Tuesday Reads: Trump Vs. Pence and Hillary Clinton Speaks Out on Anti-Semitism

Stand Up for Science Rally in Boston, Feb. 17, 2017

The crowd at the Stand Up for Science Rally in Copley Square Boston, Feb. 17, 2017

Good Morning!!

The photos in this post are from the Stand Up for Science Rally in Boston on Friday.

How bad is the tRump presidency? Elderly people who remember great presidents like FDR are dissing tRump in their obituaries. Liz Smith of Norwalk, Ohio, died on Feb. 13. From her obit:

She was born June 12, 1929 in Pittsburgh, PA to the late Leo N. and Cathrine (Picker) Hierholzer. She was a graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and received her Bachelor’s of Science in Music Education. She was a switchboard operator for many years. She was a lifetime member of Girl Scouts USA and was a 45 year volunteer for Erie Shores Girl Scout Council, and for 25 years she was a driving force behind Norwalk’s Girl Scout Day Camp. She was a recipient of the Thanks Badge, which is the highest award in Girl Scouting. She volunteered for the United Fund, Salvation Army soup kitchen, participated in crop walk, visited shut-ins at nursing homes, was an MDA Volunteer and a member of Huron County Democratic Party and a poll worker. She was an active member of St. Mary Catholic Church and served on parish council, renovation committee, finance council, funeral luncheons and parish festival committees , office aide at St. Mary’s, former Eucharistic minister and liaison for the Toledo Diocesan Association for the parish. She enjoyed traveling, especially to Yellowstone Park and heli-hiking in the Canadian Rockies, white water rafting on the New River in West Virginia and the Snake River in Idaho, Orient Express trip from Vienna to Paris, entire tour of Nova Scotia including Cape Breton. Liz is smiling now, not to be living during the Trump Presidency.

She isn’t the only one. See more at Indy100.

Boston, MA -- 2/19/2017 -  A dog named Louis Vuitton wears an Alternative Fact sweater as scientists, science advocates and community members rally in Copley Square.  (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff) Topic: 20scientists Reporter:

Boston, MA — 2/19/2017 – A dog named Louis Vuitton wears an Alternative Fact sweater as scientists, science advocates and community members rally in Copley Square. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
Topic: 20scientists
Reporter:

Over the weekend, VP Mike Pence and Defense Sec. James Mattis were travelling around the world trying to convince U.S. allies that they–not the actual president–speak for our country. Today Reuters reports that the “White House delivered EU-skeptic message before Pence visit – sources.”

In the week before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited Brussels and pledged America’s “steadfast and enduring” commitment to the European Union, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon met with a German diplomat and delivered a different message, according to people familiar with the talks.

Bannon, these people said, signalled to Germany’s ambassador to Washington that he viewed the EU as a flawed construct and favoured conducting relations with Europe on a bilateral basis.

Three people who were briefed on the meeting spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter. The German government and the ambassador, Peter Wittig, declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of the talks.

A White House official who checked with Bannon in response to a Reuters query confirmed the meeting had taken place but said the account provided to Reuters was inaccurate. “They only spoke for about three minutes and it was just a quick hello,” the official said.

The sources described a longer meeting in which Bannon took the time to spell out his world view. They said his message was similar to the one he delivered to a Vatican conference back in 2014 when he was running the right-wing website Breitbart News.

In those remarks, delivered via Skype, Bannon spoke favourably about European populist movements and described a yearning for nationalism by people who “don’t believe in this kind of pan-European Union.

“Western Europe, he said at the time, was built on a foundation of “strong nationalist movements”, adding: “I think it’s what can see us forward”.

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Who should we believe: multiple sources who spoke to Reuters or the the lying White House? This morning Anita Kumar of Reuters (via The Miami Herald) asks how long Pence will have influence on policy: Pence has clout in Trump White House, but for how long?

Donald Trump has given Pence, whose connections, conservative credentials and knowledge of policy far outstrip those of his boss, a role that has him at the president’s elbow every day, relying on Pence to navigate Washington in ways that other modern presidents have not needed.

Pence is in the Oval Office when Trump calls foreign leaders. He’s in the room when the president meets with business executives, county sheriffs and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He’s there holding the executive orders after the president signs them. And he always has the best seat in the house when Trump holds a news conference.

Trump likens himself to a CEO who surrounds himself with multiple advisers, and it’s clear right now that Trump feels comfortable having Pence around. But observers caution it may not end up that way, as the new White House shakes itself out and other advisers learn the ways of Washington.

“Everything is going to depend on who Donald Trump believes is trustworthy,” said Leslie Lenkowsky, a former professor at Indiana University who has known Pence for two decades.

Pence’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump and Pence didn’t know each other well before Trump tapped him to be his running mate last summer. Pence had endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, for president just days before the crucial Indiana primary and had criticized Trump for, among others things, calling for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.

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Kumar isn’t specific about what she thinks might lead to a break between tRump and Pence, but after this weekend, I think Americans and Europeans are wondering when Pence will be sent to the doghouse.

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin (via The Chicago Tribune) asks: Will it soon be Donald Trump vs. Mike Pence?

Trump, like most demagogues, needs an enemy — the elites, the press, Clinton. If he had to survive on his own merits and accomplishments, he’d flop. Press or Trump? Clinton or Trump? It’s all a tactic to keep his own popularity high, or as high as it can be.

Alas, the technique has not really paid off since people tend to judge presidents in office on what they do in office. Trump’s historically horrendous approval numbers (38 approve, 56 disapprove in Gallup; Pew had a nearly identical split, 39/56.) As Trump’s performance sends more voters, and lawmakers, reeling and the investigation of his and his aides’ ties to Russia get underway, we should remember how critical Vice President Mike Pence becomes. If things get really bad — impeachment or some 25th Amendment “solution” — the choice will not be Trump vs. Clinton. It will be Trump vs. Pence, who’d take over if Trump left or was removed. Uh-oh. Pence is in positive territory (43/39 in the Pollster.com average), and among Republicans, especially those on Capitol Hill, he’s exceptionally popular.

In other words, if down the road the president continues to unravel, there may be a very big bipartisan consensus to show Trump the door. It’s not like they’d be getting Clinton; they’d be getting the not erratic, not flashy, not crazy Mike Pence.

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Speaking of Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, Secretary of State, and presidential candidate has spoken out about Trump’s refusal to condemn the many anti-Semitic threats and attacks around the country. The Washington Post: After weekend of anti-Semitic acts, Clinton urges Trump to ‘speak out.’

Hillary Clinton called on President Trump on Tuesday to speak out against anti-Semitic vandalism and threats after more than 170 Jewish graves were found toppled at a cemetery in Missouri.

A tweet from Clinton did not specifically mention the gravesite disturbances in University City, Mo., but noted increasing reports of “troubling” threats against Jewish community centers, cemetery desecrations and online intimidation.

She urged her former presidential campaign rival to lead denunciations amid complains by critics that the White House has not spoken out forcefully enough against anti-Semitic acts.

And what do you know? Trump has finally said something, according to Politico: Trump calls anti-Semitism ‘horrible.’

President Donald Trump on Tuesday decried anti-Semitism, calling recent threats against Jewish community centers “horrible” and a “reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.”

“This tour was a meaningful reminder of why we ha ave to fight bigotry, intolerance and hatred in all of its very ugly forms,” Trump said Tuesday, delivering brief remarks after visiting the National Museum of African American History and Culture for the first time. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.

”Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton had called on Trump earlier Tuesday to speak out against anti-Semitic violence, an issue he side-stepped at his press conference last week….

Ahead of his brief address, the president had told MSNBC’s Craig Melvin that “anti-Semitism is horrible and it’s gonna stop and it has to stop.” He added that the racial divide in America is “age-old” and speculated that “something” is going on that prevents the country from fully healing.

