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.
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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!

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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. 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!

 

 


Tuesday Reads: I Hate 2016.

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Good Afternoon!!

Before I begin, news just broke that Carrie Fisher has died. I hate 2016.

I’ve defended President Obama for years now, but I’m disgusted with him right now. Obviously, the man has a huge ego and he’s not really much of a feminist except at at a surface level. Now he has joined Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders in claiming he would have beaten Donald Trump–and not a single one of those men did the work or went through the attacks that Hillary Clinton had to deal with. U.S. News:

President Barack Obama says he is “confident” he could have beaten Donald Trump if he was on the ballot this year, prompting the president-elect to respond with an defensive denial amid a flurry of tweets sent out late Monday night.

“President Obama said that he thinks he would have won against me,” Trump wrote. “He should say that but I say NO WAY! – jobs leaving, ISIS, OCare, etc.”

Trump was responding to Obama’s interview with former aide David Axelrod, in an episode of Axelrod’s podcast The Axe Files released Monday.

In a sit-down at the White House before departing last week for his annual Christmas getaway to Hawaii, Obama told Axelrod that he did not believe Trump’s election was a repudiation of the vision of a more inclusive America Obama had tried to convey in his campaigns and as president

“In the wake of the election and Trump winning, a lot of people have suggested that somehow, it really was a fantasy,” Obama said. “What I would argue is, is that the culture actually did shift, that the majority does buy into the notion of a one America that is tolerant and diverse and open and full of energy and dynamism.”

Yes, and Hillary did win a majority of votes–about as many as Obama got in 2012; but, never mind. A man would have done better, right? WTF?! And BTW, David Axelrod tore down Hillary throughout the campaign. Surely Obama must be aware of that fact?

Everyone, including he media, is now blaming Hillary for the coming apocalypse. No one wants to deal with the media’s year-long obsession with emails or their failure to adequately investigation and report on the Russian interference in the election. Many reporters are rushing to excuse James Comey’s successful efforts to hurt Clinton shortly before election day.

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Here’s an unscientific investigation by Sam Stein (who has actually been pretty friendly to Clinton): Did James Comey Cost Hillary Clinton The Election? We Asked The Late-Deciding Voters.

For months, as the election wound down to its bitter conclusion, Leonard Rainey of Louisiana struggled over which presidential candidate he’d support.

In the past, the choice would have been simple. Rainey, 33, leans Republican. He voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. But like others this cycle, he found the idea of backing GOP nominee Donald Trump repugnant, matched only by the nausea that accompanied the thought of pulling the lever for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

He entertained sitting out the election. But, as he said, “you don’t have a right to bitch if you don’t vote.” So he pored over the news in search of guidance. It became overwhelming. Each WikiLeaks revelation was a new micro-drama; every Trump debate performance an eye-opener.

“His mouth doesn’t fucking stop,” he said after the second one.

By the final week, the continuous revelations and conspiracy theories surrounding Clinton were taking a toll. Rainey had heard something about Clinton’s ties to a pedophilia ring ― a hoax that led an armed man to fire shots in a D.C.-based pizzeria. He found Clinton Foundation ties to the Saudis and Qatari government disturbing.

The night before Election Day, Rainey kept worrying about how a President Trump might navigate a complex international standoff. He woke up wondering if Clinton was the right choice. But in the end, he voted for Trump anyway ― an uninspired, rote contribution to American democracy.

“You could have put up anybody else against him,” Rainey said. “But they just picked a bad candidate.”

Well that proves it then. A life-long Republican from Louisiana thinks Clinton was a “bad candidate,” and a few other folks that Stein talked to said similar things. Stein quotes five men and one woman in his piece. Most were Republicans, and one was a Bernie bro. Case closed.

Meanwhile, instead of rehashing the election and making unprovable claims, maybe Obama should be reflecting on his failure to act when he might have been able to reduce the damage done by Putin and Comey or at least take action to punish Russia for stealing our election. He might also want to think about why he failed to take any action to prevent what looks to be genocide in Syria.

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The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen: Thanks to no-drama Obama, American leadership is gone.

If Dec. 7, 1941, is the day that Franklin D. Roosevelt said “will live in infamy,” then Dec. 20, 2016, has got to be a close second. No Americans died that day as they did at Pearl Harbor, but the American Century, as Time magazine founder Henry Luce called it, came to a crashing end. Turkey, Iran and Russia met in Moscow to settle matters in the Middle East. The United States wasn’t even asked to the meeting.

Winston Churchill said in 1942 that he had not become Great Britain’s“First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.” Nonetheless, by the end of the 1940s, much of the empire was gone. Churchill was an unapologetic colonialist, but he was up against liberation movements of all kinds, not to mention the antipathy of the United States to imperialist ambitions — in short, history itself. Churchill had a marvelous way with words, and greatness accompanied him like a shadow, but in certain ways he was a 19th-century man wandering, confounded, in the 20th.

Barack Obama is quite the reverse. He is a 21st-century man who never quite appreciated the lessons of the 20th. He has been all too happy to preside over the loss of American influence. Aleppo, Syria, now a pile of rubble, is where countless died — as did American influence. The Russians polished it off from the air, doing for the Syrian regime what the United States could not figure out how to do for the rebels. The city hemorrhaged civilian dead, and America, once the preeminent power in the region, did virtually nothing.

It could be that Obama was right. It could be that all along he knew that the rebels were beyond saving — although he predicted that Bashar al-Assad would be toppled — and, anyway, the United States was not going to again get into some Middle Eastern quagmire. America had twice made war in Iraq; it had lost Marines in Lebanon. Though perhaps these were just excuses to do nothing. After all, no one ever recommended putting boots on the ground in Syria. That was Obama’s straw man.

