Lazy Caturday Reads: Crazy is Our Daily Reality Now

Good Afternoon!!

Paul Newman and his Burmese caat

There are four Democratic women running for president and the media is working overtime to take them all down. Meanwhile, elderly white males Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders get kid glove treatment.

Let me see if I can get this straight: Elizabeth Warren believed her family when they told her she had a Native American ancestor. Kamala Harris was a prosecutor (horrors!), she dated an older black man but married a white man. Amy Klobuchar is mean to her staff. Kirsten Gillibrand is “too transparently opportunistic.”

Each one of these women has now been assigned a “her emails” story that will dominate her campaign if reporters are successful. But two elderly white men with problematic political records and a younger man with few qualifications (Beto O’Rourke) are treated as viable candidates.

Sigh . . . Will I live to see a woman president? I’m still hoping.

In other news, Trump had his physical and surprise! He’s in perfect health!

The Washington Post: Trump’s doctor says he is in ‘very good health’ after exam by 11 specialists.

President Trump is “in very good health” and is expected to remain healthy for “the duration of his Presidency, and beyond,” the president’s doctor reported Friday after a physical exam that lasted nearly four hours and included 11 specialists.

Carole Lombard with black cat

The White House did not release details of the exam at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and did not say whether more details would be released.

Trump was seen by a “panel of 11 different board certified specialists,” Sean P. Conley wrote in a brief memorandum released by the White House.

The memo did not include the disciplines of any of the specialists. Typically, a physical exam includes checks of height, weight, blood pressure and other standard measures. Trump said last year that he takes a statin drug to manage his cholesterol.

Trump did not undergo any procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia, Conley reported.

I wonder if he is still 6’3 and 239 pounds? The doctor doesn’t say. Maybe his height increased again–so rare for a 72 year old man, but possible for a wannabe dictator.

Let’s see, what else is happening?

The New York Times: Trump Defies Congressional Deadline on Khashoggi Report.

President Trump refused to provide Congress a report on Friday determining who killed the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, defying a demand by lawmakers intent on establishing whether the crown prince of Saudi Arabia was behind the grisly assassination.

Steve McQueen and friend

Mr. Trump effectively bypassed a deadline set by law as his administration argued that Congress could not impose its will on the president. Critics charged that he was seeking to cover up Saudi complicity in the death of Mr. Khashoggi, an American resident and a columnist for The Washington Post.

“Consistent with the previous administration’s position and the constitutional separation of powers, the president maintains his discretion to decline to act on congressional committee requests when appropriate,” the Trump administration said in a statement. The statement said the administration had taken action against the killers and would consult with Congress.

But Democrats said Mr. Trump was violating a law known as the Magnitsky Act. It required him to respond 120 days after a request submitted in the fall by committee leaders — including Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — a period that expired Friday.

The illegitimate “president” of the U.S. is protecting a foreign despot who ordered the brutal murder of a Washington Post journalist. And there are suggestions that the “president” used Saudi Arabia and his pals at The National Enquirer to get revenge on Jeff Bezos, who owns the Post.

CNN: Bezos flags ‘Saudi angle’ in alleged AMI extortion attempt.

Jeff Bezos’ stunning accusation that the National Enquirer tried to blackmail him mentioned the close ties between the paper’s publisher, David Pecker, and President Donald Trump — and a second, less well-known connection.

Lucille Ball with cat

Bezos flagged the link between the New York tabloid’s parent company, American Media, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, returning to it several times.

While Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir denied any connection between his country and AMI to CNN, Bezos said in his Thursday statement that the link between the Kingdom and the media company is not yet fully understood. He carefully laid out a web of connections.

The trigger for Bezos’ post was his decision to hire a respected investigator to find out how texts to his girlfriend were obtained and published by the National Enquirer — and to determine why the paper and Pecker, the AMI chairman, had made him a target.

“Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is ‘apoplectic’ about our investigation,” Bezos wrote. “For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve,” he continued.

A couple of articles on the National Enquier story to check out:

The Washington Post: Federal prosecutors reviewing Bezos’s extortion claim against National Enquirer, sources say.