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Yeah, “something” is definitely going on–a bunch of ignorant white people elected a racist POTUS. The ADL had also called on tRump to speak out. It really doesn’t seem like enough to me, but it’s a start. Here’s a summary of what’s been happening from HuffPo: Jewish Community Centers Across the Country Hit with Another Wave of Bomb Threats.

Forcing evacuations in ten states Monday. There have been 67 incidents at 56 Jewish community centers in 27 states and one Canadian province since the start of 2017. Vandals also toppled over 100 headstones at a prominent Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism, tweeted about the incidentsMonday, and not all of Twitter was pleased.

Here’s a report on the vandalizing of a the Jewish cemetery from The St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Up to 200 headstones damaged at Jewish cemetery, director says.

Anita Feigenbaum, executive director of the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery, said officials will be cataloging the damage Tuesday and notifying relatives whose families are affected. A monument company will decide which headstones need to be replaced and which need to be reset, she said.

Feigenbaum was emotional in describing the damage she saw.

“It’s hard to even express how terrible it was,” she said Tuesday morning. “It was horrible.”

Police are investigating the vandalism, which happened sometime over the weekend. No arrests had been made, as of Tuesday. Asked whether the incident is being investigated as a hate crime, Detective Lt. Fredrick Lemons II said police were keeping all options open….

The damage was done to an older part of the cemetery, on the southeast end. In one swath, for example, spread across about 40 yards, two dozen stones are toppled but 10 rows of stones nearby are untouched. A semicircle of destruction included stones marked with names of Schaefer, Weisman, Weinstein, Pearl and Levinson, but one headstone in the middle, with the name Levy, was unscathed. The years of death on these stones ranged from about 1921 to 1962.

Visitors streamed in to see if their family stones were pushed over.

Trump and the Bannon crowd own this.

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


Monday Reads: Kremlin Caligula and the Kremlin Klan

putin-and-trump-and-hacking-cartoon-sack-1The saga of the Glasnost Menagerie continues.

And so we begin another Week of America Held Hostage with more news about the connections between the the current Presidential Usurper and his handlers in Moscow.

There are a few places where this story is being completely investigated.  For one, I don’t think Congresswoman Maxine Waters is going to let go of anything despite all the Republican Sandbagging.   TBogg–writing for Raw Story–summarizes Waters’ Sunday appearance on MSNBC.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) leveled serious charges against the Trump White House on Sunday, saying U.S. policies toward Russia are being driven by what she called the “Kremlin clan” more interested in oil and personal business than U.S. needs.

Appearing on MSNBC with host Alex Witt, the California congresswoman said Trump’s recent attacks on the media are a way to delegitimize their reporting on his Russian connections.

Waters’ claims came just before the New York Times released a bombshell report stating that Trump insiders and associates were working on a plan to blackmail Ukraine President Petro O. Poroshenko in an effort to make the Obama-era sanctions disappear.

“Donald Trump is so outrageous that he thinks he can get away with saying anything,” Waters explained. “And he’s trying to get his supporters to believe that the media is lying on him because the facts are going to come out about him, his involvement with Russia, his involvement with Russia during the campaign and the connection between those around him and Putin and the Kremlin. And he’s trying to get his supporters to believe that when they hear this, it’s going to be a big lie because the media cannot be trusted, that somehow they are against the people.”

According to Waters, Trump is worried his supporters will start to put two and two together as more Russia revelations come out, including those involving the people he has surrounded himself with.

“They see that Flynn, who he had to fire, was talking with Russia about sanctions with the Russian ambassador,” she explained. “I believe that [Secretary of State] Tillerson, who was the CEO of Exxon, has as his highest priority getting rid of the sanctions. Don’t forget, he is the one who negotiated the deal with Russia to drill in the Arctic and that was stopped because Obama placed sanctions on them and they couldn’t proceed with that. And so Tillerson, who has this great relationship with Putin, is going to do everything that he can to lift those sanctions and that’s going to be their Achilles heel.”

Waters then said that Tillerson is just one part of what she calls the “Kremlin clan,” and that it begins at the top with Trump.

“Why does he like Putin so much?” Waters asked. “Why does he defend them? And I think it’s all connected to what I call the Kremlin Klan. All of these people around him that are connected to oil and gas in the Kremlin and Ukraine. It’s all about them. Just think about it. Manafort, his campaign manager, and who had to leave because it was determined that he had connections to the Kremlin and to the Ukraine and whether you’re talking about him or Roger Stone or some of the others, they are all about oil and gas and they thought that if they elected Trump, that somehow they were going to have someone friendly to them that would help lift these sanctions and this Kremlin clan are all going to benefit from it.”

trumptoon02Kremlin Caligula has a lot of explaining to do but was probably too wrapped up by his angry tirades and Swedish conspiracy theories to think he may be subject to any inquiry. Matthew Yglesias at Vox has 33 questions that somebody needs to answer.

What we have instead are a lot of small, unanswered questions. Questions about Flynn’s behavior and the circumstances of his firing. Questions about the behavior of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and the circumstances of his firing. Questions about enigmatic remarks made by longtime Trump associate and veteran political operative Roger Stone. Questions about an obscure American businessman named Carter Page who maybe — or maybe not — worked for some time with the Trump campaign.

But there are also longstanding questions about the opaque financing of the Trump Organization, and about why its founder and owner has been so reluctant to engage in normal levels of financial disclosure. And most of all, there are questions about Trump’s highly unorthodox attitudes toward Russia, its government, and its leader, Vladimir Putin.

Go check them out.  It’s a long and intriguing set of entanglements and loose ends.  Joseph Cannon has a great set of links and reads on the topic too.

If Josh Marshall has read the tea leaves correctly, Sater may soon become a household name. Sater, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and the Putin government have been hammering out a Ukraine peace plan, which Sater gave to General Flynn just before his resignation. Why is this shocking? Because — as indicated above — Sater is a shady, sleazy character, and Trump has been trying to pretend that he has no real links to the guy.

donald-trump-cartoon-w-putin-imageWhat’s really triggered the new intrigue was a Time magazine article that dropped the name Felix Sater. The article cited by Cannon on TPM.  Josh Marshall has a good deal of questions on a guy who may become a household world for sleazeball.  There’s no doubt in my mind that T-Rump sees himself as some kind of global oligarch in the Russian model.  Putin is thought to be the wealthiest man on earth.  Is Kremlin Caligula looking to set up self up similarly by pilfering US assets?

After the lawyers got involved, Trump said he barely knew who Sater was. But there is voluminous evidence that Sater, a Russian emigrant, was key to channeling Russian capital to Trump for years. Sater is also a multiple felon and at least a one-time FBI informant. Bayrock Capital, where he worked was located in Trump Tower and he himself worked as a special advisor to Trump. Again, read the Times article to get a flavor of his ties to Trump, the Trump SoHo project and Russia. For my money there’s no better place to start to understand the Trump/Russia issue.

On its own, Trump’s relationship with Sater might be written off (albeit not terribly plausibly) as simply a sleazy relationship Trump entered into to get access to capital he needed to finance his projects. Whatever shadowy ties Sater might have and whatever his criminal background, Trump has long since washed his hands of him. (Again, we’re talking about most generous reads here.)

But now we learn that Sater is still very much in the Trump orbit and acting as a go-between linking Trump and a pro-Putin Ukrainian parliamentarian pitching ‘peace plans’ for settling the dispute between Russia and Ukraine. (Artemenko is part of the political faction which Manafort helped build up in the aftermath of the ouster of his Ukrainian benefactor, deposed President Viktor Yanukovych.) Indeed, far, far more important, Cohen – who is very close to Trump and known for dealing with delicate matters – is in contact with Sater and hand delivering political and policy plans from him to the President.

Here’s something astounding from WAPO.  This certainly makes Watergate look like a Piker’s Ball.  You have to wonder what kind of stuff the Kremlin hackers got from the RNC and exactly who’s little gonads are swinging in the wind if it’s released.

President Trump’s personal lawyer and a former business associate met privately in New York City last month with a member of the Ukrainian parliament to discuss a peace plan for that country that could give Russia long-term control over territory it seized in 2014 and lead to the lifting of sanctions against Moscow.

The meeting with Andrii V. Artemenko, the Ukrainian politician, involved Michael Cohen, a Trump Organization lawyer since 2007, and Felix Sater, a former business partner who worked on real estate projects with Trump’s company.

The occurrence of the meeting, first reported Sunday by the New York Times, suggests that some in the region aligned with Russia have been seeking to use Trump business associates as an informal conduit to a new president who has signaled a desire to forge warmer relations with Russia. The discussion took place amid increasingly intense scrutiny of the ties between Trump’s team and Russia, as well as escalating investigations on Capitol Hill of the determination by U.S. intelligence agencies that the Kremlin intervened in last year’s election to help Trump.

The Times reported that Cohen said he left the proposal in a sealed envelope in the office of then-national security adviser Michael T. Flynn while visiting Trump in the White House. The meeting took place days before Flynn’s resignation last week following a report in The Washington Post that he had misled Vice President Pence about his discussions in December of election-related sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Cohen, speaking with The Post on Sunday, acknowledged that the meeting took place and that he had left with the peace proposal in hand.

But Cohen said he did not take the envelope to the White House and did not discuss it with anyone. He called suggestions to the contrary “fake news.”

“I acknowledge that the brief meeting took place, but emphatically deny discussing this topic or delivering any documents to the White House and/or General Flynn,” Cohen said. He said he told the Ukrainian official that he could send the proposal to Flynn by writing him at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

download-2New York Magazine points this interesting thing out amid all the spooks and spies.  Least we forget the Golden Showers moments and the former spy who has definitely gone into hiding.

A controversial and unverified dossier assembled by a former British intelligence agent alleged that Cohen had discussed Russia’s hacking of Democratic Party computer systems with a Russian official in Prague during Trump’s campaign, but Cohen and the Russian official have both denied that allegation. Sater had apparently been working on a plan for a Trump Tower in Moscow that was halted on account of Trump’s presidential campaign. Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall, for what it’s worth, thinks Sater’s inclusion in the report is a very big deal, since Sater was at the center of the Trump Soho development project in Manhattan, which Marshall notes was the Trump project with the most Russia-linked shadiness.

I don’t know about you but all of this has me extremely nervous.  As David Corn of MoJo puts it:

Every time we turn around, there’s something new linking Trump to Russia. Just a few days ago, FBI Director James Comey briefed the Senate Intelligence committee about the ongoing investigation of Team Trump and its ties to Russia, and all the chatter afterward was about how the senators seemed kind of shaken by what they heard.

Who knows? Maybe it all turns out to be nothing. But there sure is a lot of smoke out there. It’s hard to believe there isn’t a fire too.

Economic Gain?  Blackmail?  Affinity for fellow thugs?  Who knows what the motivations are for all of this.  All I know is that our country is on the losing end of all this and I would hate to for us sell our allies out for rubles.

 

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: The Spy War

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Good Morning!!

Week four of the tRump presidency has been even wilder than the previous three weeks, and it’s not over yet. How much more crazy and chaotic can thing get in the U.S. government?

Two days ago, the top special ops commander warned that the government is “in unbelievable turmoil,” according to CNN–and this was before the Flynn resignation!

The head of US Special Operations Command said Tuesday that the US government is in “unbelievable turmoil,” a situation that he suggested could undermine US efforts to fight adversaries such as ISIS.

“Our government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil. I hope they sort it out soon because we’re a nation at war,” Army Gen. Raymond “Tony” Thomas told a symposium in Maryland….
Thomas oversees America’s elite Special Operations troops, including Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets, which have played a large role in carrying out the nation’s conflicts since 9/11.
Asked later about his comments, Thomas, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, said: “As a commander, I’m concerned our government be as stable as possible.”

Since Flynn resigned/was fired, the media has been focusing on ties between tRump and his “associates” and the Russian government and intelligence agencies, including CNN’s report that “Trump aides were in constant touch with senior Russian officials during campaign.” This scandal has already gone way beyond Watergate, and we still don’t have a serious investigation in Congress. It’s difficult to see how much longer Republicans can avoid the inevitable. Yesterday, Malcolm Nance warned on MSNBC that tRump staffers should seriously consider lawyering up.

Nance, a former NSA employee and current MSNBC counterterrorism and intel analyst, warned that this is “very, very, serious stuff” and that because the FISA warrant “authorized the NSA to turn on the full collection power of the United States…there is nothing that will escape that.”

Given what intelligence agencies know – and this is in direct contradiction of Republican claims that no such evidence exists – he said,

“These people need to start getting lawyers and cutting deals because when we have both sides of the conversation, you are gonna get caught.”

Today former NSA analyst John Schindler has a new opinion piece at the NY Observer: KremlinGate Enters Uncharted Waters as Russian Links Overwhelm DC. Here’s what he had to say about former tRump campaign manager Paul Manafort:

One of the Trump associates named in both reports (from the NYT and at CNN, linked above) is Paul Manafort, the shady veteran political operative who left the campaign last August when his unsavory ties to the Kremlin hit the newspapers. In response to the latest allegations, Manafort replied, “I don’t remember talking to any Russian officials,” last year, memorably adding that he had no recollection of ever being in contact with Kremlin spies: “It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer.’”

That appears to be yet another untruth, since as I reported back in August, Manafort’s longtime friend in Kyiv, Konstantin Kilimnik, who served as his translator and sidekick during Manafort’s years as a political fixer for Ukraine’s then-ruling party, was remarkably open about his longstanding affiliation with GRU, that is Russian military intelligence. Kilimnik boasted of his GRU ties, which he didn’t discuss in the past tense only. For Manafort to say he’s never been in contact with Russian spies is therefore unconvincing.

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And on tRump:

The president seems to be increasingly flabbergasted by the exposure of his clandestine relationship with Moscow. As is his wont, he took to Twitter to lambaste the Intelligence Community and the mainstream media some more, denouncing “fake news” and IC leaks, while asserting that American spies are acting “just like Russia”—a puzzling statement that may be more revealing than the president intended—and to top it off they’re “very un-American.” Perhaps this is progress of a sort, since it was only a few weeks ago that Trump compared the IC to Nazi Germany on Twitter.

All the same, presidential mania on social media isn’t a pretty picture and will do nothing to stop the coming investigations by Congress into what exactly was going on between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin last year. Trump’s bluster and deflections on the campaign trail sufficed to push aside some of those troubling questions, but things have reached a point that the full story, no matter how unpleasant it may be, will come out, eventually.

At a minimum, the House and Senate intelligence committees will be conducting investigations which ought to worry the White House, whose political future will likely depend on how many Republicans are willing to back Trump—and by extension the Kremlin—over fellow Americans. Since several prominent Republican senators, including Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr, have indicated that investigations are going forward, the White House can’t depend on partisan loyalty to protect them for much longer.

Read the whole thing at the NY Observer.

At Newsweek, Kurt Eichenwald reported that our allies have been spying on tRump and “associates” in order to protect themselves.

As part of intelligence operations being conducted against the United States for the last seven months, at least one Western European ally intercepted a series of communications before the inauguration between advisers associated with President Donald Trump and Russian government officials, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

The sources said the interceptions include at least one contact between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and a Russian official based in the United States. It could not be confirmed whether this involved the telephone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that has led to Flynn’s resignation, or additional communications. The sources said the intercepted communications are not just limited to telephone calls: The foreign agency is also gathering electronic and human source information on Trump’s overseas business partners, at least some of whom the intelligence services now consider to be agents of their respective governments. These operations are being conducted out of concerns that Russia is seeking to manipulate its relationships with Trump administration officials as part of a long-term plan to destabilize the NATO alliance.

