to come, there were more declarations of acid satisfaction among the Russian élite. Dmitri Kiselyov, the host of “News of the Week,” a popular current-affairs show on state-controlled television, gloated over Trump’s victory and Barack Obama’s inability to prevent it. Obama, he said, was a “eunuch.” Trump was an “alpha male”—and one who showed mercy to his vanquished rival. “Trump could have put the blonde in prison, as he’d threatened in the televised debates,” Kiselyov said on his show. “On the other hand, it’s nothing new. Trump has left blond women satisfied all his life.” Kiselyov further praised Trump because the concepts of democracy and human rights “are not in his lexicon.” In India, Turkey, Europe, and now the United States, he declared, “the liberal idea is in ruins.”

Vladimir Putin did not showboat, but he, too, made his satisfaction plain. His spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, told reporters that the similarity between Trump and Putin’s “conceptual approach to foreign policy” was “phenomenal.” Trump’s victory was the basis for Russia’s “moderate optimism”; now both sides could discuss how “to clear out the Augean stables in our bilateral relations.”

All of this is all the more alarming to recall now, in the light of the latest news: according to U.S. intelligence reports, Putin “ordered an influence campaign” to undermine Clinton and work with “a clear preference” to enhance Trump’s prospects.

Read the rest at The New Yorker.

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Finally, Former CIA Director Michael Morell at The New York Times: Trump’s Dangerous Anti-C.I.A. Crusade.

WHEN I wrote in August 2016, in this newspaper, that Donald J. Trump’s character traits posed a national security threat, I didn’t imagine that the first manifestation of that dynamic could play out with the very organization where I spent the first 33 years of my career, the Central Intelligence Agency.

President-elect Trump’s public rejection of the C.I.A., and by extension the rest of the country’s intelligence community, over the assessment that Russia interfered in our presidential election is not only an unprecedented political challenge for our national security establishment — it is a danger to the nation.

While Mr. Trump’s statement on Friday that he had a constructive meeting with senior intelligence officials on the Russian hacking issue was a step in the right direction, his disparagement of American intelligence officers over the last few months is likely to cause significant damage to the C.I.A.

Mr. Trump has questioned the agency’s competence — repeatedly asking, often via Twitter, how we can trust the organization that incorrectly judged that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (criticism that, in my mind, is unfair for an agency that has changed dramatically in the last 15 years). But he has also accused the agency of being biased and political, implying, in comments to The Times, that the C.I.A. manufactured its Russia analysis to undercut him. Mr. Trump, in essence, said that the agency’s officers were dishonorable. To the men and women of the C.I.A., sworn to protect the nation, this was a gut punch.

Mr. Trump’s behavior will weaken the agency, an organization that has never been more relevant to our nation’s security. The key national security issues of the day — terrorism; proliferation; cyberespionage, crime and war; and the challenges to the global order posed by Russia, Iran and China — all require first-rate intelligence for a commander in chief to understand them, settle on a policy and carry it out.

Please read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

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More News, Links Only

NBC News: U.S. Ethics Office Struggled to Gain Access to Trump Team, Emails Show.

Joe Conason: Investigate The Hackers — And Ignore Trump’s Chaff.

Newsweek: JORDAN TELLS TRUMP: MOVING U.S. EMBASSY TO JERUSALEM A ‘RED LINE.’

Washington Post: Hill Republicans embrace building of border wall, despite cost.

NewJersey.com: N.J. aunt of Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting suspect: ‘He lost his mind’ in Iraq.

New York Times: Jared Kushner, a Trump In-Law and Adviser, Chases a Chinese Deal.

Now I have to get back to packing for my move. Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers!