Lazy Saturday Reads: America Held Hostage by Madman

Two Sisters on the Terrace, 1881, Pierre Auguste Renoir

Good Afternoon!!

I’m starting to feel as if we normal Americans are being held hostage. Maybe that’s not the right word for our situation; I’m not sure what to call it, but something awful is happening to us. A minority of deplorable or just plain stupid people elected an ignorant, incompetent, narcissistic wanna-be tyrant to the presidency; and we are being forced to bear witness as he burns our democracy down. The people who could take action–the Republicans refuse to do anything to protect the country. All we can do is hope that Bob Mueller is able to make something happen–and that he does it in time to prevent World War III.

After what Trump did yesterday and the night before, I’m really struggling to write a post this morning. I’ve been feeling increasingly depressed. For months I’ve been waking up every morning fearful of what Trump may have done, and recently I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night and checking Twitter to see if anything horrible has happened. I know this isn’t normal or healthy, but what can I do? I can’t zone out and pretend nothing is happening. Besides, I know I’m not alone. I’ve seen a number of people here and on Twitter who say they are going through the same anxiety. What can we do about the madman in the White House?

Late Thursday night, Trump announced that he will end subsidies that help lower income people purchase health insurance in the ACA exchanges, a move that threatens 1/6th of the U.S. economy. Then yesterday he announced that he will refuse to certify that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear deal we agreed to with numerous other countries under Obama. Dakinikat covered both of these stories in her Friday post, so I won’t go into any more detail about these nightmarish “presidential” decisions.

Now what? The consequences of both of these destructive actions by Trump could be extremely serious, and we’re still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, as well as the wildfires in California. Will this administration be able (or willing) to handle these Trump-made and natural catastrophes? I fear the answer is no.

Maybe I’m overreacting. If so, I hope someone here can talk me off the ledge.

Meanwhile Trump is very pleased with himself.

When is the last time a POTUS celebrated tanking stocks? Has that ever happened before?

Young girl reading, Renoir

Buzzfeed reports on the Democratic response to the cancellation of the subsidies: Democrats Are Launching A Legal Fight To Save Obamacare’s Subsidy Payments.

A coalition of 19 attorneys general — representing 18 states and the District of Columbia — filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Northern District of California that accuses the Trump administration of violating the sections of the Affordable Care Act that require the subsidies, as well as other federal law.

“It’s well past time that President Trump learns that he doesn’t just get to pick and choose which laws he’ll follow or which bills he’ll pay,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on a call with reporters. “Just because he’s in the White House doesn’t mean he can make those decisions.” ….

A coalition of 19 attorneys general — representing 18 states and the District of Columbia — filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Northern District of California that accuses the Trump administration of violating the sections of the Affordable Care Act that require the subsidies, as well as other federal law.

“It’s well past time that President Trump learns that he doesn’t just get to pick and choose which laws he’ll follow or which bills he’ll pay,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said on a call with reporters. “Just because he’s in the White House doesn’t mean he can make those decisions.

”The lawsuit was filed by attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.

Other stories to check out

Newsweek: Trump Just Made War With Iran and North Korea More Likely Than Ever, Retired Army General Says.

The U.S. and Iran have both taken defensive measures to prepare for a potential conflict following President Donald Trump’s controversial decision Friday to not certify a landmark nuclear treaty between both countries and four other leading powers….

In response to Trump’s decision to add the IRGC to the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, Iranian lawmaker Alireza Rahimi, a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, told the Iranian Students’ News Agency that Iran would put the U.S. military on its “list of groups that undermine international security and stability.” The IRGC is an official branch of Iran’s armed forces but also maintains external operations and operates under direct orders from an appointee of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Renoir, Two girls reading

“Given that the army and [other] armed forces of a country are guarantors of its security, the [possible] move [by the U.S. to designate IRGC forces as terrorists] is tantamount to a declaration of war,” Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s atomic agency, told British analysts and media figures Thursday during a meeting in London, according to the semiofficial Tasnim News Agency….

Retired Army Major General Paul Eaton, who played a key role in rebuilding and training the Iraqi military in the wake of the 2003 U.S. invasion, on Friday warned that Trump’s decision may not only bring about a new crisis in the Middle East, but further escalate an already tense nuclear standoff with North Korea and further complicate the U.S.’s 16-year military campaign in Afghanistan. He appealed to Congress to not destroy the deal by adding more sanctions during the 60-day window lawmakers now have to take action.

“Donald Trump has moved us closer to a war with Iran, while he has also moved us closer to a nuclear war with North Korea. All while we’re in a war in Afghanistan,” Eaton said in a statement.

Those are the highlights; you might want to read the whole story.

The Boston Globe has an explainer story on Trump’s health care moves: Key questions and answers about Trump’s health care move.

President Donald Trump’s move to stop paying a major “Obamacare” subsidy will raise costs for many consumers who buy their own health insurance, and make an already complicated system more challenging for just about everybody.

Experts say the consequences will vary depending on how much money you earn, the state you live in, and other factors.

Overall, Trump’s decision will make coverage under the Affordable Care Act less secure, because more insurers may head for the exits as their financial losses mount.

I can’t really excerpt this very well, but the story isn’t long and has some helpful information. Basically, poor, working class, and middle class Americans will all be negatively affected.

This piece by ex-Republican conservative George Will is worth reading. It’s directed at the white supremacists like Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller who have Trump’s ear, but I was most interested in what Will had to say about two Republicans who have enabled Trump in his destructive behavior, Mike Pence and Bob Corker:

Renoir, Woman reading

With eyes wide open, Mike Pence eagerly auditioned for the role as Donald Trump’s poodle. Now comfortably leashed, he deserves the degradations that he seems too sycophantic to recognize as such. He did Trump’s adolescent bidding with last Sunday’s preplanned virtue pageant of scripted indignation — his flight from the predictable sight of players kneeling during the national anthem at a football game. No unblinkered observer can still cling to the hope that Pence has the inclination, never mind the capacity, to restrain, never mind educate, the man who elevated him to his current glory. Pence is a reminder that no one can have sustained transactions with Trump without becoming too soiled for subsequent scrubbing.

A man who interviewed for the position Pence captured, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), is making amends for saying supportive things about Trump. In 2016, for example, he said he was “repulsed” by people trying to transform the Republican National Convention from a merely ratifying body into a deliberative body for the purpose of preventing what has come to pass. Until recently, Corker, an admirable man and talented legislator, has been, like many other people, prevented by his normality from fathoming Trump’s abnormality. Now Corker says what could have been said two years ago about Trump’s unfitness.

The axiom that “Hell is truth seen too late” is mistaken; damnation deservedly comes to those who tardily speak truth that has long been patent. Perhaps there shall be a bedraggled parade of repentant Republicans resembling those supine American communists who, after Stalin imposed totalitarianism, spawned the gulag, engineered the Ukraine famine, launched the Great Terror and orchestrated the show trials, were theatrically disillusioned by his collaboration with Hitler: You, sir, have gone too far.

Wow. Read the rest at the WaPo.

More fallout from Trump’s disastrous policies at Newsweek: After Trump Travel Ban, Chad Pulls Troops from Boko Haram fight in Niger.

President Donald Trump’s decision to place Chad on his revised travel ban shocked experts and former U.S. officials who warned it could have major consequences for the fight against terrorism in Africa.

And it appears Trump’s controversial decision may have already damaged alliances on the continent—which is threatened by a range of militants, including affiliates of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group.

Chad has pulled hundreds of troops from neighboring Niger, where they had been stationed to assist in a regional fight against Boko Haram, the Nigerian militant Islamist group, Reuters reported.

I’m going to end with an odd Trump story from Vanity Fair: Donald Trump’s Face Renoir: The Untold Story.

A girl reading, 1891, Renoir

Years ago, while reporting a book about a real-estate developer and reality-TV star named Donald Trump,Tim O’Brienaccompanied his subject on a private jet ride to Los Angeles. The plane, as you can imagine, was overly ornate; hanging on one wall, for instance, was a painting of two young girls—one in an orange hat, the other wearing a floral bonnet—in the impressionistic style of Renoir.

Curious, O’Brien asked Trump about the painting: was it an original Renoir? Trump replied in the affirmative. It was, he said. “No, it’s not Donald,” O’Brien responded. But, once again, Trump protested that it was.

“Donald, it’s not,” O’Brien said adamantly. “I grew up in Chicago, that Renoir is called Two Sisters on the Terrace, and it’s hanging on a wall at the Art Institute of Chicago.” He concluded emphatically: “That’s not an original.”

Trump, of course, did not agree, but O’Brien dropped the conversation topic and moved on with his interview. He thought that he had heard the last of the Renoir conversation. But the next day, when they boarded the plane to head back to New York City, Trump again pointed to the painting, and as if the conversation had never happened, he pointed to the fake and proclaimed, “You know, that’s an original Renoir.” O’Brien, chose not to engage, and dropped the conversation….

Then, in 2016, the unimaginable happened: Trump was elected president of the United States. A few days afterward, Trump sat down with 60 Minutes for one of his first interviews as president-elect. O’Brien was watching the interview, which took place in Trump Tower. It was highly choreographed, with cameras set up precisely where Trump wanted them. O’Brien watched Trump seated in an ugly mini-throne—“the kind of furniture Trump loves,” O’Brien notes—and sure enough, in the background, hanging on the a wall, was that fake Renoir.

It’s not just dementia; Trump has always been insane. I’ve illustrated the post with Renoir paintings in honor of his lunacy.

What stories are you following today?

 

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Friday Reads With Baby Animals

Baby alpacas

Good Afternoon!!

Dakinikat isn’t feeling well today, so I’m filling in. It has been one hell of a crazy week–thank goodness the weekend is almost here. Let’s hope Trump doesn’t blow up the world before he heads to one of his golf courses. Some stories to check out:

Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker: A Dizzying Week of Trump-Russia Revelations.

…this week was a good one for Trump-Russia-conspiracy theorists. TheTimesreported major developments about the seriousness with which Mueller is pursuing a potential obstruction-of-justice case against the President. And the possibility that Russian entities had help in targeting voters using Facebook ads became a major part of the congressional investigation. But it was news about Manafort this week that gave a boost to two theories that close watchers of the Russia investigation have been hyping as potentially earth-shattering.

You don’t have to be Louise Mensch, the much-mocked amateur sleuth and Russia-conspiracy theorist, to wonder why, after years of working closely with a Russian oligarch and pro-Russia parties in Ukraine, Paul Manafort suddenly reëmerged in American politics as the head of the Presidential campaign that Vladimir Putin wanted to win. One theory, which has been floating around for months, is that after Manafort fell out with Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch who accused Manafort of essentially stealing millions of dollars from him, he seized on Trump’s rise as a way of currying favor with Deripaska and Putin, who is Deripaska’s close ally.

This always seemed a bit too John le Carré to believe, but, on Wednesday, the Washington Postreported the first morsels that give the theory some credence. “Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin,” the Post said. In another e-mail, according to the Post, Manafort seemed to suggest that he could leverage his new role running Trump’s campaign to settle old debts. “How do we use to get whole?” Manafort wrote to an employee based in Kiev, referring to his prominent new role in Trump’s campaign. The link between Manafort’s sketchy work in Ukraine and Russia, and his interest in running Trump’s campaign, became a lot stronger after the Post piece.

Baby hippo

The second Russia theory that was bolstered this week also involves Manafort, whose home in Virginia was raided by the F.B.I. in July and who was reportedly told by Mueller’s team that he is likely to be indicted. CNN reported this week that Manafort was the subject of a fisa warrant that gave the F.B.I. permission to spy on his electronic communications at some point last year and into this year. The report offers some of the most tantalizing evidence of the white whale of Russia investigators: outright collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. “Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to three sources familiar with the investigation,” CNN noted. “Two of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive.” The CNN report added that the “FBI interest deepened last fall because of intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves.”

I have to say that North Korea’s dictator seems a lot more credible and stable these days than the insane moron the Electoral College selected. You really need to read the full text of the statement by Kim Jong Un:

The speech made by the US Chief Executive in his maiden appearance on the UN arena in the prevailing serious circumstances, in which the situation on the Korean peninsula has been rendered tense as never before and is inching closer to a touch-and-go state, is arousing worldwide concern.

A certain degree of my guess was that he would make stereotyped, prepared remarks a little different from what he used to utter in his office on the spur of the moment as he had to speak on the world’s largest official diplomatic stage.

But, far from making somewhat plausible remarks that can be helpful to defusing tension, he made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard from any of his predecessors.

A frightened dog barks louder.

I would like to advise Trump to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world.

Baby prairie dogs

The mentally deranged behaviour of the US president openly expressing on the UN arena the unethical will to “totally destroy” a sovereign state, beyond the boundary of threats of regime change or overturn of social system, makes even those with normal thinking faculty reconsider discretion and composure.

His remarks remind me of such words as “political layman” and “political heretic” which were in vogue in reference to Trump during his presidential election campaign.

After taking office Trump has rendered the world restless through threats and blackmail against all countries. He is unfit to hold the prerogative of supreme command of the military forces of a country, and he is surely a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire, rather than a politician.

His remarks which described the US option through straightforward expression of his will have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last.

Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of war in history that he would destroy the DPRK, we will consider with seriousness taking a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history.
Action is the best option in treating the dotard who, hard of hearing, is uttering only what he wants to say.

Two-week-old baby rhino

As a man representing the DPRK and upon the dignity and honour of my state and people and upon all my own, I will make the man holding the prerogative of supreme command of the US pay dearly for his rude nonsense calling for totally destroying the DPRK.

This is not a rhetorical expression loved by Trump.

I am now thinking hard about what response he could have expected from us when he allowed such eccentric words to trip off his tongue.

Whatever Trump might have expected, he will face results beyond his expectation.

I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire.

Naturally Trump replied on Twitter. He’d never be able to compose a lengthy statement like the one above.

It sure seems as if Trump is one being tested and failing badly.

This morning Trump also addressed the Russia investigation on Twitter.

It’s such a “hoax” that there’s a special prosecutor investigating and demanding records of White House meetings and Air Force One phone records. Trump really is a dotard. Maybe he simply can’t remember anything that happened yesterday.

Kim Jong Un isn’t the only world leader who spoke harshly about Trump at the UN: WATCH | Mugabe at UN stands up to ‘Giant Gold Goliath’ Trump.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe did not mince words at the United Nations Thursday about Donald Trump, mocking the US president as the “Giant Gold Goliath.”

Addressing the UN General Assembly, where reproaches of other leaders are generally less personal in tone, the 93-year-old veteran leader took Trump to task both on policy and appearance.

Baby owls with big stuffed owl

“And may I say to the United States president, Mr. Trump, please blow your trumpet — blow your trumpet in a musical way towards the values of unity, peace, cooperation, togetherness, dialogue, which we have always stood for and which are well-writ in our very sacred document, the Charter of the United Nations.”

LOL

Of course GOP Senators continue onward with their latest effort to take health care away from millions of Americans. At the Washington Post, Alexandra Petri has reached then end of her rope: Sorry I can’t go to your thing. I must call my senator to plead for my life.

I am sorry I cannot make it to your event, but I have to call Congress every eight minutes to plead for my life.

Would I like to go to your wedding/bar mitzvah/coffee date/movie/quiet place where sleep is possible? You bet. But you know that if I don’t call my senator and register my opposition, the new Terrible Health-Care-Ending Bill to Unleash Boils Across the Land, Replace the Rivers with Blood and Slay All the Firstborn will go through, and the time between those bills is getting shorter and shorter.

It is not that I don’t want to be there for your life milestone. I do! I am just really concerned that my senator might prefer for this state to have six costly nowhere bridges studded with diamonds than to prevent millions of people from being flung off their insurance, and I am not willing to take that chance, not even for the six minutes that will pass between the inception of this bill and its introduction on the Senate floor for a vote.

(Just a minute; in the course of typing this response they have already introduced another bill and I have to call again.)

Click on the link to read the rest.

Baby veiled chameleon

More stories to check out:

NBC News: Study: 21 Million More Uninsured Under Graham-Cassidy Health Care Bill.

The Washington Post: Flint’s lead-poisoned water had a ‘horrifyingly large’ effect on fetal deaths, study finds.

Politico: Obama-era school sexual assault policy rescinded.

Buzzfeed: Sebastian Gorka Gave A Classified “Tirade” About Radical Islam.

Brian Stelter at CNN: Trump says this is all a hoax. Mueller, Congress and Facebook disagree.

Axios: The insane news cycle of Trump’s presidency in 1 chart.

The New York Times: Facebook’s Frankenstein Moment.

 

 


Thursday Reads: Russia News and Natural Disasters

Goldie Hawn reading a newspaper

Good Morning!!

Naegeli court reporters investigation is getting closer and closer to Trump. Here are the stories that broke just last night, with brief excerpts:

The New York Times: Mueller Seeks White House Documents Related to Trump’s Actions as President.

In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s office sent a document to the White House that detailed 13 areas in which investigators are seeking information. Since then, administration lawyers have been scouring White House emails and asking officials whether they have other documents or notes that may pertain to Mr. Mueller’s requests.

One of the requests is about a meeting Mr. Trump had in May with Russian officials in the Oval Office the day after James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, was fired. That day, Mr. Trump met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak, along with other Russian officials. The New York Times reported that in the meeting Mr. Trump had said that firing Mr. Comey relieved “great pressure” on him.

Mr. Mueller has also requested documents about the circumstances of the firing of Michael T. Flynn, who was Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. Additionally, the special counsel has asked for documents about how the White House responded to questions from The Times about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. That meeting was set up by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son,Th to get derogatory information from Russians about Hillary Clinton.

Jane Fonda

The Washington Post: Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire ‘private briefings’ on 2016 campaign.

Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.

Interesting Twitter posts on this subject:

Isn’t that fascinating? Trump and Putin are obviously still collaborating.

One more from the NYT last night: Manafort Working on Kurdish Referendum Opposed by U.S.

Paul J. Manafort, the former campaign chairman for President Trump who is at the center of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, is working for allies of the leader of Iraq’s Kurdish region to help administer and promote a referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq.

The United States opposes the referendum, but Mr. Manafort has carved out a long and lucrative career advising foreign clients whose interests have occasionally diverged from American foreign policy. And he has continued soliciting international business even as his past international work has become a focus of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into ties between Russia and Mr. Trump and his associates, including possible collusion between them to influence the presidential election.

In fact, the work for the Kurdish group appears to have been initiated this summer around the time that federal authorities working for Mr. Mueller raided Mr. Manafort’s home in Virginia and informed him that they planned to indict him.

Catherine Deneuve

Manafort is in serious trouble. It’s hard to believe he’s still refusing to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. It also looks like Trump is royally f**cked at least in terms of obstruction of justice, thanks to his own loose lips in the Lester Holt interview and his chummy Oval Office meeting with the Russians.

More Russia-related stories from this morning:

Politico: Manafort used Trump campaign account to email Ukrainian operative.

Former Donald Trump aide Paul Manafort used his presidential campaign email account to correspond with a Ukrainian political operative with suspected Russian ties, according to people familiar with the correspondence.

Manafort sent emails to seek repayment for previous work he did in Ukraine and to discuss potential new opportunities in the country, even as he chaired Trump’s presidential campaign, these people said….