Moreover, a Baltic nation is gathering intelligence on officials in the Trump White House and executives with the president’s company, the Trump Organization, out of concern that an American policy shift toward Russia could endanger its sovereignty, according to a third person with direct ties to that nation’s government.

Head over to Newsweek to read the rest.

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The Guardian has a scoop involving Deutsche Bank, which holds a great deal of tRump’s debt: Deutsche Bank examined Trump’s account for Russia links.

The scandal-hit bank that loaned hundreds of millions of dollars to Donald Trumphas conducted a close internal examination of the US president’s personal account to gauge whether there are any suspicious connections to Russia, the Guardian has learned.

Deutsche Bank, which is under investigation by the US Department of Justice and is facing intense regulatory scrutiny, was looking for evidence of whether recent loans to Trump, which were struck in highly unusual circumstances, may have been underpinned by financial guarantees from Moscow.

The Guardian has also learned that the president’s immediate family are Deutsche clients. The bank examined accounts held by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, her husband, Jared Kushner, who serves as a White House adviser, and Kushner’s mother.

The internal review found no evidence of any Russia link, but Deutsche Bank is coming under pressure to appoint an external and independent auditor to review its business relationship with Trump.

More at the link.

Yesterday, The New York Times reported that tRump plans to ask New York billionaire Stephen A. Feinberg to conduct a “review” of U.S. intelligence agencies. He may be asking for more trouble than he can handle. NBC News First Read: Trump’s War With the Intelligence Community Is His Biggest Yet.

Less than a month in office, President Trump has engaged in plenty of fights already — with the courts, Mexico, the media, and even Nordstrom. But his emerging fight with the U.S. intelligence community (over Russia and leaks) might be his biggest fight yet. On the one hand, you have the New York Times reporting that Trump is planning to appoint an ally who has little experience in intelligence matters “to lead a broad review” of the intelligence agencies. “The possible role for Stephen A. Feinberg, a co-founder of Cerberus Capital Management, has met fierce resistance among intelligence officials already on edge because of the criticism the intelligence community has received from Mr. Trump during the campaign and since he became president,” the Times says. And on the other hand, you have the Wall Street Journal writing that U.S. intelligence officials “have withheld sensitive intelligence from President Donald Trump because they are concerned it could be leaked or compromised.” (The White House and Director of National Intelligence have both disputed this account.)….

We get that Trump is trying to crack down on leaks; Barack Obama was frustrated by them, too. But what is the bigger story here — that Russians had contacts with Trump’s campaign, or the leaks about these contacts? Or that Russians interfered in the 2016 election, or that this interference was leaked to the press? It sure seems like Trump and his team are less bothered by the news than who’s leaking the news.

The Financial Times has an opinion piece on the Russia connections: Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and a fatal attraction. After Flynn’s resignation, smiles are turning to scowls in Moscow.

The opening weeks of the presidency have been as disastrous as anyone could have feared. Mr Trump has behaved in office as he did on the campaign trail. Chaos and belligerence in the White House has been mirrored by the casual disarming of allies and the empowering of adversaries abroad. America’s standing in the world could scarcely be lower. All this as the fires continue to burn in the Middle East and the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un tests a ballistic missile that may soon be tipped with a nuclear warhead.

Mr Trump’s hopes of some sort of grand bargain with Russia’s Vladimir Putin have dissolved. Firing Mr Flynn for lying to vice-president Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in Washington will not staunch the disquiet about the administration’s contacts with Moscow before inauguration day. Mr Trump and his aides face three sets of questions from legislators and law enforcement agencies about the ties.

The first asks how wide and deep were the exchanges: who exactly was involved, what were the subjects of conversations, and were there any bargains struck, implicit or explicit, about the direction of US policy once Mr Trump reached the White House? The second requires the examination of Mr Trump’s financial ties with Russia — the detailed investigation that should have happened during the campaign and now demands open access to the president’s tax returns. The third, made more urgent by the lengthy delay between the White House’s discovery of Mr Flynn’s mendacity and his sacking, asks the old Watergate question — just what did the president know and when?

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I hate to link to The Intercept, but there’s a weird story there you might want to look at: Carter Page, at Center of Trump Russian Investigation, Writes Bizarre Letter to DOJ Blaming Hillary Clinton.

Page provided the lengthy letter to The Intercept when asked whether he would support President Trump using his power as president to declassify any government material to disclose any intercepted conversations between Page and Russian officials. He did not say. Instead he forwarded the letter, which is well-formatted, heavily-footnoted, grammatically correct and has no spelling mistakes. However, its content is bizarre.

To begin with, it is addressed to the voting section of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which is charged exclusively with enforcing federal laws that protect the right to vote.

It then makes the grandiose claim that “the actions by the Clinton regime and their associates may be among the most extreme examples of human rights violations observed during any election in U.S. history since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was similarly targeted for his anti-war views in the 1960’s.”

Page repeatedly describes as “outrageous” the news coverage claiming that he has significant connections to Russian officials, and what he says was the Clinton campaign’s hidden hand behind it.

The Clinton campaign, says Page, engaged in “human rights violations,” “illegal activities,” “unlawful deceptions,” “Obstruction of Justice – the charge upon which President Nixon was impeached,” spreading “False Evidence,” and “an obviously illegal attempt to silence me on an important issue of national and international consequence in violation of my Constitutional rights.”

Page also states that he was targeted by the Clinton campaign because he is Catholic, a military veteran and a man.

Keep in mind that Page was recommended as an adviser to tRump by none other than Jeff Sessions, who is now in charge of the DOJ. Page is also the guy who was personally in touch with Russian officials who were running the hacking operation against the DNC and the Clinton campaign in order to help tRump get elected.

That’s today’s installment of crazy. I know I’ve barely scratched the surface of the news; so please post your own links in the comment thread and try to stay sane!


Tuesday Reads: Flynn Resigns. Who Will Be Next?

Michael Flynn leaves WH after Resignation

Michael Flynn leaves WH after ResignationGood Morning!!

Good Morning!!

Chaos has become our day-to-day reality. Every morning I wake up to more insanity in the news. Yesterday it was tRump conducting national security discussions in the middle of a public dining room using an unsecured cell phone (See Dakinikat’s Monday post). Now the pace of crazy has sped up even more–last night a 11PM I got a call from Dakinikat telling me Michael Flynn had resigned (I was watching MSNBC and they didn’t have it yet). Of course I had to stay up late and watch all the talking heads spewing nonsense about it, and now it’s Tuesday morning and I’m exhausted. Will we ever return to normal?

I don’t care for Bill Maher, but he said something on his Friday night show that I totally agree with.

They say a week is a long time in politics. But for Bill Maher, the Trump administration “happens in dog years.”

“As always with Donald Trump, there’s just too much news to get to,” said the “Real Time” host on Friday’s broadcast of the show. “There’s so much fucking crazy, it’s like three weeks of Trump is like five years of Nixon.”

You can watch it at the HuffPo link above.

That is so true. It does feel like Watergate on steroids–but it’s happening so much faster, it’s hard to keep up. Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker at The Washington Post: Upheaval is now standard operating procedure inside the White House.

With President Trump in his fourth full week in office, the upheaval inside the administration that West Wing officials had optimistically dismissed as growing pains is now embedding itself as standard operating procedure.

Trump — distracted by political brushfires, often of his own making — has failed to fill such key posts as White House communications director, while sub-Cabinet positions across agencies and scores of ambassadorships around the globe still sit empty.

Upset about damaging leaks of his calls with world leaders and other national security information, Trump has ordered an internal investigation to find the leakers. Staffers, meanwhile, are so fearful of being accused of talking to the media that some have resorted to a secret chat app — Confide — that erases messages as soon as they’re read.

The chaos and competing factions that were a Trump trademark in business and campaigning now are starting to define his presidency, according to interviews with a dozen White House officials as well as other Republicans. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly discuss internal White House dynamics and deliberations.