And now we are headed toward autocracy. That will be Obama’s legacy.

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Here’s an interesting article by Yochi Dreazen at Vox: I’ve spent 15 years covering national security. I’ve never seen anything like the Russia hack.

National security has been the focus of virtually all of my professional life….But I’ve never covered anything quite like Russia’s hack of the Democratic National Committee’s servers and the email account of Clinton campaign chair John Podesta, moves designed to steal and then release information damaging to the Democratic presidential nominee.

Think about it this way: In a best-case scenario, Russian President Vladimir Putin has managed to persuade tens of millions of Americans to question the integrity of the US political system and the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s narrow win. In a worst-case scenario, the Kremlin just handed the White House to the most jarringly pro-Russian presidential candidate in American history.

Imagine I had told you, in 2013, that this would happen — that Russia would successfully hack into a political party’s servers and use the revelations to try to change the course of an American presidential election. Imagine you didn’t know which party benefited, so there was no reason to downplay the event’s horror, or shrink from its implications. How much of a freakout would you have predicted across America? What sort of response would you have expected? How angry, specifically, would you have expected Republicans — a traditionally Russo-skeptic party — to be?

And yet there may be no response. Nor is it even obvious what the response should, or would, be. Part of me thinks we should consider this to be a case of espionage (stealing the documents in the first place) paired with an unusually sophisticated propaganda effort (leaking the sexiest material slowly to dominate the news cycle in the final weeks before the election). Part of me thinks we should consider this to be an act of war, no different than if Putin had launched a cyberattack that took down the electrical grid or the banking system. And part of me thinks it’s something new entirely — a hybrid that is more than mere spying but less than an outright assault.

I’m at even more of a loss when it comes to thinking about what the US should do in response. Russia doesn’t have real elections, so there’s no Putin rival for Washington to quietly try to help win the presidency. The US could try to embarrass the Russian leader by releasing details of the tens of billions of dollars that he and his closest allies are believed to have squirreled away in a labyrinth of offshore bank accounts. Putin controls Russia’s media, though, so it’s not clear if that information would reach many Russians. Given Putin’s sky-high approval ratings, it’s not also clear if many Russians would care. And not even Russia hawks think Obama would — or should — retaliate with military force.

I’m left with a pair of depressing conclusions: Putin got the president he wanted, and he’ll likely escape without any serious retribution for his direct attack on American democracy — in fact, he’s likely to get the most pro-Russian president, and pro-Russian administration, in recent American history. His operation will have been an extraordinary success, and so the US won’t be the only Western power that Putin targets: German politicians are already warning that Russian hacking threatens their upcoming elections.

Please read the rest at Vox.

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And check this out at Newsweek too: Neil Buchanan: American Democracy is on Life Support. Here’s the intro:

Is it too late to save constitutional democracy in the United States?

It is possible that there is nothing that can be done to prevent Donald Trump’s presidency from turning the U.S. into an autocratic state, completing the Republicans’ generation-long effort to make sure that only certain people are allowed to participate in our weakening republic.

Even if that is true—and no one can say with certainty, at this point in history, whether we will indeed go down that path—it is important to decide how to proceed even in the face of inevitable disaster.

Should people who believe in the rule of law act as if there is something still to be done to save the nation from political death, or should they face reality and merely try to minimize the pain as the patient dies slowly in hospice care?

Here, I will explain why it is so difficult to see a hopeful path forward after the 2016 elections. The deep problem is not merely that the Democrats will not control any branch of the federal government or most state governments, although that is obviously a huge disability.

The ultimate problem is that Trump and the Republicans have thrown off any hint of good faith, which means that Democrats who try to bargain with them might be fated to be played for suckers.

In such circumstances, Democrats could choose to simply ease people’s pain as the republic fades away. Like palliative care for the dying, strategies that would be unthinkable for other patients—such as administering high doses of painkillers—might now make sense.

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One more from CNN: It’s your duty to laugh at Donald Trump, by Rob Crilly.

Time and time again he has shown himself vulnerable to mockery. Humor is Kryptonite to his thin-skinned existence.
He is utterly impervious to the usual weapons of politics. Try to wound him with shame or embarrass him with public scrutiny and you may as well try to sink a duck by pouring a jug of H2O over its rear end.
But we all know the size of his hands. Graydon Carter’s long-running feud with the “short-fingered vulgarian”, as he so pithily put it, recently resurfaced in the pages of Vanity Fair, where a waiter at the Trump Grill was quoted discussing the size of his bosses’ digits.
Inevitably, the orange-haired bloviator responded with a humorless tirade on Twitter.
Trump’s sensitivity is easily understood when you realize he is on a desperate quest to be taken seriously. Just remember the face he pulled when he sat beside Barack Obama in the Oval Office on that Thursday after an election.
it was the sort of face a three-year-old exhibits when they really, really want you know they are concentrating. Or when they are trying to squeeze out a number two.
Please go read the whole thing.

What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Winter Is Coming, In More Ways Than One.

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Good Morning Sky Dancers,

Winter is coming, in more ways than one. Cold and dark is settling in here in New England. As we all know, we face the possibility of terrible times to come in our country as a result of the election of Donald tRump and the global rise of right wing authoritarian leaders.

Personally, I’m going through a tough time right now. I will be evicted from my home sometime soon. I’m not sure when it will happen–it could be a month or it could be a few months. I have applied for senior housing in my town, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to stay here long enough to get an apartment. If I can’t do that, I’ll have to go back to Indiana and try to find housing there.

As you can imagine, I’m pretty overwhelmed emotionally and physically, and I’m actually feeling situationally depressed for the first time in years. Frankly, I think the depression is more related to the Trump horror than to my personal troubles. My housing situation has been up in the air for years, and I’m actually looking forward to getting out of this place. It’s just the process of doing it that is getting me down.

As you can imagine, I’m having some trouble concentrating and that affects my ability to read and write about the news. Anyway, here’s what I have for you today. It’s a mixed bag.

The New York Times: ‘A Complete Meltdown of Humanity’: Civilians Die in Fight for Eastern Aleppo.

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Pro-government forces retaking the eastern neighborhoods of the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo killed at least 82 civilians on Monday, the United Nations estimated, in what one official called “a complete meltdown of humanity.”

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, warned that the blood bath in Aleppo, a once-thriving northern metropolis that is close to falling under the government’s complete control after more than four years of fighting, could spread to other cities where rebels are active.

“What is happening with Aleppo could repeat itself in Douma, in Raqqa, in Idlib,” he said on Tuesday. “We cannot let this continue.”

Also on Tuesday, the French government said it was “deeply concerned” about reports of a chemical attack in the eastern suburbs of the city of Hama a day earlier. The Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, an international coalition of humanitarian groups, said the attack had killed at least 93 civilians and wounded 300, but those numbers could not be confirmed independently.

The death toll for eastern Aleppo, recorded in four neighborhoods — Bustan al-Qasr, al-Fardous, al-Kallaseh and al-Saleheen — included 11 women and 13 children, some shot in the streets as they tried to flee the fighting, said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights. He cited reports the world body had received from reliable contacts inside and outside the city.

Mr. Colville said pro-government forces had also reportedly entered homes and killed those they found inside, including women and children.

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I’ll be honest. Maybe deep down I’m a hawk like so many have claimed about Hillary, but I don’t understand why the Obama administration has done so little to oppose the Russians in Syria and Ukraine. I also favored the intervention in Libya and, like Hillary, I still think it was the right thing to do. I admit I’m no expert, but to see the human misery that is coming out of Syria is far beyond heartbreaking. Yet, it appears the U.S. will not act.

Vox: This Trump voter didn’t think Trump was serious about repealing her health insurance.

Debbie Mills is a 53-year-old furniture store owner in Bell County, an area of the state right on the Tennessee border. Earlier this year, doctors discovered that her husband has non-alcoholic cirrhosis. He now needs a transplant if he’s going to survive. Mills and her husband keep a bag packed, waiting for the doctors to call with news that a liver is available.

 This all means that Mills really, really needs her health insurance. And she’s very grateful for the Affordable Care Act, because she couldn’t afford insurance before it was passed.

And yet she voted for Donald Trump. Until we spoke, she said she hadn’t taken Trump’s repeal threats seriously. As we talked, she started to process what his election might mean for her family’s future.

Two excerpts from the interview:

On voting for Trump

Sarah Kliff

So how did you decide to vote for him, since he’s one of the people promising to repeal Obamacare?

Debbie Mills

Well … we liked him because he just seemed to be a businessman.

We’re in a small, rural area where there’s not a lot of businesses right now going on, and so we can’t really have anything else shut down, because it affects everybody.

Michele Palazzo, photo of winter storm Jonas in NYC, 2016

Michele Palazzo, photo of winter storm Jonas in NYC, 2016

We were in an area where there’s lots of coal. And so we don’t work in the coal mines, but … one job affects this job and affects this job. If they’re not working, they’re not grocery shopping, they’re not going and buying furniture, they’re not buying clothes, they’re not doing anything.

We’re more or less sort of a general store. We sell a little bit of everything. But the coal miners are not able to purchase anything.

Christmas is a lot different than what it used to be because they were getting their Christmas bonuses. And they would come and they would buy the TVs and the recliners and they would redo the whole kitchen and do new dining room tables for the family Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever. And now it’s not like that.

On losing their health insurance

Sarah Kliff

Do you think if it does go away, you’ll regret your vote in any way? Thinking, “I voted for this person who took away my health insurance.” Or … it’s like, that’s one of so many things, like you said, jobs, the economy?

Debbie Mills

I don’t know. I guess I thought that, you know, he would not do this. That they would not do this, would not take the insurance away. Knowing that it’s affecting so many people’s lives. I mean, what are you to do then if you cannot … purchase, cannot pay for the insurance?

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You know, what are we to do?

So I don’t know. Maybe he’s thinking about, you know, the little people that are not making the big money, like what they make in New York and Washington and all the places that, you know, this is not, you know, something — this is people’s lives that’s being affected.

Honestly, I should feel sorry for people like this, but my financial situation is probably a lot worse than theirs. I guess I’m sorry they are so ignorant and maybe even stupid, but I have a lot more anger than pity toward tRump voters. I guess that makes me nasty. Well I’m OK with being a nasty woman right now.

Last night Chris Hayes and Bernie Sanders had a “town hall” meeting with tRump voters in Wisconsin. There is no way in hell I was going to watch that. I’m sick and tired of the obsession with the so-called “white working class” in the “rust belt.” Meanwhile, the millions and millions of women, African American, Latino, Asian and other Clinton voters are disrespected and ignored.

We tried to save this country. Bernie Sanders did nothing to help and plenty to hurt Clinton’s chances. It’s time for Sanders to either start acting rather than talking. Let him get a Democratic governor elected in Wisconsin, Michigan, or Pennsylvania. Then maybe I’ll listen to him.

Meanwhile, a good story for Chris Hayes to cover would be the conflicts of interest at his own network, NBC.

I liked this piece at the Paris Review on women and aging: Becoming Invisible: An Interview with Mary Ruefle.

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Well, thematically, aging and death become one in the same for writers, and very often you lose young readership because you’re no longer interested in the things young people are interested in. The time for exuberance, energy, endless curiosity, endless activity within a body of work, that drops away and everything becomes bittersweet. But this becoming invisible—all women talk about it. There’s a period of transition that’s so disorienting that you’re confused and horrified by it, you can’t get a grip on it, but it does pass. You endure it, and you are patient, and it falls away. And then you come into a new kind of autonomy that you simply didn’t have when you were young. You didn’t have it when your parents were alive, you didn’t have it back when you were once a woman to be seen. It’s total autonomy and freedom, and you become a much stronger person. You’re not answerable to anyone anymore. For me, it was a journey of shedding the sense of needing to please someone—parents, children, partners.

Men don’t become invisible in the same way. There’s a difference in power between men and women, and I know I’m using an archaic formula but I do belong to another century. For the longest time, male power was posited in the accumulation of wealth or experience, and experience was something every man could have. And a woman’s power was always posited on physical attractiveness, the ability to have children. So as a man ages, he gains power, and as a woman ages, she loses it, or feels as though she does. If you go back to this paradox, which I understand people may find antiquated, you find there are still shards and shreds of it everywhere.

Read the rest at the link.

More reads, links only:

Summer Brennan at The Literary Hub: Notes from the Resistance, a Column on Language and Power.

The Cipher Brief: Fmr. CIA Acting Dir. Michael Morell: “This Is the Political Equivalent of 9/11.”

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The Washington Post: Trump risks war by turning the One China question into a bargaining chip

The New Republic: The Democrats Must Stop Ceding the Security State to Republicans.

Michael Isakoff: Suspected Russian cyberattack waged on Clinton campaign just days before vote.

The Washington Post: Nixon saw Trump coming. But he wouldn’t have supported him.

Mother Jones: A Guide to Donald Trump’s Huge Debts—and the Conflicts They Present.

Vanity Fair: Why Angry White America Fell for Putin.

The Daily Beast: President Obama on Campaign Hacks: ‘Very Clear Relationships’ Between Team Trump and Russia.

Huffington Post: Harry Reid: The Trump Campaign ‘Was In On’ Russia’s Election Hacking.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy the rest of your Tuesday.


Lazy Saturday Reads

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Good Morning!!

So now we know for certain what many of us have believed for months: Russia interfered in the 2016 election in order to put Donald #tRump in the White House. Not only that, we know that Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell and other GOP leaders knew this and argued against release that information to the American public. We now know that Mitch McConnell told President Obama that if the administration. And perhaps just as troubling, we know that President Obama chose not to release the information even after James Comey put his own finger on the scale in order to elect #tRump.

The Washington Post: Secret CIA assessment says Russia was trying to help Trump win White House.

The CIA has concluded in a secret assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Donald Trump win the presidency, rather than just to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system, according to officials briefed on the matter.

Intelligence agencies have identified individuals with connections to the Russian government who provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and others, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, according to U.S. officials. Those officials described the individuals as actors known to the intelligence community and part of a wider Russian operation to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances.

“It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia’s goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,” said a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. senators. “That’s the consensus view.”

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This was made very clear to the President Obama and to Congressional leaders well before the election. And James Comey knew all about it too.

The Obama administration has been debating for months how to respond to the alleged Russian intrusions, with White House officials concerned about escalating tensions with Moscow and being accused of trying to boost Clinton’s campaign.

In September, during a secret briefing for congressional leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) voiced doubts about the veracity of the intelligence, according to officials present.

The response of the #tRump transition team was a series of blatant lies.

The Trump transition team dismissed the findings in a short statement issued Friday evening. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again,’ ” the statement read.

Here is what #tRump told Time Magazine in their “person of the year” interview:

I don’t believe they interfered. That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say ‘oh, Russia interfered.’

Why not get along with Russia? And they can help us fight ISIS, which is both costly in lives and costly in money. And they’re effective and smart.

It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.

I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals.

As we all know, #tRump is not even taking his daily intelligence briefings, and his transition team has not even been in contact with the intelligence officials who need to help them get up to speed on how these government functions work. It seems pretty clear that #tRump plans to get his security briefings from Vladimir Putin.

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Where are the Democrats? This is a constitutional crisis. It is hundreds of times more serious than Watergate, and yet our so-called “leaders” are ho-humming and getting ready for their long winter vacations. We need immediate public investigations not only of the Russian interference but also of FBI Director James Comey. And Mitch McConnell needs to be forced to answer some tough questions STAT.

The New York Times reported this morning that Russia also hacked the RNC but held onto the data, probably for future use. They’ll be able to blackmail Republicans to prevent serious investigations.

American intelligence agencies have concluded with “high confidence” that Russia acted covertly in the latter stages of the presidential campaign to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances and promote Donald J. Trump, according to senior administration officials.

They based that conclusion, in part, on another finding — which they say was also reached with high confidence — that the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.

In the months before the election, it was largely documents from Democratic Party systems that were leaked to the public. Intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russians gave the Democrats’ documents to WikiLeaks.

Republicans have a different explanation for why no documents from their networks were ever released. Over the past several months, officials from the Republican committee have consistently said that their networks were not compromised, asserting that only the accounts of individual Republicans were attacked. On Friday, a senior committee official said he had no comment.

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But that’s not what the intelligence community says.

It is possible that in hacking into the Republican committee, Russian agents were simply hedging their bets. The attack took place in the spring, the senior officials said, about the same time that a group of hackers believed to be linked to the G.R.U., Russia’s military intelligence agency, stole the emails of senior officials of the Democratic National Committee. Intelligence agencies believe that the Republican committee hack was carried out by the same Russians who penetrated the Democratic committee and other Democratic groups.

The finding about the Republican committee is expected to be included in a detailed report of “lessons learned” that Mr. Obama has ordered intelligence agencies to assemble before he leaves office on Jan. 20. That report is intended, in part, to create a comprehensive history of the Russian effort to influence the election, and to solidify the intelligence findings before Mr. Trump is sworn in.