In the emails to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort protégé who has previously been reported to have suspected ties to Russian intelligence, the longtime GOP operative made clear his significant sway in Trump’s campaign, one of the people familiar with the communications said. He and Kilimnik also met in the United States while Manafort worked for the Trump campaign, which he chaired until an August 2016 shake-up.

Mike Allen at Axios: Another potential Mueller honey pot: Spicer’s notebooks.

Now we can tell you about another potential honey pot for Mueller. Former colleagues of Sean Spicer tell Axios that he filled “notebook after notebook” during meetings at the Republican National Committee, later at the Trump campaign, and then at the White House.

When Spicer worked at the RNC, he was said to have filled black books emblazoned with the party’s seal. Spicer was so well-known for his copious notes that underlings joked about him writing a tell-all.
  • One source familiar with the matter said that the records were just to help him do his job.
  • “Sean documented everything,” the source said.
  • That surprised some officials of previous White Houses, who said that because of past investigations, they intentionally took as few notes as possible when they worked in the West Wing.

Allen texted Spicer about this story and Spicer flipped out, telling Allen to stop contacting him or he would “report to the appropriate authorities.” What authorities? Spicer thinks it’s illegal to text another private citizen–Allen says he has been on friendly terms with Spicer for “more than a dozen years.”

Marlon Brando

Axios also has a terrific timeline of Manfort’s activities beginning in 2006: How the Russia probe closed in on Paul Manafort.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Littman at the LA Times: Trump will fire Robert Mueller eventually. What will happen next?

Here’s predicting flat out that yes, at some point Trump will try to oust Mueller.

As the probe advances, the likelihood increases that Mueller will uncover evidence of a serious offense by Trump. With the recent search of former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s home, Mueller has shown his willingness to follow the money trail aggressively. (The latest reports suggest that Mueller’s team is planning to indict Manafort for possible tax and financial crimes.) And Mueller has begun to negotiate interviews with up to a dozen White House aides as well as former White House officials. Trump likely fears that Mueller will zero in on something sleazy or criminal whose revelation could cripple his presidency. Each turn of the screw of the Mueller investigation — and there will be many — increases the pressure on Trump to act preemptively.

The odds also seem great that the erratic, power-consumed and thin-skinned Trump, who every week launches a new Twitter attack on a real or imagined enemy, will be unable to stay his hand month after month as the Mueller investigation unfolds. Like the fabled scorpion who stings the frog even though it dooms him, Trump, being Trump, won’t be able to endure domination by Mueller over the long term. Of course, Trump likely fails to appreciate that it is not Mueller personally, but the law, that is asserting its dominance.

Let’s say Trump snaps.

Angelina Jolie

To fire Mueller, Trump would need to order Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein to remove him. But Rosenstein, a career prosecutor with a strong dedication to the values of the Department of Justice, would likely resign his office rather than comply with the order, as would the department’s third-ranking official, Rachel Brand.

Eventually Trump, moving down the hierarchy, would find someone willing to fire Mueller (as Nixon found Robert Bork, the then-solicitor general, to fire Archibald Cox).

From there, Mueller could launch a legal challenge to the ouster (potentially with the support of the Department of Justice). It’s by no means clear that Mueller, an ex-Marine of legendary rectitude, would choose to sue. Assuming he did, though, he would need to overcome a series of constitutional arguments by the president’s lawyers that any restrictions on the president’s ability to terminate him would impinge on presidential power under Article II.

Click on the link to read the rest.

The natural disasters continue as Hurricane Maria devastates Puerto Rico and moves on the fresh destruction and Mexico City struggles to recover from the recent earthquake.

NBC News: Hurricane Maria Leaves Puerto Rico Facing Months Without Power.

Millions of people across Puerto Rico woke up Thursday to a grim new reality.

Hurricane Maria, the most powerful storm to hit the U.S. territory in almost a century, ravaged the island, demolishing homes and knocking out all electricity. It could take half a year to restore power to the nearly 3.5 million people who live there.

The eye of the storm moved offshore overnight, but the danger remained Thursday: Intense flooding was reported, particularly in San Juan, where many residential streets looked like rushing rivers.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said the devastation in the capital city was unlike any she had ever seen.

“The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there,” Cruz told MSNBC. “We’re looking at 4 to 6 months without electricity.”

Elizabeth Taylor

The Washington Post: Mexico anxiously awaits the fate of a 12-year-old schoolgirl after deadly earthquake.

 A sprawling earthquake recovery effort spanning several states turned intensely personal Thursday as Mexicans were riveted by an effort to save a 12-year-old girl who was pinned in the rubble of her elementary school.

The drama played out live late Wednesday and early Thursday on the major news channels here, with television cameras tracking every movement of the Mexican marines and others who sought to rescue the girl now known as “Frida Sofia.” Under a soft rain, the work was delicate and painstaking, relying on thermal cameras and other technology to try to locate and remove young children trapped for more than 30 hours after their school collapsed on Tuesday afternoon.

At one dramatic point in Wednesday night’s broadcast, Televisa reporter Danielle Dithurbide learned from the marine admiral leading the recovery effort that Frida Sofia — which may not be her real name — was able to tell rescuers that five other students were possibly trapped with her. It was unclear whether they were alive.

I’ll end with this from Grist, via Mother Jones: This Is the Hurricane Season Scientists Tried to Warn Us About.

There is evidence that we are emerging from an era of messy meteorological data, where we were blind to warming seas strengthening hurricanes because the really damaging ones were rare. If that’s true, weather historians may look to this year as the beginning of a frightening new phase of superstorms.

About 85 percent of all damage done by hurricanes is attributable to “major” storms—those stronger than Category 3, so roughly one-quarter of all storms. While relatively infrequent, they are by far the most destructive—a Category-5 cyclone has 500 times the power of a Category 1. Globally, major hurricanes have become slightly more common in recent decades, even as overall numbers have held steady.

Haley Mills

Further, there’s nothing in recorded history that resembles what Irma and Maria have inflicted on Caribbean islands in recent days. Since Sept. 6, the two hurricanes have made six separate landfalls at Category-5 strength. Before this month, just 18 such landfalls had happened in the previous 165 years (and never more than three in a single year). Clearly there’s something happening here—and there’s a developing consensus among scientists about what factors are responsible.

There have been only 33 Category 5 storms in the Atlantic since hurricane records began in 1851. Twenty-three of them have formed since 1961; 11 in only the last 14 years. Part of that uptick comes from better weather monitoring equipment, like satellites that help us spot hurricanes before they make landfall. But even since we developed satellite technology, there’s been a measurable increase in major storms.