Some senior officials are worried about their own standing with the president, who through his casual conversations with friends and associates sometimes seems to hint that a shake-up could come at a moment’s notice.

Much more at the link.

Sean Spicer: Is he next?

Sean Spicer: Is he next?

Of course the Flynn resignation is only the beginning. Some in the media are arguing that Trump didn’t know about Flynn’s suggestions to the Russian ambassador that the tRump administration would weaken or remove the Obama administration sanctions. Come on. Trump undoubtedly order Flynn to make the calls. Here’s what Josh Marshall wrote late last night: The Wind is Sown.

As the Russia story submerged out of view in the first days of February, the Acting Attorney General had already warned the White House about Michael Flynn’s deceptions and susceptibility to blackmail. She was fired for refusing to enforce the immigration executive order days later. Though the White House now denies it, it seems that the President and his top advisors took no action in response to these warnings….

It appears that repeated efforts were made to apprise President Trump or those around him of the situation with Michael Flynn. When those warnings were ignored, people in the national security and law enforcement apparatus went instead to the press to get the word out that way….

This is not some ill-considered discussion by Michael Flynn. The role of Russia in the 2016 election and the President’s relationship to Russia has been the un-ignorable question hanging over President Trump for months. Flynn’s resignation does not come close to resolving it. It is highly likely that the Flynn/Russia channel was authorized by the President himself. There’s much more to come.

We need to brace ourselves. This is going to get really ugly.

Yes, the DOJ warned tRump about Flynn weeks ago. The Washington Post reports: Justice Department warned White House that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail, officials say.

The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials said.

The message, delivered by Sally Q. Yates and a senior career national security official to the White House counsel, was prompted by concerns that ­Flynn, when asked about his calls and texts with the Russian diplomat, had told Vice ­President-elect Mike Pence and others that he had not discussed the Obama administration sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, the officials said. It is unclear what the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, did with the information.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, James R. Clapper Jr., who was the director of national intelligence, and John Brennan, the CIA director at the time, shared Yates’s concerns and concurred with her recommendation to inform the Trump White House. They feared that “Flynn had put himself in a compromising position” and thought that Pence had a right to know that he had been misled, according to one of the officials, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

A senior Trump administration official said before Flynn’s resignation that the White House was aware of the matter, adding that “we’ve been working on this for weeks.”

conway-2-e1485440866795-650x427-1-650x427

And check this out:

Yates, Clapper and Brennan argued for briefing the incoming administration so the new president could decide how to deal with the matter. The officials discussed options, including telling Pence, the incoming White House counsel, the incoming chief of staff or Trump himself.

FBI Director James B. Comey initially opposed notification, citing concerns that it could complicate the agency’s investigation.

 Comey again! I think it’s time to start asking seriously whether Comey has also been compromised. Be sure to read the entire story if you haven’t already.

Politico has more White House leaks: Why Donald Trump let Michael Flynn go. Inside Donald Trump’s national security adviser’s final days in the White House.

Pence was unhappy with Flynn for not telling him the truth and told the president about his displeasure, a White House official said, but said he would accept whatever decision the president made.

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, who is close with Steve Bannon, his strategist, was aware of the uncertainty about Flynn’s future and the concerns in Trump’s orbit but tried to telegraph on TV that the adviser wasn’t in trouble hoping the storm could pass, one person familiar with her thinking said.

“General Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president,” Conway said.

Her appearance created waves in Trump’s orbit, and Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary, who has expressed displeasure about Conway to associates, immediately put out a statement that seemed to contradict her.

“The president is evaluating the situation,” Spicer said soon after Conway’s remarks.

One person who frequently speaks to Trump said the president was reluctant to ditch Flynn because he doesn’t “like to fire people who are loyal.” Even Monday evening, Trump was still pondering the decision, the person said.

“He has this reputation of being a ‘you’re fired’ kind of guy, but he really didn’t want to have that conversation,” the person said.

Whatever. I don’t believe for one minute that tRump didn’t know exactly what Flynn was up to. And how is Russia reacting to the loss of Flynn–their good friend in the White House?

James Comey: how long will he last?

James Comey: how long will he last?

The Washington Post reports: Russian lawmakers rush to the defense of Trump’s ex-national security adviser.

Leading Russian lawmakers rushed to defend President Trump’s former national security adviser on Tuesday after he resigned for misleading senior White House officials, including Vice President Pence, about his contacts with Russia.

The heads of the foreign affairs committees in both Russia’s upper and lower houses of parliament chalked up Michael Flynn’s resignation to a dark campaign of Russophobia in Washington, and said it would undermine relations between the White House and the Kremlin.

Konstantin Kosachev of the upper house wrote in a post on Faceboo

k that readiness for dialogue with Moscow was now seen in Washington as a “thoughtcrime,” a reference to the George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984.

“To force the resignation of the national security adviser for contacts with the Russian ambassador (normal diplomatic practice) is not even paranoia, but something immeasurably worse,” he wrote. “Either Trump has failed to gain his desired independence and is being cornered consistently (and not without success), or Russophobia has infected even the new administration, from top to bottom.”

Here’s one more “bombshell” for you from Raw Story: Michael Flynn may have used encryption to hide Russia talks from US.

Speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Schiff explained that the Trump administration was not labeling allegations against Flynn as “fake news” because U.S. intelligence agencies may have audio recordings of him speaking to Russian officials while President Barack Obama was still in office.

“They know that if there is a transcript, if there are recordings, that can’t be dismissed,” Schiff said. “The fact that they would mislead the country about this is inexplicable.”

Is Reince next?

Is Reince next?

“What I think is interesting here, there are allegations — again, as yet unproven — that they may have also used encrypted communications,” he added. “Since Flynn was talking with the Russians, if he was using encrypted communications, it wasn’t to conceal it from the Russians. Then you have to ask, who were they concealing conversations from?”

According to Schiff, the allegations suggest that Flynn engaged in encrypted communications in addition to the un-encrypted discussions that were reportedly recorded by U.S. intelligence agencies.

“This is something that I think we need to determine as part of an investigation,” he said. “But if there were then the question is, why were those being used? Who were those conversations to be concealed from, why was it necessary to go to that if you were simply talking about Christmas greetings as Sean Spicer apparently misrepresented to the country?”

Wow. Who will be next to go? I imagine Mike Pence is happily waiting around until he gets to be POTUS.

I know I’ve only scratched the surface of the breaking news coming out of tRumpland. What are you hearing. What do you think. Let us know in the comment thread below.


Monday Reads: Money can’t buy Class, Love, Intelligence or a Sense of Decency

Good Afternoon!16681545_10154458478078512_3319331744579545500_n

It’s hard to know where to get started on the utterly boorish behavior of our of so-called President over the weekend.  It’s only topped by his utter cluelessness when it comes to the decorum of the world stage.  Our country makes Banana Republics look perfectly democratic and functional at the moment.

All I can say, is get ready, there’s bound to be some war or major attack coming down the pipe.  What’s worse is that our allies and our own national intelligence assets are unlikely to share that information with our So-Called President because the assumption is that the current White House shares everything with the Kremlin. The breaches of security protocol are just unbelievable.

Today’s photos are of Saturday Night’s Krewe de Vieux Parade coming out of my neighborhood and heading into the French Quarter and downtown.  It’s a political satire parade and you can see where it went this year.  You can enjoy the fun while I write about extremely scary things.

BB sent me this extremely important article written by John R Schindler for The Observer. Among the horrifying conclusions is this: “Intelligence Community pushes back against a White House it considers leaky, untruthful and penetrated by the Kremlin.”