The Daily Beast: Private Eyes Detail Inner Workings of National Enquirer ‘Blackmail’ Machine.

Marlon Brando and his cat

The illegitimate “president’s” fake attorney general made an ass of himself in front of the Congressional committee and the world yesterday and the “president” is very pleased. Natasha Bertrand at The Atlantic: Matthew Whitaker Plays to an Audience of One.

It took about five minutes of questioning for the acting attorney general to provoke gasps and jeers in the congressional hearing room. “Your five minutes are up,” Matthew Whitaker, an ex-U.S. Attorney-turned toilet salesman, told the House Judiciary Committee’s Democratic chairman Jerry Nadler. Nadler cracked a smile, but from that point on the rules of engagement seemed clear: Whitaker, just days remaining in his legally dubious role as the interim head of the Justice Department, appeared to be playing to an audience of one…..

Despite the lingering questions about his resume and suspicions about why he was appointed over Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who would have  been Sessions’s natural replacement, Whitaker presented himself to Nadler, a 13-term congressman, with the same aloofness and disdain for tradition that often seems typical of the Trump White House. And that may have been on purpose. Whitaker, whose tenure ends when Bill Barr is confirmed as attorney general next week, will need a new job. He has reportedly been considered for the role of Trump’s chief of staff. And though he testified under oath that he had “not interfered in any way with the special counsel’s investigation,” he repeatedly declined to contradict Trump’s claims that Mueller is on a “witch hunt.”

Marilyn Monroe

Chuck Rosenberg, a former senior Justice Department official who resigned in 2017, said it would have been “easy” for Whitaker to say that Mueller’s investigation is legitimate, as Barr did during his recent confirmation hearings. “I don’t know how somebody could be that cowardly,” he added. But doing so would have undermined what is arguably his boss’s most important talking point—and that would not have been a good move for Whitaker if he was, in fact, auditioning for his next position.

Instead, Whitaker had a boilerplate response prepared for the myriad of questions posed by Democrats about the Mueller probe: “It would be inappropriate for me to talk about an ongoing investigation,” he said. Democrats, though, found that disingenuous—Whitaker had discussed the probe publicly earlier this month, going as far as to speculate that it would be wrapping up soon.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

Here’s a Trump/Whitaker/Russia scandal that is new to me. Raw Story:

Taking to Twitter on Friday night, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) hinted that there will be an investigation into a donor who gifted the Judicial Network with $18 million to steal the Supreme Court seat belonging to Merrick Garland.

As part of his observations on the Matt Whitaker hearing where he was confronted about a mysterious $1.2 million donation that funded his salary, Whitehouse said Democrats shouldn’t stop there.

Meryl Streep

‘Whitaker did political hit work for a front group called FACT that does not reveal its donors. Today he admitted that its donor was Donors Trust, an entity that hides the identity of right-wing donors. That means the unknown real donor hid behind two entities,” Whitehouse tweeted….

Whitehouse then put conservatives on notice that he expects an investigation into the dark money that was used to fund a campaign to keep Judge Merrick Garland from even getting a hearing — only to see his seat go to conservative Neil Gorsuch after Donald Trump was elected.

I found this on Twitter.

Could this be true? I don’t know, but I hope Whitehouse finds out. At this point, nothing about Trump, Republicans, and Russia would surprise me.

I’ll end with something more hopeful from The New York Times: John Dingell: My last words for America.

John D. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who served in the U.S. House from 1955 to 2015, was the longest-serving member of Congress in American history. He dictated these reflections to his wife, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), at their home in Dearborn, on Feb. 7, the day he died.

Mary Tyler Moore

One of the advantages to knowing that your demise is imminent, and that reports of it will not be greatly exaggerated, is that you have a few moments to compose some parting thoughts.

In our modern political age, the presidential bully pulpit seems dedicated to sowing division and denigrating, often in the most irrelevant and infantile personal terms, the political opposition.

And much as I have found Twitter to be a useful means of expression, some occasions merit more than 280 characters.