The strongest hurricanes require an exceptionally warm ocean to intensify, and with water temperatures currently near record highs in the Caribbean, it’s providing conditions ripe for Category 5s. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, since 1970, the oceans have retained more than 90 percent of the excess energy generated from global warming. That’s a lot of extra fuel for stronger storms.

Read the rest at Mother Jones.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Wednesday Reads: Madman and Rocket Man

Hey, I don’t usually like or retweet David Corn…but those two tweets above made me laugh out loud.

Going straight to cartoons, since I’m writing this outside in a very dark and dangerous state park that is surrounded by national forest.

#GeneralKelly reflects the feelings of most Americans. This was his reaction during Trump's speech at the #UnitedNations this morning.

A post shared by Shannon Fisher (@msshannonfisher) on

Day 243: In which GOP wins are measured by the millions that will lose their insurance. #magaisformorons #healthcareforall #notmypresident #TheDailyDon #dumptrump #dailydrawing

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Please note that many of those cartoons are from the foreign press.

This is an open thread.

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Lazy Saturday Reads: Big Steps Forward in Russia Investigation

Coffee and Donuts, Scott Moore

Good Morning!!

It appears that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is getting closer to finding crimes committed foreign persons and by Trump’s closest advisers; and Jared Kushner may be at the center of it all. For Trump, the shit is about to get real.

It all centers around Facebook and microtargeting. As I’m sure you know, Mueller recently obtained a warrant for the content of ads that Facebook sold to a Russian source. CNN has the latest this morning: Facebook handed Russia-linked ads over to Mueller under search warrant.

Facebook gave Mueller and his team copies of ads and related information it discovered on its site linked to a Russian troll farm, as well as detailed information about the accounts that bought the ads and the way the ads were targeted at American Facebook users, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

The disclosure, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, may give Mueller’s office a fuller picture of who was behind the ad buys and how the ads may have influenced voter sentiment during the 2016 election.

Facebook did not give copies of the ads to members of the Senate and House intelligence committees when it met with them last week on the grounds that doing so would violate their privacy policy, sources with knowledge of the briefings said. Facebook’s policy states that, in accordance with the federal Stored Communications Act, it can only turn over the stored contents of an account in response to a search warrant.

Clark Kent Breakfast, Dave Seguin

“We continue to work with the appropriate investigative authorities,” Facebook said in a statement to CNN.

Facebook informed Congress last week that it had identified 3,000 ads that ran between June 2015 and May 2017 that were linked to fake accounts. Those accounts, in turn, were linked to the pro-Kremlin troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.

This is significant, because it indicates that Mueller has evidence of crimes related to the Facebook data. Business Insider: Mueller just obtained a warrant that could change the entire nature of the Russia investigation.

FBI Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly obtained a search warrant for records of the “inauthentic” accounts Facebook shut down earlier this month and the targeted ads these accounts purchased during the 2016 election.

The warrant was first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal on Friday night and the news was later confirmed by CNN.

Legal experts say the revelation has enormous implications for the trajectory of Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, and whether Moscow had any help from President Donald Trump’s campaign team.

“This is big news — and potentially bad news for the Russian election interference ‘deniers,'” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent.

Rangappa, now an associate dean at Yale Law School, explained that to obtain a search warrant a prosecutor needs to prove to a judge that there is reason to believe a crime has been committed. The prosecutor then has to show that the information being sought will provide evidence of that crime….

by Victor Ostrovsky

“The key here…is that Mueller clearly already has enough information on these accounts — and their link to a potential crime to justify forcing [Facebook] to give up the info,” she said. “That means that he has uncovered a great deal of evidence through other avenues of Russian election interference.”

It also means that Mueller is no longer looking at Russia’s election interference from a strict counterintelligence standpoint — rather, he now believes he may be able to obtain enough evidence to charge specific foreign entities with a crime.

Read more in this Twitter thread–click to read the rest:

And who was in charge of the data operation for the Trump campaign? Jared Kushner. He revealed a lot about how he did it in a Forbes article back in May 2017: Jared Kushner In His Own Words On The Trump Data Operation The FBI Is Reportedly Probing. A couple of excerpts:

— “We found that Facebook and digital targeting were the most effective ways to reach the audiences. After the primary, we started ramping up because we knew that doing a national campaign is different than doing a primary campaign. That was when we formalized the system because we had to ramp up for digital fundraising. We brought in Cambridge Analytica. I called some of my friends from Silicon Valley who were some of the best digital marketers in the world. And I asked them how to scale this stuff. Doing it state by state is not that hard. But scaling is a very, very hard thing. They gave me a lot of their subcontractors and I built in Austin a data hub that would complement the RNC’s data hub. We had about 100 people in that office, which nobody knew about, until towards the end. We used that as the nerve center that drove a lot of the deployment of our ground game resources….

Fabio Hurtado Spanish, b. 1960

— “We played Moneyball, where we were asking, ‘Which states are will be the most cost effective—ROI per electoral vote.’ We used a lot things to get much more bang for the buck… We got rid of a lot of the political people. That’s not who we hired. Our best people were mostly people who volunteered pro bono, people from the business world, people from nontraditional fields. We could squeeze the margin so that nobody was getting rich on it. And we only had people who were doing it for the right reasons, not because they wanted to go onto the next campaign, but because they felt passionately about getting Donald Trump elected.”

Yesterday Vanity Fair published a piece by Chris Smith that connects a lot of dots: Did Jared Kushner’s Data Operation Help Select Facebook Targets for the Russians?

Kushner’s chat with Forbes has provided a veritable bakery’s worth of investigatory bread crumbs to follow. Brad Parscale, who Kushner hired to run the campaign’s San Antonio-based Internet operation, has agreed to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.

Bigger questions, however, revolve around Cambridge Analytica. It is unclear how Kushner first became aware of the data-mining firm, but one of its major investors is billionaire Trump backer Robert Mercer. Mercer was also a principal patron of Breitbart News and Steve Bannon, who was a vice president of Cambridge Analytica until he joined the Trump campaign. “I think the Russians had help,” said Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “I’ve always wondered if Cambridge Analytica was part of that.” (Cambridge Analytica did not respond to a request for comment.) ….

by PJ Crook

No evidence has emerged to link Kushner, Cambridge Analytica, or Manafort to the Russian election-meddling enterprise; all have denied colluding with foreign agents. (Kushner’s representatives declined to comment for this article. Manafort’s spokesman could not be reached.) Yet analysts scoff at the notion that the Russians figured out how to target African-Americans and women in decisive precincts in Wisconsin and Michigan all by themselves. “Could they have hired a warehouse full of people in Moscow and had them read Nate Silver’s blog every morning and determine what messages to post to what demographics? Sure, theoretically that’s possible,” said Mike Carpenter, an Obama administration assistant defense secretary who specialized in Russia and Eastern Europe. “But that’s not how they do this. And it’s not surprising that it took Facebook this long to figure out the ad buys. The Russians are excellent at covering their tracks. They’ll subcontract people in Macedonia or Albania or Cyprus and pay them via the dark Web. They always use locals to craft the campaign appropriately. My only question about 2016 is who exactly was helping them here.”