Too little, too late. Perhaps if some Republicans discover some patriotic feelings in their hearts, we will get investigations. Meanwhile the Electoral Colleges votes on December 19.

AP Big Story: Obama orders review of election-season hacking.

President Barack Obama has ordered intelligence officials to conduct a broad review of election-season cyberattacks, including the email hacks that rattled the presidential campaign and raised fresh concerns about Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections, the White House said Friday.

The review, led by intelligence agencies, will be a “deep dive” into a possible pattern of increased “malicious cyber activity” timed to the campaign season, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said. The review will look at the tactics, targets, key actors and the U.S. government’s response to the recent email hacks, as well as incidents reported in past elections, he said.

The president ordered up the report earlier this week and asked that it be completed before he leaves office next month, Schultz said.

“The president wanted this done under his watch because he takes it very seriously,” he said. “We are committed to ensuring the integrity of our elections.”

Just not seriously enough to do it before the election.

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Aaron Blake at The Fix on the situation Republicans are in now:

The report highlights and exacerbates the increasingly fraught situation in which congressional Republicans find themselves with regard to Russia and Trump. By acknowledging and digging into the increasing evidence that Russia helped — or at least attempted to help — tip the scales in Trump’s favor, they risk raising questions about whether Trump would have won without Russian intervention.

Trump, after all, won by a margin of about 80,000 votes cast across three states, winning each of the decisive states by less than one percentage point. So even a slight influence could have plausibly made the difference, though we’ll never be able to prove it one way or another.

While saying that Russia clearly tried to help Trump doesn’t inherently call into question the legitimacy of Trump’s win —earlier Friday, the White House made sure to emphasize that it’s not making that case — it’s not hard to connect the dots. And Trump and his party know it. The Post’s report cited Republicans who expressed skepticism about the available evidence when presented with it in September, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

In addition, any GOP effort to dig into the matter risks antagonizing the president-elect, who has said flatly that he doesn’t believe Russia interfered with the election, despite receiving intelligence briefings to the contrary. And he’s proved more than willing to go after fellow Republicans who run afoul of him.

On the other hand, if Republicans play down the issue, they risk giving a pass to an antagonistic foreign power that significant majorities of Americans and members of Congress do not trust and which, if the evidence is accurate, wields significant power to wage successful cyberwarfare with the United States.

176294_600 one hero in all this is Harry Reid, who wrote an explosive letter to James Comey in October. From the WaPo:

Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid on Sunday accused FBI Director James B. Comey of breaking federal law in disclosing possible new evidence in the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Reid (D-Nev.) said in a letter sent to Comey that his disclosure to Congress, made 11 days before the election, might have violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits partisan politicking by government employees.

“Your actions in recent months have demonstrated a disturbing double standard for the treatment of sensitive information, with what appears to be a clear intent to aid one political party over another,” Reid wrote. “I am writing to inform you that my office has determined that these actions may violate the Hatch Act, which bars FBI officials from using their official authority to influence an election. Through your partisan actions, you may have broken the law.”

Reid did a telephone interview with Joy Reid this morning, and if you didn’t hear it, please check it out. Reid’s entire show this morning was “must watch TV.”

Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy your weekend. We don’t have much longer before our government is turned over to an authoritarian puppet of Russia.


Lazy Saturday Reads

Cuban-Americans celebrate upon hearing about the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Fla., on Saturday. AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Cuban-Americans celebrate upon hearing about the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami, Fla., on Saturday.
AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Good Morning!!

The big news this morning is the death of Fidel Castro. From the AP via the NYT: Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Who Defied US for 50 Years, Dies at 90.

Former President Fidel Castro, who led a rebel army to improbable victory in Cuba, embraced Soviet-style communism and defied the power of 10 U.S. presidents during his half century rule, has died at age 90.

With a shaking voice, President Raul Castro said on state television that his older brother died at 10:29 p.m. Friday. He ended the announcement by shouting the revolutionary slogan: “Toward victory, always!”

Castro’s reign over the island-nation 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Florida was marked by the U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis a year later that brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The bearded revolutionary, who survived a crippling U.S. trade embargo as well as dozens, possibly hundreds, of assassination plots, died 10 years after ill health forced him to hand power over to Raul.

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Castro overcame imprisonment at the hands of dictator Fulgencio Batista, exile in Mexico and a disastrous start to his rebellion before triumphantly riding into Havana in January 1959 to become, at age 32, the youngest leader in Latin America. For decades, he served as an inspiration and source of support to revolutionaries from Latin America to Africa.

His commitment to socialism was unwavering, though his power finally began to fade in mid-2006 when a gastrointestinal ailment forced him to hand over the presidency to Raul in 2008, provisionally at first and then permanently. His defiant image lingered long after he gave up his trademark Cohiba cigars for health reasons and his tall frame grew stooped.

“Socialism or death” remained Castro’s rallying cry even as Western-style democracy swept the globe and other communist regimes in China and Vietnam embraced capitalism, leaving this island of 11 million people an economically crippled Marxist curiosity.

The Times also has a lengthy obituary: Fidel Castro, Cuban Revolutionary Who Defied U.S., Dies at 90.

Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died Friday. He was 90….

In declining health for several years, Mr. Castro had orchestrated what he hoped would be the continuation of his Communist revolution, stepping aside in 2006 when he was felled by a serious illness. He provisionally ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raúl, now 85, and two years later formally resigned as president. Raúl Castro, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro from the earliest days of the insurrection and remained minister of defense and his brother’s closest confidant, has ruled Cuba since then, although he has told the Cuban people he intends to resign in 2018.