In light of this, and out of worries about the White House’s ability to keep secrets, some of our spy agencies have begun withholding intelligence from the Oval Office. Why risk your most sensitive information if the president may ignore it anyway? A senior National Security Agency official explained that NSA was systematically holding back some of the “good stuff” from the White House, in an unprecedented move. For decades, NSA has prepared special reports for the president’s eyes only, containing enormously sensitive intelligence. In the last three weeks, however, NSA has ceased doing this, fearing Trump and his staff cannot keep their best SIGINT secrets.

Since NSA provides something like 80 percent of the actionable intelligence in our government, what’s being kept from the White House may be very significant indeed. However, such concerns are widely shared across the IC, and NSA doesn’t appear to be the only agency withholding intelligence from the administration out of security fears.

What’s going on was explained lucidly by a senior Pentagon intelligence official, who stated that “since January 20, we’ve assumed that the Kremlin has ears inside the SITROOM,” meaning the White House Situation Room, the 5,500 square-foot conference room in the West Wing where the president and his top staffers get intelligence briefings. “There’s not much the Russians don’t know at this point,” the official added in wry frustration.

So, it’s hard to know where to start other than our foreign policy has turned into a complete dumpsterfire. Instead of the usual State Dinner at the White House with celebrities, cultural and intellectual folks, political leaders, artists and musicians, and just basically the cream of the US crop, Japanese Prime Minister Abe got treated to a tacky weekend in Florida. The Taxpayers undoubtedly footed the bill and wrote a huge check to that tacky “resort” owned by the Uber Tacky So-called President.  I’m pretty sure the Prime Minister wasn’t expecting he’d become a wedding crasher but I’m also pretty sure that every one knows that anything classy, dignified, and in keeping with decorum is off the table these days.

Then there was a phone call about North Korea taken on his cell phone in the middle of the public dining room.

And, folks were worried about Hillary’s private server?  

What was happening — as first reported by CNN — was an extraordinary moment, as Trump and Abe turned their dinner table into an open-air situation room. Aides and translators surrounded the two leaders as other diners chatted and gawked around them, with staffers using the flashlights on their cellphones to illuminate documents on the darkened outdoor terrace.

The scene of their discussion, Trump’s club, has been called “The Winter White House” by the president’s aides. But it is very different than the actual White House, where security is tight and people coming in are heavily screened. Trump’s club, by contrast, has hundreds of paying members who come and go, and it can be rented out for huge galas and other events open to non-members. On the night of the North Korea launch, for instance, there was a wedding reception underway: CNN reported that Trump dropped by, with Abe in tow.

As a Mar-a-Lago member, DeAgazio already had remarkable access to a president that day. He had earlier snapped pictures of Trump and Abe golfing and of the president and White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon schmoozing guests.

Now, as a national-security crisis broke out in front of him, DeAgazio continued snapping pictures — and posting them on Facebook.

“The President receiving the news about the Missile incident from North Korea on Japan with the Prime Minister sitting next to him,” DeAgazio wrote as the caption for a photo he posted on Facebook at 9:07 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday.

Later, he posted other photos of Trump and Abe’s discussion, including some that seemed to have been taken from just a few feet away. Those photos have now been seen around the world, providing photographic proof of this unusual moment.

16730375_10154458488688512_2817565483131739753_n This description came from Richard “DeAgazio — a retired investor who joined Mar-a-Lago three months ago … ” as described by David Farenholdt.

But DeAgazio, for one, said he was impressed that Trump had not gotten up from the table immediately, to seek a more private (and better-lit) place for his discussion with Abe.

“He chooses to be out on the terrace, with the members. It just shows that he’s a man of the people,” DeAgazio said.

Membership at the Mar-a-Lago Club now requires a $200,000 initiation fee — a fee that increased by $100,000 after Trump was elected.

DeAgazio also posted photos of himself with a man that he identified as the military member who carries the “football” that would allow Trump to launch a nuclear attack. In that Facebook post, DeAgazio described how “the football” functions, but said that the military member did not divulge that information to him.

“I looked it up” on Wikipedia, DeAgazio said. “He didn’t say anything to me.”

Yes. A real man of the people.  That initiation fee is about what my entire house is worth.

Oh, and the wedding crashing part came after the let’s broadcast stuff about North Korea around Florida thing and an embarrassing presser.

On Saturday, as President Donald Trump was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, news broke that North Korea had launched a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. CNN was the first to report last night that Trump was joined at the dinner table by his embattled national security adviser, Mike Flynn, and chief strategist Stephen Bannon. As Mar-a-Lago members dining separately looked on, they reviewed classified documents with Bannon and Flynn using their cell-phone lights so Trump could see what he was reading.

After that awkward exchange, Trump and Abe held a hastily assembled joint press conference where Trump made a statement that was shorter than his awkward handshake with Abe at the White House on Friday.

What did Trump do after that? Bunker down with his National Security Council? Spend the evening on the phone with his Defense Secretary James Mattis? No. CNN reported that Trump dropped by a wedding that happened to be taking place at Mar-a-Lago, took the mic, and spoke to the guests.

crude-is-magicalI’ve seen movie frat boys with a better sense of gravitas than our So-called President.  So, first a guest gets a photo op with the nuclear football and then we get some twisted version of The Wedding Crashers.  WTF?  We’re going to owe Japan some big time apologies for insulting their PM.  Phillip Bump points out the absolute hypocrisy on running intelligence security breaches by Clinton and then governing like the entire world can listen in to our highest secrets and he’s got no issue with it.  Good Grief there must be Victory Dancing Putin over there in Moscow.

Earlier in the week, Trump had been criticized for leaving intelligence documents vulnerable to people without security clearance. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) noticed that the president kept the key in a secured bag while hosting people in the Oval Office, which is a bit like leaving your house keys in your front door while you’re having a party in your backyard. There’s no indication that anyone saw anything confidential in this incident, but this, Heinrich suggested, was “Classified 101.”

Compared to holding a national security conversation over dinner in the public dining room at his private club, though, the lockbag incident pales.

It’s not clear that anyone heard particulars of the conversation, but other diners certainly noticed. Richard DeAgazio was in the room and posted photos of the moment to Facebook.

 Shock and awe aside, there’s this:

Why is this important? Mobile phones have flashlights, yes — and cameras, microphones and Internet connectivity. When Edward Snowden was meeting with reporters in Hong Kong at the moment he was leaking the material he’d stolen from the NSA, he famously asked that they place their phones in the refrigerator — blocking any radio signals in the event that the visitors’ phones had been hacked. This was considered the most secure way of ensuring that the phones couldn’t be used as wiretaps, even more secure than removing the battery. Phones — especially phones with their flashes turned on for improved visibility — are portable television satellite trucks and, if compromised, can be used to get a great deal of information about what’s happening nearby, unless precautions are taken.

Plus, more news on Flynn and others with deep ties to the Kremlin.

orange-is-the-new-black

It’s just hard to know what to say about all!

President Trump’s national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, had a pretty wretched week. The Post’s reporting revealed that Flynn, contrary to his and the White House’s earlier assertions, had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with Moscow’s ambassador in Washington prior to Trump’s inauguration. Flynn, according to intelligence sources, likely signaled that the question of sanctions would be revisited by a more friendly Trump administration.

So, I’m just left smh and rather speechless.

How do you explain this kind’ve behavior? I mean, if I had a relative that did this sort’ve thing I would surely get them committed! I wouldn’t freaking elect them President.

The fun news today is that the White House cannot find a comedian to do Nerd Prom and the entire things seems to be falling apart. It’s the press’ big party and damn ya’ll cry if you want to!!

In recent years, the dinner has become a star-studded event attracting A-list celebrities ranging from George Clooney to Helen Mirren to Lindsay Lohan, with politics mainly an afterthought.

This year, The New Yorker and Vanity Fair have canceled parties they traditionally host as part of the hoopla surrounding the dinner.

Also, many stars are avoiding the event this year and no “headliner” comedian has committed so far, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

– ‘Stick a fork in it’ –

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan said the glitzy party and related events around it no longer seem appropriate.