Click on the Vanity Fair link to read the rest.

More on the Cambridge Analytica piece of this at CNBC:

Darren Bolding, chief technology officer of Cambridge Analytica, told the crowd at the third annual Internet Summit in San Francisco on Thursday that “algorithms will find the worst in us if you let them go nuts.”

His comments came during an interview onstage with Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig in front of several hundred people gathered to hear him discuss the campaign. The interview was led by Matthew Prince, the CEO of internet service provider Cloudflare, which removed a white supremacist website from its network in the wake of Trump’s comments after a deadly rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Arjona, Rafael-Lectora

Bolding — who worked at the Republican National Committee before joining Cambridge in January of 2017 — said that the RNC used 15 “issue models” to target political ads at Facebook users during the 2016 U.S. election campaign….The event came as Facebook faces growing criticism to release more details on the ads it sent to users that it says were bought by Russians looking to influence U.S. voters.

The ads were targeted using the same automated Facebook system used by Cambridge Analytica, and for the same purpose — to influence the U.S. presidential election.

And that’s not the only Russia Investigation story that broke yesterday.

Bloomberg: Russia Laundering Probe Puts Trump Tower Meeting in New Light. The Russian lawyer who met with Don Jr., Kushner and Paul Manafort in June 2016 was also involved in a huge money laundering case–could getting rid of that case have been the quid pro quo for Russian help in getting Trump elected?

when she stepped into Trump Tower, [Natalia] Veselnitskaya was also representing a client ensnared in a long-running U.S. investigation into an alleged web of Russian money-laundering. That criminal inquiry, opened by federal prosecutors in New York in 2013 and previously unreported, is still active, according to people familiar with the probe. There was no mention of an ongoing criminal inquiry when the U.S. settled a related civil lawsuit against Veselnitskaya’s client in May.

The outline of the criminal investigation, stretching from Switzerland to Cyprus, is laid out deep within the 734 filings in the civil case. Several countries have supplied documents to the U.S., as have Deutsche Bank AGCitigroup Inc. and other global banks that aren’t targets. U.S. prosecutors in the case are seeking to track parts of more than $200 million they say left Russia after a massive fraud, and to identify who was involved in the scheme.

The revelation adds a new element to the Trump Tower meeting, which has emerged as a focus of congressional investigators and a U.S. special counsel inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Recall that Trump fired former Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who had brought the case in 2013 and later the Justice Department settle the case for peanuts:

After years of court wrangling over the civil case, the Prevezon matter was set for trial in May 2017, promising a public view of prosecutors’ full allegations about the Russian money flows. But just days before opening arguments, the U.S. announced it had settled the case for $5.9 million.

Ana Maria Leão

The prosecutors called it a victory. So did Prevezon lawyer Gay, who called the U.S. settlement “almost an apology by the government.”

Several Democratic lawmakers looked at the Prevezon settlement in a new light two months later, when news emerged about the Veselnitskaya meeting in Trump Tower. In a letter, they asked whether the Russian lawyer, or members of the Trump team, may have put pressure on prosecutors in the matter.

Natasha Bertrand has more at Business Insider: New details about major Russian money-laundering investigation raise the stakes of Trump Tower meeting.

The criminal investigation had not yet been disclosed when Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Bharara in March, and there was no mention of it when the civil case was settled in May for $5.9 million.

Veselnitskaya has staunchly denied discussing the Prevezon case during the Trump Tower meeting. But the developments suggest the stakes for her client were higher than previously known.

In September 2016, Bharara had issued a grand-jury subpoena to Andrei Alekseevich Pavlov — a person “central to the Government’s case against Prevezon,” according to an emergency appeal filed at the time by Prevezon counsel Michael Mukasey, who wanted to depose him.

Citigroup, Deutsche Bank AG, UBS AG, and TD Bank were also issued grand-jury subpoenas, according to Bloomberg, which did not provide further details.

Grand-jury testimonies are a key stage in a federal criminal investigation. The subpoena issued by Bharara to Pavlov, and provided to Business Insider on Friday, ordered him to hand over documents related to a series of cases connected to the Prevezon investigation.

The subpoena also asked Pavlov to provide “all non-privileged correspondence” with Veselnitskaya and others relevant to the case.

This was all short-circuited when the DOJ settled the case. Read more details at BI.

In the days leading up to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, when his soon-to-be national security adviser Michael Flynn was reportedly pushing a multibillion-dollar deal to build nuclear reactors in Jordan and other Middle East nations, Flynn and two other top Trump advisers held a secret meeting with the king of Jordan.

Karin Jurick

meeting — details of which have never been reported — is the latest in a series of secret, high-stakes contacts between Trump advisers and foreign governments that have raised concerns about how, in particular, Flynn and senior adviser Jared Kushner handled their personal business interests as they entered key positions of power. And the nuclear project raised additional security concerns about expanding nuclear technology in a tinderbox region of the world. One expert compared it to providing “a nuclear weapons starter kit.”

On the morning of Jan. 5, Flynn, Kushner, and former chief strategist Steve Bannon greeted Mi at the Four Seasons hotel in lower Manhattan, then took off in a fleet of SUVs and a sedan to a different location.

People close to the three Trump advisers say that the nuclear deal was not discussed. But a federal official with access to a document created by a law enforcement agency about the meeting said that the nuclear proposal, known as the Marshall Plan, was one of the topics the group talked about.

Read the rest at the link. It sure looks like Mueller is getting closer to nailing Trump and his gang.

What stories are you following today?

 


Friday Afternoon Reads: Whispering Tweet Nothings to Terrorists and Crazies

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

The world is a dangerous place and international relations are challenging to even the most skilled world leaders. Then, there is Kremlin Caligula. Tweeting all things ‘unhelpful’ at all times. This time it was about a terrorist attack in London.

An “improvised explosive device” was detonated on a Tube train in south-west London during Friday’s morning rush hour, injuring 29 people.

The blast, at Parsons Green station on a District Line train from Wimbledon, is being treated as terrorism.