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Fidel Castro had held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II. He became a towering international figure whose importance in the 20th century far exceeded what might have been expected from the head of state of a Caribbean island nation of 11 million people.

He dominated his country with strength and symbolism from the day he triumphantly entered Havana on Jan. 8, 1959, and completed his overthrow of Fulgencio Batista by delivering his first major speech in the capital before tens of thousands of admirers at the vanquished dictator’s military headquarters.

A spotlight shone on him as he swaggered and spoke with passion until dawn. Finally, white doves were released to signal Cuba’s new peace. When one landed on Mr. Castro, perching on a shoulder, the crowd erupted, chanting “Fidel! Fidel!” To the war-weary Cubans gathered there and those watching on television, it was an electrifying sign that their young, bearded guerrilla leader was destined to be their savior.

Much more at the link.

Meanwhile, we’re in the midst of a shocking revolution here at home. Our government has been essentially taken over by a hostile foreign state, and it appears that no one in power is doing anything about it. It looks like we are going to be ruled by billionaires–are we really going to allow our country to become a Russian oligarchy?

The Washington Post: Americans keep looking away from the election’s most alarming story, by Eric Chenowith.

In assessing Donald Trump’s presidential victory, Americans continue to look away from this election’s most alarming story: the successful effort by a hostile foreign power to manipulate public opinion before the vote.

U.S. intelligence agencies determined that the Russian government actively interfered in our elections. Russian state propaganda gave little doubt that this was done to support President-elect Trump, who repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin and excused the Russian president’s foreign aggression and domestic repression. Most significantly, U.S. intelligence agencies have affirmed that the Russian government directedthe illegal hacking of private email accounts of the Democratic National Committee and prominent individuals. The emails were then released by WikiLeaks, which has benefited financially from a Russian state propaganda arm, used Russian operatives for security and made clear an intent to harm the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.

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From the Russian perspective, the success of this operation can hardly be overstated. News stories on the DNC emails released in July served to disrupt the Democratic National Convention, instigate political infighting and suggest for some supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — without any real proof — that the Democratic primary had been “rigged” against their candidate. On Oct. 7, WikiLeaks began near dailydumps from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s email account, generating a month of largely negative reporting on Clinton, her campaign staff, her husband and their foundation. With some exceptions, there was little news in the email beyond political gossip and things the media had covered before, now revisited from a seemingly “hidden” viewpoint.
Russian (and former communist) propaganda has traditionally worked exactly this way: The more you “report” something negatively, the more the negative is true. Trump and supportive media outlets adopted the technique and reveled in information gained from the illegal Russian hacking (as well as many “fake news” stories that evidencesuggestswere generated by Russian intelligence operations) to make exaggerated claims (“Hillary wants to open borders to 600 million people!”) or to accuse Clinton of illegality, corruption and, ironically, treasonous behavior.
Does anyone in the Obama administration have serious concerns about this? And what about possible connections between Russia and factions in FBI? I can only hope that efforts to deal with the situation are going on behind the scenes, but it sure doesn’t seem that way. Instead, it looks like the Obama administration is focused on making things easier for Trump and his Russian oligarch pals.

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NYT: U.S. Officials Defend Integrity of Vote, Despite Hacking Fears.

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration said on Friday that despite Russian attempts to undermine the presidential election, it has concluded that the results “accurately reflect the will of the American people.”

The statement came as liberal opponents of Donald J. Trump, some citing fears of vote hacking, are seeking recounts in three states — Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania — where his margin of victory was extremely thin.

A drive by Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, for recounts in those states had brought in more than $5 million by midday on Friday, her campaign said, and had increased its goal to $7 million. She filed for a recount in Wisconsin on Friday, about an hour before the deadline.

In its statement, the administration said, “The Kremlin probably expected that publicity surrounding the disclosures that followed the Russian government-directed compromises of emails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations, would raise questions about the integrity of the election process that could have undermined the legitimacy of the president-elect.”

That was a reference to the breach of the Democratic National Committee’s email system, and the leak of emails from figures like John D. Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

“Nevertheless, we stand behind our election results, which accurately reflect the will of the American people,” it added.

I don’t get it. So President Obama really isn’t that interested in fighting for his legacy anymore? And there’s this from The Hill: Obama urged Clinton to concede on election night.

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President Barack Obama called Hillary Clinton to persuade her to concede the White House on election night, according to a forthcoming book on Clinton’s defeat.

Authors Amie Parnes, The Hill’s senior White House correspondent, and Jonathan Allen cite three Clintonworld sources familiar with the election-night request in the unreleased book from Crown Publishing.

“You need to concede,” Obama told his former secretary of State as she, her family, and her top aides continued to watch results trickle in from the key Rust Belt states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The latter state, called after 1:30 a.m. by The Associated Press, was the clear tipping point for the White House race, ensuring Trump would crest over the 270 electoral-vote threshold needed to win.

Clinton ultimately heeded Obama’s advice and called Trump to acknowledge her defeat in the early morning hours Wednesday….

Obama’s call left a sour taste in the mouths of some Clinton allies who believe she should have waited longer, and there’s now a fight playing out between the Obama and Clinton camps over whether to support an effort to force the Rust Belt states to recount their votes.

Meanwhile, efforts to get recounts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania are moving forward. The Wisconsin Election Commission: Wisconsin Elections Commission Receives Two Presidential Election Recount Petitions.

MADISON, WI – The Wisconsin Elections Commission today received two recount petitions from the Jill Stein for President Campaign and from Rocky Roque De La Fuente, Administrator Michael Haas announced.

“The Commission is preparing to move forward with a statewide recount of votes for President of the United States, as requested by these candidates,” Haas said.