“Once merely embarrassing and ridiculous, the annual White House correspondents’ dinner is poised to tip over into journalistic self-abasement,” she wrote. “It’s time to stick a silver-plated fork in it.”

Slate correspondent Jacob Weisberg echoed those sentiments, saying in a tweet: “Please cancel the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Unseemly spectacle, totally at odds with the press holding administration accountable.”

Well, Sky Dancers, have at it! I’m not sure I’m up to describing the many ways that all this is so very very very wrong.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Shaking Hands With tRump

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U.S. President John F. Kennedy shakes hands with Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev at the U.S. embassy in Vienna, Austria.

Good Morning!!

How can it only have been three weeks since the uncouth baby-man took over the U.S. government? I honestly don’t know how much more I can take. Reading the news has become a terrible experience that often leads to anxiety attacks. Just for today, I’m going to let the real news go and focus on tRump’s bizarre power handshakes. Yesterday’s tRump torture of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was a classic. The expression on Abe’s face when tRump finally lets go is hilarious.

 

 

And then there was the way he jerked SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch’s hand during the announcement ceremony.

 

He did the same thing to Vice President Mike Pence on election night.

 

 

It seems tRump needs to assert dominance in just about every interaction. People are beginning to take notice. The Washington Post’s Peter W. Stevenson writes: Donald Trump and the art of the super-awkward handshake.

We know President Trump is concerned with appearances – especially when he’s on television, or in front of news photographers or large crowds.

We also know that President Trump is concerned with hands – how large they are, how strong they are – just look at them!

Trump is also a well-known germaphobe. He initially shunned shaking hands with supporters on the campaign trail. As president, protocol compels him to shake a lot of hands, though.

And recently, he’s taken part in a few handshakes that we’ll just call “intense” for now – most recently, a bizarre moment with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday.

Whether it’s just habit, or a way of asserting his power, Trump has a habit of pulling forcefully on the hand he’s shaking.

What’s going on here? Quartz asked a body language expert about it: The power play behind Trump’s penchant for uncomfortably long handshakes. Here’s his analysis of the tRump-abe handshake:

“When you cover somebody’s hand, you’re portraying yourself as being closer than you really are. It’s for perception management,” says Joe Navarro, a body language expert based in Florida, and author of the book What Everybody is Saying. “The only time you should be tapping somebody’s hands is if you’re their grandmother, but certainly not between two grown adults.”

That would typically make people feel uncomfortable and invaded. “Because the back of your hand is your intimate zone,” says Navarro, comparing the experience of the hand-pat to the feeling you get when somebody stands too close to you. “You are entitled to touch the palm of their hand when you shake hands, but not the intimate zone.”

But Trump didn’t just pat the back of Abe’s hand, he yanked and pulled the prime minister toward himself in a signature move he’s been doing since his stint hosting The Apprentice. More recently, he’s used the move on Mitt Romney, Neil Gorsuch, Nancy Polosi, Rex Tillerson, and Mike Pence. Often, it turns a regular old handshake into a comical tug-of-war, with Trump twisting people’s arms into strange angles. It’s like playing “jiujitsu with your hand,” says Navarro. “All that it does is that it leaves a bad taste in your mouth and causes psychological discomfort.”

“Frankly, it’s rude,” he adds.

handshake

See more videos at the link.

It seems that tRump just doesn’t know how to behave in polite society. At The Slot, Gabrielle Bluestone noted that:

The handshake was also notable because Trump, who won the election based on his self-proclaimed instincts, misunderstood what the PM was trying to tell him.

“What are they saying?” Trump asked Abe about 20 seconds into the handshake, referring to photographers who were speaking Japanese.

“Please look at me,” the Prime Minister translated. Trump appeared to take the translation literally, and began to stare at the Prime Minister, refusing to break eye contact with him even when he used his other hand to point at the cameras, where Trump was supposed to be looking.

What a nimrod! I hate to think of the agonies Abe must be enduring at Mar-A-Lago this weekend. Trump supposedly cheats at golf too.

At The Telegraph, Guy Kelly and Charlotte Krol suggests that tRump may be overcompensating for something: Donald Trump’s alpha male body language tics – from the hand tap to the power shake.

It’s not for us to say whether Donald Trump is compensating for something. Yes, certain behaviour may give that impression: the erection of several self-branded towers, one of which is literally gold, for instance. Or the fact he felt the need to declare “there’s no problem” with the size of his manhood at a GOP debate last March. Or almost everything else he’s ever done.

That’s mere speculation. What’s clearer – and less of a legal migraine to write here – is to say that Trump is an ‘alpha male’. We needn’t look further than his body language to confirm it, either.

From bone-crushing handshakes to an almost allergic reaction to his wife, Trump is at pains to use power plays to underline his masculinity with every public appearance.

They note that tRump doesn’t seem to enjoy holding hands with his wife Melania.

On Saturday, Trump was seen at Palm Beach international airport with his wife, Melania, as they set off for a weekend away. When the First Lady had the temerity to reach for her husband’s hand on the tarmac, Trump squeezed it for one moment, gave it a bizarre three taps with his other hand, and then dropped it like a stone.

Because, as we all know, holding hands with your wife – or waiting for your wife before walking off – is the sort of beta male nonsense only weak men like Barack Obama would lower themselves to. Hand holding, it seems, only suits the president when he initiates it.

There’s more analysis and more videos at the link. Here’s the one of tRump’s rude treatment of Melania at the Inauguration.

 

 

Spin Magazine says that tRump just “doesn’t know how to shake a person’s hand.”

Even the quotidian act of shaking hands has proven to be a Herculean task for Donald Trump, the leader of the free world. The Oval Office hosted a meeting between the POTUS and Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe and, as per usual, things turned tragicomic. The two hands grasped each other for a bleak 20 seconds, where Trump had the same look of confusion of a dog popping a squat and Abe—bless his diplomatic heart—could only muster up the enthusiasm of an embarrassed father….

Get this: Trump is 70 years old. Even Abe can’t seem to hide his shock that this is a grown man.

And it’s only been three weeks!

I’m going to end with more famous historical handshakes between foreign leaders to go with the one of President John F. Kennedy and Nikita Krushchev at the top of the post.

Chinese communist leader Chairman Mao Zedong (1893 - 1976) shakes hands with American president Richard Nixon (1914 - 1994) in Peking (Beijing) during his visit to China. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Chinese communist leader Chairman Mao Zedong (1893 – 1976) shakes hands with American president Richard Nixon (1914 – 1994) in Peking (Beijing) during his visit to China. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

 

German dictator Adolf Hitler shakes hands with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at Hotel Dressen in Godesberg, 22nd September 1938. The two met to discuss the German occupation of Sudetenland. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

German dictator Adolf Hitler shakes hands with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at Hotel Dressen in Godesberg, 22nd September 1938. The two met to discuss the German occupation of Sudetenland. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 

U.S. President Bill Clinton stands behind PLO leader Yassar Arafat and Yitzahk Rabin as the two shake hands on Oct. 25, 1995.

U.S. President Bill Clinton stands behind PLO leader Yassar Arafat and Yitzahk Rabin as the two shake hands on Oct. 25, 1995.

 

That’s all I have for you today–sorry this post isn’t more substantive. I’ll leave it to you to post links to the important news in the comment thread. Have a relaxing weekend.


Thursday Reads: tRump Against The World

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Good Morning!!

This post is illustrated with cute pics of cats and dogs, because I’m dealing with a very bad cold this morning; I’d like to just crawl back under the covers and zone out. On top of that, my patience with our rude and crude new “president” is quickly running out. This clueless man is destroying our reputation as a nation, alienating our oldest and closest allies around the world, and antagonizing our most dangerous opponents–except, of course, for Russia.