So-called Islamic State says it carried out the attack, which Prime Minister Theresa May condemned as “cowardly”.,

A hunt is under way for the person who placed the device and the area around the station has been evacuated.

Speciralist officers there securing the remains 0f the improvised device and ensuring it is stable.

Chris Britt / Illinois Times

Trump never offers condolences or the proverbial thoughts and prayers. Instead, he tweets verbal bombs.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday said speculation about those behind the terror attack at London’s Parsons Green subway station was unhelpful, a clear reference to a tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“I never think it is helpful for anyone to speculate on what is an ongoing investigation,” May told the BBC, without naming Trump. “The police and security services are working to discover the full circumstances of this cowardly attack and to identify all those responsible.”

Earlier Friday, Trump implied authorities were monitoring those responsible for setting off explosives.

“Another attack in London by a loser terrorist. These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!” Trump tweeted.

He added in a second tweet that “loser terrorists must be dealt with in a much tougher manner. The internet is their main recruitment tool which we must cut off & use better!”

The explosion in southwest London, which authorities are calling a “terrorist incident,” left 29 people wounded. None of the injuries are thought to be life-threatening. Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley told reporters that most of the injuries appeared to be flash burns.

Rowley said police believe the explosion, at about 8:20 a.m. local time, was caused by an improvised explosive device.

Pictures of the alleged explosive device — a white bucket inside a plastic bag in an underground train carriage — circulated on social media but the blast did not seem to have caused major damage, according to the BBC.

“Londoners particularly can expect to see an enhanced police presence, particularly across the transport system across the day,” Rowley said

Meanwhile, North Korea has fired another ballistic missile over Japan. This came after a flurry of threats from its rogue leader that sounded like a big ol’ return fire to Trump. Thursday saw NK threaten to “sink Japan and turn America to ashes” which sounds similar to “fire and fury” to me.

North Korea has fired a ballistic missile across Japan, creating new tension in the region after its nuclear bomb test less than two weeks ago.

The missile reached an altitude of about 770km (478 miles), travelling 3,700km before landing in the sea off Hokkaido, South Korea’s military says.

It flew higher and further than one fired over Japan late last month.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his country would “never tolerate” such “dangerous provocative action”.

South Korea responded within minutes by firing two ballistic missiles into the sea in a simulated strike on the North.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also condemned the launch and the UN Security Council will meet later on Friday in New York at the request of the United States and Japan.

Guess who did have substantive comments on North Korea?

Now read the twitter responses to that!

Hillary Clinton may have lost the 2016 presidential election, but MSNBC host Rachel Maddow declared she “is not a retired politician” after an hour long interview with her Thursday.

Her assessment was echoed by many on Twitter as well, with many users agreeing with Clinton’s take on last year’s election, the Donald Trump presidency and current political situation around issues such as the Russia Investigation, North Korea, and DACA.

The interview with Maddow was a part of a book tour for Clinton’s “What Happened,” which follows her journey during the 2016 election.

Speaking about the situation in North Korea, Clinton said it was important for the country to work with allies like South Korea, which she thought the Trump administration was alienating; she also said Trump was failing to braing in experts to deal with the situation.

“We have decimated our state department. I don’t believe that people who have decades of experience with North Korean diplomacy are being brought to the table, even though they should be,” she said.

Speaking on the contentious Russian meddling in the presidential election, she summed up what Trump aspired toward. “I do believe Trump admires authoritarians. He doesn’t just like Putin, he wants to be like Putin. He wants to have that kind of power that is largely unaccountable,” she said.

Following Clinton’s interview, many users on Twitter commented how different the country would have been if Clinton had been elected the president of the U.S.

A Twitter user by the name Joy Reid was quick to draw comparisons between Trump and Clinton. “Excellent @HillaryClinton interview by #Maddow, and what a reminder of the contrast between the president we have and the one we could have,” she tweeted.

Bob Cesca from the Stephanie Miller Show called Clinton an exceptional woman. “Watching HRC on @Maddow and growing furious (again) at whoever first said presidents should be like us. They should be exceptional like her,” he tweeted.

There were many other tweets which hailed Clinton’s clear headedness and articulateness, with many users asserting she should have been the president of the U.S. instead of Trump.

There is no joy in MAGAville today. “‘You will never make America great again!‘: Watch angry Trump fans burn their MAGA hats over DACA deal.”

Supporters of President Donald Trump are still furious about his decision to work with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on helping to shield undocumented immigrants who were brought into the United States as children from being deported.

 Now some Trump fans have taken their displeasure a step further and have started setting their “Make America Great Again” hats on fire to protest Trump seemingly going soft on his signature campaign issue.

Angry Trump fan Luis Withrow posted a video of himself on Twitter angrily telling Trump that he will “never make America great again” if he didn’t “drain the swamp” in Washington, DC. He then set his MAGA hat ablaze.

Burn baby burn!

Last night was another reminder that we should have had a President Hillary! What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 and if you liked Cat Stevens you may want to read ‘The Unlikely Return of Cat Stevens’ by Howard Fishman at The New Yorker.

Thursday Reads

Trump’s new BFFs

Good Afternoon!!

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Shumer had dinner with Trump last night and some kind of “deal” was worked out, but no one can figure out what it was. Trump has been sending conflicting tweets about it and saying confusing things about it in Florida this morning.

The Washington Post: Trump, top A Democrats agree to work on deal to save ‘dreamers’ from deportation.

Democratic leaders announced late Wednesday that they agreed with President Trump to pursue a legislative deal that would protect hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants from deportation and enact border security measures that don’t include building a physical wall.

The president discussed options during a dinner at the White House with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that also included talks on tax reform, infrastructure and trade. Trump has showed signs of shifting strategy to cross the aisle and work with Democrats in the wake of the high-profile failures by Republicans to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

We’re working on a plan for DACA,” Trump said as he left the White House on Thursday for a trip to survey hurricane damage in Florida.

Trump said that he and Congress are “fairly close” to a deal and that Republican leaders Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.) are “very much on board” with a deal that would address DACA. The agreement must include “massive border security,” Trump said in response to shouted questions about whether he had reached a deal on the terms Schumer and Pelosi had described.

“The wall will come later” [link to Axios added]  he said, apparently confirming a central element of the Democrats’ account.

There was instant backlash from Trump’s Cro-Magnon supporters, and the White House quickly tried to walk back whatever Trump agreed to when his handlers weren’t around.

Earlier Thursday, amid backlash from conservative supporters, Trump had sought Thursday to reach out to his GOP base with messages claiming his agenda would remain intact on signature issues such as the border wall.