“We have assembled an internal team to direct the recount, we have been in close consultation with our county clerk partners, and have arranged for legal representation by the Wisconsin Department of Justice,” Haas said. “We plan to hold a teleconference meeting for county clerks next week and anticipate the recount will begin late in the week after the Stein campaign has paid the recount fee, which we are still calculating.”

The last statewide recount was of the Supreme Court election in 2011.  At that time, the Associated Press surveyed county clerks and reported that costs to the counties exceeded $520,000, though several counties did not respond to the AP’s survey.  That election had 1.5 million votes, and Haas said the Commission expects the costs to be higher for an election with 2.975 million votes.  “The Commission is in the process of obtaining cost estimates from county clerks so that we can calculate the fee which the campaigns will need to pay before the recount can start,” Haas said. The Commission will need to determine how the recount costs will be assessed to the campaigns.

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The state is working under a federal deadline of December 13 to complete the recount. As a result, county boards of canvassers may need to work evenings and weekends to meet the deadlines. “The recount process is very detail-oriented, and this deadline will certainly challenge some counties to finish on time,” Haas said.

A recount is different than an audit and is more rigorous, Haas explained.  More than 100 reporting units across the state were randomly selected for a separate audit of their voting equipment as required by state law, and that process has already begun.  Electronic voting equipment audits determine whether all properly-marked ballots are accurately tabulated by the equipment.  In a recount, all ballots (including those that were originally hand counted) are examined to determine voter intent before being retabulated. In addition, the county boards of canvassers will examine other documents, including poll lists, written absentee applications, rejected absentee ballots, and provisional ballots before counting the votes.

Haas noted that the Commission’s role is to order the recount, to provide legal guidance to the counties during the recount, and to certify the results.  If the candidates disagree with the results of the recount, the law gives them the right to appeal in circuit court within five business days after the recount is completed.  The circuit court is where issues are resolved that may be discovered during the recount but are not resolved to the satisfaction of the candidates.

The Detroit News: Mich. readies for presidential recount as cutoff looms.

Lansing — Elections officials are preparing for a possible presidential election recount in Michigan that could begin as soon as next week, state Director of Elections Chris Thomas said Friday.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein has indicated she plans to jumpstart a recount in the Great Lakes state over fears that Michigan’s election results could have been manipulated by hackers. Republican President-elect Donald won the state by 10,704 votes over Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to unofficial updated resultsposted Wednesday.

By Friday afternoon, Stein had raised more than $5 million of her $7 million goal to cover the cost of a recount in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan “to ensure the integrity of our elections” because “there is a significant need to verify machine-counted vote totals,” according to her campaign website. Stein finished nearly 2.3 million votes behind Trump in Michigan and received 1.1 percent of the vote.

Michigan’s deadline for initiating a recount is Wednesday. “We have not heard from anybody,” Thomas said about a Stein recount request. “We’re just trying to be proactive, make sure we have plans.”

Thomas said officials “could probably begin by the end of the week,” although it will be “a huge undertaking in a very short period of time” if it happens.

That’s all I have for you today. I admit that I’ve been sinking into depression and despair over the past few days. I don’t know how to deal with this nightmare. I’m not giving up; I’m just in a state of extreme confusion and not sure how to come out of it yet.

Take care Sky Dancers! I love you all.


Tuesday Reads: The Trumpocracy Takes Shape

Trumpocracy

Trumpocracy

Good Afternoon!!

So . . . we have a president elect who is completely unqualified, overwhelmed, surrounded by racists and conspiracy theorists, and openly supported by Neo Nazis and the KKK. After 7 days as president elect, he has yet to address the American People except for his acceptance speech and his bizarre appearance on 60 Minutes.

According to Rachel Maddow last night, the Trump team has not yet reached out to the DOJ, the intelligence community, Homeland Security or any other government entity we know about and they are not answering calls from people in the government who are anxious to begin working on the transition.

He has announced the appointment of Reince Priebus as WH chief of staff and Steven Bannon as chief White House strategist and senior counselor. Neither of these men has any experience in government. Priebus does know GOP leaders, of course; but he has little apparent knowlege about how the White House and the Federal government work. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner is so ignorant of government that on Thursday he actually asked White House staffers how many of them would be staying on after Obama leaves!

Rudy Giuliani is the top choice to be Secretary of State. The second choice is John Bolton. One positive note: Ben Carson has said he doesn’t want a role in the Trump administration. He was being mention as Secretary of Education! So now many they’ll just go ahead and eliminate that department as Trump as threatened.

President Obama gave a press conference yesterday in which he provided veiled warnings about what may happen, announced that he will be visiting a number of foreign countries to try to reassure them, and that he will be helping Trump get ready for a job he will never be ready for.

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Brian Beutler at The New Republic: Obama Is Warning America About Trump’s Presidency. Are You Listening?

President Barack Obama’s remarks about Donald Trump in his Monday press conference contained some of the most ominous words I’ve heard since news networks began calling the election for Trump early last Wednesday morning….

In a tense environment in which reporters, government workers, world leaders, and anxious citizens and immigrants understandably are scrutinizing every Donald Trump tweet and utterance and leak, Obama’s closing thoughts on the presidency and his successor will inevitably be given short shrift. But the things he says about the transition contain critical information about its progress and his confidence that, on the other side of it, things will run fairly smoothly.

His Monday comments suggests he has very little confidence that they will.

On the subtext of Obama’s remarks:

On the surface, his comments were reassuring. He was chipper. He did not doomsay. He searched for the generous and hopeful things to say about Trump and Trump’s designs on the presidency. But the sum total of his remarks, on close reading, were frightening—a stage-setting, at the very least, for an administration that Obama expects will be hobbled by incompetence and likely to fail.