Yesterday tRump had nothing to say about Russia attacking Ukraine, but he had no problem with threatening to send U.S. troops into Mexico; sending Michael Flynn out to put Iran “on notice,” whatever that means; and “blasting” and insulting the prime minister of Australia, one of our closest and most loyal allies.

fmdkljs

I guess there’s now some disagreement on the Mexico threat. Here’s what the Associated Press reported yesterday: Trump to Mexico: Take care of ‘bad hombres’ or US might.

The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt given to AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

A person with access to the official transcript of the phone call provided only that portion of the conversation to The Associated Press. The person gave it on condition of anonymity because the administration did not make the details of the call public.

The Mexican website Aristegui Noticias on Tuesday published a similar account of the phone call, based on the reporting of journalist Dolia Estevez. The report described Trump as humiliating Pena Nieto in a confrontational conversation.

Mexico’s foreign relations department said the report was “based on absolute falsehoods.”

Americans may recognize Trump’s signature bombast in the comments, but the remarks may carry more weight in Mexico.

It certainly does sound like tRump, though, doesn’t it? Maybe the Mexico government is going to give us the benefit of the doubt for awhile, but I doubt if this will help public opinion south of the border.

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During yesterday’s White House press briefing, Michael Flynn issued a vague threat to Iran. CNN: White House national security adviser: Iran is ‘on notice.’

President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn condemned Wednesday Iran’s recent ballistic missile test launch, calling it a “provocative” breach of a UN Security Council resolution.

Flynn called the launch the latest in a series of provocative moves by Iran that have included backing Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have attacked US allies.
“As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” Flynn said from the White House briefing room.
Flynn did not say whether the US would take action beyond a verbal warning, and three senior administration officials, speaking on background, said Wednesday that they are still in the early stages of determining what action the US should take in response.
“We are considering a whole range of options. We’re in a deliberative process,” one of the officials said.

Iran may also be giving us the benefit of the doubt for now. NBC News reports: Iran Brushes Off Trump’s ‘Empty Threats’ Over Missile Tests.

A top aide to Iran’s supreme leader blamed the “inexperienced” Trump administration for apparent U.S. threats and vowed his country would continue testing ballistic missiles.

Ali Akbar Velayati, who advises Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on foreign affairs, said that Iran had not breached a nuclear deal reached with six major powers in 2015 or a U.N. Security Council resolution that endorsed the accord. The White House has accused Tehran of acting “in defiance” of a separate U.N. Security Council resolution on ballistic missiles, as opposed to the nuclear agreement.

“This is not the first time that an inexperienced person has threatened Iran,” Velayati said. “Iran is the strongest power in the region and has a lot of political, economic and military power … America should be careful about making empty threats to Iran.”

He added: “Iran will continue to test its capabilities in ballistic missiles and Iran will not ask any country for permission in defending itself.”

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The Washington Post reports on the call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: No ‘G’day, mate’: On call with Australian prime minister, Trump badgers and brags.

It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief — a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week.

Instead, President Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refu­gee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.

At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladi­mir Putin — and that “this was the worst call by far.”

Trump was upset about an agreement between the Obama administration and Turnbull to swap some refugees being held in the two countries.

“This is the worst deal ever,” Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honor its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center.

Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admission of refugees, complained that he was “going to get killed” politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.”

Trump returned to the topic late Wednesday night, writing in a message on Twitter: “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

U.S. officials said that Trump has behaved similarly in conversations with leaders of other countries, including Mexico. But his treatment of Turnbull was particularly striking because of the tight bond between the United States and Australia — countries that share intelligence, support one another diplomatically and have fought together in wars including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Australia has supported the U.S. in wars dating back to Vietnam and is one of the five trusted nations with whom we share intelligence. Why the hell can’t tRump stop his pathological bragging about winning the election? His behavior is an embarrassment to our country.

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Bloomberg Politics’ David Tweet addresses tRump’s disgraceful Twitter obsession: Trump Twitter Bursts Throw Decades-Old Alliances Into Disarray.

For the first time in decades, America’s oldest allies are questioning where Washington’s heart is.

This week, President Donald Trump and his deputies hit out at some of America’s closest friends, blasting a “dumb” refugee resettlement deal with Australia and accusing Japan and Germany of manipulating their currencies. Ties with Mexico have deteriorated to the point its government had to deny reports that Trump told President Enrique Pena Nieto he might send U.S. troops across the southern border.

The dilemma for officials globally is figuring out if Trump’s blunt style is simply a tactic to keep them off balance or the start of a move to tear up the rule book that has guided relations with the U.S. since World War II. In the mean time, allies have little choice but to prepare for the worst.

The latest attacks came against Australia and Japan, even with Trump’s new Pentagon chief in the region to offer assurances about the U.S.’s commitment to security ties.

“For those of us like Australia, Japan or Korea, who have been dependent on that continuity, we have got to start thinking about a situation where the U.S. is much more self interested, and more more capricious on what it might do,” said Nick Bisley, a professor of international relations at La Trobe University in Melbourne. “Countries in the region have got to sit down and say those old arrangements can’t last forever.”

tRump’s behavior is disgusting and dangerous.

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Meanwhile, federal employees are struggling to deal with tRump and are pushing back in unprecedented ways.

The Washington Post: Resistance from within: Federal workers push back against Trump.

Less than two weeks into Trump’s administration, federal workers are in regular consultation with recently departed Obama-era political appointees about what they can do to push back against the new president’s initiatives. Some federal employees have set up social media accounts to anonymously leak word of changes that Trump appointees are trying to make.

And a few government workers are pushing back more openly, incurring the wrath of a White House that, as press secretary Sean Spicer said this week about dissenters at the State Department, sends a clear message that they “should either get with the program, or they can go.”

At a church in Columbia Heights last weekend, dozens of federal workers attended a support group for civil servants seeking a forum to discuss their opposition to the Trump administration. And 180 federal employees have signed up for a workshop next weekend, where experts will offer advice on workers’ rights and how they can express civil disobedience.

At the Justice Department, an employee in the division that administers grants to nonprofits fighting domestic violence and researching sex crimes said the office has been planning to slow its work and to file complaints with the inspector general’s office if asked to shift grants away from their mission.

“You’re going to see the bureaucrats using time to their advantage,” said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Through leaks to news organizations and internal complaints, he said, “people here will resist and push back against orders they find unconscionable.”

The resistance is so early, so widespread and so deeply felt that it has officials worrying about paralysis and overt refusals by workers to do their jobs.

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And check out this quote from the article:

Asked whether federal workers are dissenting in ways that go beyond previous party changes in the White House, Tom Malinow­ski, who was President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said, sarcastically: “Is it unusual? . . . There’s nothing unusual about the entire national security bureaucracy of the United States feeling like their commander in chief is a threat to U.S. national security. That happens all the time. It’s totally usual. Nothing to worry about.”

According to Politico, some federal employees have begun using encryption to “thwart Trump.”

Federal employees worried that President Donald Trump will gut their agencies are creating new email addresses, signing up for encrypted messaging apps and looking for other, protected ways to push back against the new administration’s agenda.

Whether inside the Environmental Protection Agency, within the Foreign Service, on the edges of the Labor Department or beyond, employees are using new technology as well as more old-fashioned approaches — such as private face-to-face meetings — to organize letters, talk strategy, or contact media outlets and other groups to express their dissent.

The goal is to get their message across while not violating any rules covering workplace communications, which can be monitored by the government and could potentially get them fired.

At the EPA, a small group of career employees — numbering less than a dozen so far — are using an encrypted messaging app to discuss what to do if Trump’s political appointees undermine their agency’s mission to protect public health and the environment, flout the law, or delete valuable scientific data that the agency has been collecting for years, sources told POLITICO.

Fearing for their jobs, the employees began communicating incognito using the app Signal shortly after Trump’s inauguration. Signal, like WhatsApp and other mobile phone software, encrypts all communications, making it more difficult for hackers to gain access to them.

We are truly in uncharted territory. Unpresidented!

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