In a series of tweets, Trump wrote that “no deal” was made on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, an Obama-era program that has allowed 690,000 dreamers to work and go to school without fear of deportation. He further wrote that agreements on “massive border security” would have to accompany any new DACA provisions, and insisted that “the WALL will continue to be built.”

I guess we’ll find out what’s going on eventually. It would certainly be a good thing if Congress can get its act together and do something to keep the Dreamers in the U.S.

Manu Raju of CNN had a great scoop last night that makes Devin Nunes look like even more of an idiot than ever before: Exclusive: Rice told House investigators why she unmasked senior Trump officials.

Former national security adviser Susan Rice privately told House investigators that she unmasked the identities of senior Trump officials to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was in New York late last year, multiple sources told CNN.

The New York meeting preceded a separate effort by the UAE to facilitate a back-channel communication between Russia and the incoming Trump White House.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan

The crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, arrived in New York last December in the transition period before Trump was sworn into office for a meeting with several top Trump officials, including Michael Flynn, the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his top strategist Steve Bannon, sources said.

The Obama administration felt misled by the United Arab Emirates, which had failed to mention that Zayed was coming to the United States even though it’s customary for foreign dignitaries to notify the US government about their travels, according to several sources familiar with the matter. Rice, who served as then-President Obama’s national security adviser in his second term, told the House Intelligence Committee last week that she requested the names of the Americans mentioned in the classified report be revealed internally, a practice officials in both parties say is common.

Rice’s previously undisclosed revelation in a classified setting shines new light on a practice that had come under sharp criticism from the committee chairman, California Rep. Devin Nunes, and President Donald Trump, who previously accused Rice of committing a crime.Ja

Once again, Trump people were caught trying to communicate secretly with Putin, because of course foreign visitors are routinely monitored by the intelligence community.

In other Russia news, Michael Flynn’s son is now a subject in the investigation. NBC News reports:

Michael G. Flynn, the son of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, is a subject of the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign, according to four current and former government officials.

The inquiry into Flynn is focused at least in part on his work with his father’s lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group, three of the officials said. It’s unclear when the focus on Flynn began.

Barry Coburn, who said he is serving as the younger Flynn’s legal counsel, said he couldn’t comment on the matter.

Flynn’s status as a subject of the Russia investigation widens the publicly known scope of the probe. NBC News has reported that those under investigation have included the elder Flynn and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Others under scrutiny by special counsel Robert Mueller include Carter Page, a Trump campaign ally; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser; and the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr.

https://twitter.com/Susan_Hennessey/status/908041751134425091

Yesterday White House spokesman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that James Comey committed a crime when he leaked his personal memos about interactions with Trump to The New York Times, and called on the Justice Department to investigate him. She also called on ESPN to fire a reporter who tweeted that Trump is a white supremacist. In any other White House, Sanders herself would be fired by now. The White House is not supposed to get involved in decisions by the DOJ and the White House calling for the firing of a journalist for dissing POTUS is wildly inappropriate.

From Politico, a response to the recent attacks on Comey by the Trump crowd: The Hapless Smear Campaign Against Jim Comey.

From the moment Steve Bannon stated in his 60 Minutes interview that President Donald Trump’s decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey was the biggest political mistake in modern presidential history, there simply was no chance that this week would proceed without a fair amount of political insanity. The fact that the president’s former chief strategist would publicly and brazenly disparage that decision was bound to result in a fierce White House pushback. And so it has. But over the past three days, the White House has repeatedly advanced flawed and in some instances preposterous legal arguments that don’t stand up to informed scrutiny.

The hijinks began on Monday, when White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that information divulged after Comey was fired served as retroactive justification for the president’s decision. She alleged, among other things, that Comey had given “false testimony” and leaked “privileged information to journalists.” On Tuesday, Sanders did not repeat the “false testimony” claim, but she did reiterate the assertion that Comey had “leaked privileged government information” and speculated that his actions “could have been illegal.”

In Wednesday’s news briefing, reading from what appeared to be prepared notes, Sanders explained what she meant by “illegal”:

“The memos that Comey leaked were created on an FBI computer while he was the director,” she said. “He claims they were private property, but they clearly followed the protocol of an official FBI document, leaking FBI memos on a sensitive case regardless of classification violates federal laws including the Privacy Act, standard FBI employment agreement and nondisclosure agreement all personnel must sign.”

These talking points were presumably provided to Sanders by the White House Counsel’s Office, but as a litigator with considerable experience representing government officials and contractors (including whistleblowers) of all ideological persuasions, trust me: They are nonsense.

Click on the link to read the explanation.

Have you heard the latest outrage from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his trophy wife Louise Linton? The Washington Post reports: ‘The moochin’ Mnuchins’: Treasury secretary again is fodder for rich humor.

Just based on a quick Google search, the August exchange between Louise Linton, the wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and a critic of Linton’s fashion-bragging, mean-girl Instagram post seemed to be fading, along with memories of the eclipse, which the couple was lucky enough to have observed at Fort Knox.

But it all came rushing back when ABC News reported Wednesday evening that the Treasury Department had in fact requested a government jet for Mnuchin’s European honeymoon in Scotland, France and Italy. If the request had been granted, the plane would have cost the taxpayers roughly $25,000 per hour to operate.

A Treasury Department spokesman said in a statement that the request was made so that Mnuchin, who is a member of the National Security Council, would have access to secure communications as he traveled abroad.

Remember Linton’s attack on the woman who criticized her Instagram post after the Mnuchins used a government plane to fly to Fort Knox so they could watch the solar eclipse from the rooftop?

As the news rushed across social media, so did the memory of the Instagram episode, with one line in particular standing out among the now-regretted post by Linton:

“Adorable! Do you think the U.S. govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol.”

Now for a change of pace, I thought you might like this archaeology story. The AP via The Toronto Sun: Well-preserved Viking sword found in Norwegian mountains.

COPENHAGEN — A Norwegian archaeologist says a well-preserved, if rusty, iron sword dating to the Viking erahas been found in southern Norway.

Lars Holger Piloe says the nearly one-metre-long sword was found slid down between rocks with the blade sticking out, and may have been left by a person who got lost in a blizzard and died on the mountain from exposure.

Piloe said Thursday the sword, dating from about 850-950 A.D., was found in Lesja, some 275 kilometres north of Oslo.

Piloe said the sword’s preservation was likely due to the quality of the iron, as well as the cold, dry conditions. It was found in late August by two men who were on a reindeer hunt some 1,640 metres above sea level.

 

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?