Obama kept returning to three basic themes: that Trump will be given every opportunity to succeed, thanks to the tutelage Obama and his team will be providing, and the fact Trump won’t be inheriting massive crises—which should give him the kind of running room Obama never enjoyed; but that the work of a presidency is ceaseless, and much of it highly detail-oriented; and finally that Trump’s grasp of what he’s been elected to do is at best remedial.

Obama may be subtly trying to communicate to the Trump transition team that they need to make massive strides, and quickly, or they will be, in Obama’s words, “swamped.” But his expectation that Trump and his entourage will get their act together is clearly very low.

Please go read the rest.

Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon

On November 10 Elliot Cohen, a conservative, hawkish foreign policy guy who worked for awhile under Condoleeza Rice and who helped organize other national security experts to oppose Trump, wrote this at The American Interest: To An Anxious Friend…

First, the buffers and restraints built into our system—Congress, the courts, the press, bureaucratic inertia, federalism, and certain norms—are really quite strong. Republican politicians know that with a better candidate they would not have eked out a bare tie in the popular vote, but would have crushed Clinton and added to their Senate majority rather than reduced it. They are not beholden to Trump and do not feel that they should be. He will not be able to rule as a dictator. And in truth, Democratic fears that he may are salutary. So many of them dismissed Republican complaints about a politicized Internal Revenue Service—my guess is that they are rediscovering a healthy respect for older values of rigid political neutrality, as well as the larger system of checks and balances.

Second, Trump may be better than we think. He does not have strong principles about much, which means he can shift. He is clearly willing to delegate legislation to Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. And even abroad, his instincts incline him to increase U.S. strength—and to push back even against Russia if, as will surely happen, Putin double-crosses him. My guess is that sequester gets rolled back, as do lots of stupid regulations, and experiments in nudging and nagging Americans to behave the way progressives think they should.

Third, part of the magic of America is its ability to regenerate itself. Both parties produced rotten outcomes at the presidential level; both deceived themselves about the actual concerns of the American people; both desperately need new generations of leaders. Those will emerge. What one can hope for as well is a sobering realization about the extent to which both have played dangerous games—with identity politics, with falsehoods, with cultural contempt, and above all, with the transformation of politics into a matter of unthinking tribalism.

Tough times ahead, no doubt. But I think about my grandparents, who fled pogroms, arrived here penniless, and experienced World War I and the influenza pandemic, as well as ethnic and religious discrimination of a kind now unthinkable. My parents lived through the Depression and World War II—and then the social upheavals of the 1960s.

Then he apparently reached out to the Trump people. Here’s what he tweeted about that today.

Not very reassuring.

A couple more stories that caught my attention:

NBC News: Trump Transition Shake-Up Part of ‘Stalinesque Purge’ of Christie Loyalists.

The Donald Trump transition, already off to slow start, bogged down further Tuesday with the abrupt resignation of former Congressman Mike Rogers, who had been coordinating its national security efforts.

Rudy Giuliani

Two sources close to Rogers said he had been the victim of what one called a “Stalinesque purge,” from the transition of people close to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who left Friday. It was unclear which other aides close to Christie had also been forced out….

He [Rogers] and his top aide had been working for months, preparing the groundwork for transition. Two sources close to the situation described an atmosphere of sniping and backbiting as Trump loyalists position themselves for key jobs….

Rogers’ departure follows Christie’s demotion from head of the team to a vice-chair, with Vice President-elect Mike Pence taking over for him last week.

The purge indicates the emphasis on loyalty — and significant influence of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, husband of Ivanka — that characterized Trump’s campaign will carry over into his White House.

Multiple sources indicated that Christie was demoted because he wasn’t seen as sufficiently loyal to Trump, failing to vocally defend him at key moments on the campaign trail.

Rogers had been mentioned as a candidate for CIA director, but now he’s out.

jeff-sessions-donald-trump

USA Today Exclusive: Fox anchor Megyn Kelly describes scary, bullying ‘Year of Trump.’

In her new memoir, Settle for More, Kelly describes how an unexpectedly anxious Trump complained to Fox News executives last year about what she’d do as a moderator of the debate. The questions Kelly and her colleagues planned to ask the candidates were secret. She wrote that days before the debate, Trump called Fox “in an attempt to rein me in. … He said he had ‘heard’ that my first question was a very pointed question directed at him.” Kelly’s first question was in fact for Trump and about his treatment and descriptions of women. She wondered, she wrote, “How could he know that?”

In an exclusive interview Monday with USA TODAY — one in which she discussed what she called her “Year of Trump” and her stand against former Fox News chief Roger Ailes — Kelly said she did not believe her question leaked to Trump beforehand. “I don’t think he had any idea,” she said. “What I think he was worried about was his divorce from Ivana Trump. … He was afraid I was going to bring that up.”

Much more about Kelly’s dealings with Trump and his pal Roger Ailes at the link.

More reads, links only:

NYT: Donald Trump’s Far-Flung Holdings Raise Potential for Conflicts of Interest.

Columbia Journalism Review: Eight steps reporters should take before Trump assumes office, by Dana Priest

WaPo: Paul Ryan’s plan to phase out Medicare is just what Democrats need, by Paul Waldman

LA Times: Paul Ryan is determined to gut Medicare. This time he might succeed, by Michael Hiltzik

Daily Beast: Steve Bannon’s Dream: A Worldwide Ultra-Right, by Christopher Dickey

WaPo: Hate crimes against Muslims hit highest mark since 2001.

TPM: Jeff Sessions, Now Up For AG, Once Rejected From Judgeship For Racist Remarks.

That’s all I have. I’m still really struggling with my emotions, and I don’t know how long it’s going to take before I find my center again. This situation has triggered my deepest childhood fears and traumas. I just hope it isn’t going to be as disastrous as I expect.

Courage, Sky Dancers!