My personal and political character was formed in a different era that was kinder, if not necessarily gentler. We observed modicums of respect even as we fought, often bitterly and savagely, over issues that were literally life and death to a degree that — fortunately – we see much less of today.

Click on the link to read Dingell’s final thoughts. How amazing that he chose to speak out publicly from his deathbed. He was a true public servant.

That’s all I have for today. I hope you all enjoy the weekend in spite of the insanity that surrounds us.

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Lazy Caturday Reads

Catsquatch by Syama Golden

Good Morning!!

There is so much news this morning that it’s difficult to know what to focus on. I guess I’ll begin with the followup to the story Dakinikat wrote about in yesterday’s post–Trump’s horrifying decision to withdraw from the INF treaty. This was nothing but a gift to Trump’s puppet master Putin–did they coordinate this?

Associated Press: Russia to pull plug on nuclear arms pact after US does same.

MOSCOW (AP) — Following in the footsteps of the U.S., Russia will abandon a centerpiece nuclear arms treaty but will only deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles if Washington does so, President Vladimir Putin said Saturday.

U.S. President Donald Trump accused Moscow on Friday of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty with “impunity” by deploying banned missiles. Trump said in a statement that the U.S. will “move forward” with developing its own military response options to Russia’s new land-based cruise missiles that could target Western Europe.

By Alfonso Rocchi

The collapse of the INF Treaty has raised fears of a repeat of a Cold War showdown in the 1980s, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union both deployed intermediate-range missiles on the continent. Such weapons were seen as particularly destabilizing as they only take a few minutes to reach their targets, leaving no time for decision-makers and raising the likelihood of a global nuclear conflict over a false launch warning.

After the U.S. gave notice of its intention to withdraw from the treaty in six months, Putin said that Russia would do the same. He ordered the development of new land-based intermediate-range weapons, but emphasized that Russia won’t deploy them in the European part of the country or elsewhere unless the U.S. does so.

“We will respond quid pro quo,” Putin said. “Our American partners have announced they were suspending their participation in the treaty and will do the same. They have announced they will conduct research and development, and we will act accordingly.”

“Quid pro quo?” Is that shade from Putin? Because it’s obvious as this point that Trump is checking off everything on Putin’s wish list in order to repay him for the 2016 election and likely promises that he’ll eventually get that Trump Tower in Moscow.

And it’s not just the 2016 election. Natasha has a revealing post up at The Atlantic this morning on Robert Mueller’s latest court filing: Russia Is Attacking the U.S. System From Within.

new court filing submitted on Wednesday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed that a Russian troll farm currently locked in a legal battle over its alleged interference in the 2016 election appeared to wage yet another disinformation campaign late last year—this time targeting Mueller himself.

Didier Lourenço Lithograph, 2012

According to the filing, the special counsel’s office turned over one million pages of evidence to lawyers for Concord Management and Consulting as part of the discovery process. The firm is accused of funding the troll farm, known as the Internet Research Agency. But someone connected to Concord allegedly manipulated and leaked those documents to reporters, hoping the documents would make people think that Mueller’s evidence against the troll farm and its owners was flimsy. The tactic didn’t seem to convince anyone, but it appeared to mark yet another example of Russia exploiting the U.S. justice system to undercut its rivals abroad….

When Mueller indicted Concord Management and Consulting in February 2018, along with two other corporate entities and 13 Russian nationals allegedly connected to the Internet Research Agency, it seemed highly unlikely that the indictment would result in a trial because Russians cannot be extradited to the United States. But Concord unexpectedly hired the well-connected American law firm, Reed Smith, to fight Mueller, arguing that the charges should be dropped because the special counsel was illegally appointed. The judge in the case, Dabney Friedrich, has twice refused to dismiss the case and recently lambasted Concord’s American  lawyers for submitting “unprofessional, inappropriate and ineffective” court filings, and the legal battle has raged on.

Now, according to the Mueller filing this week, unidentified actors working out of Russia appear to have weaponize the U.S. discovery process to Concord’s benefit. Over 1,000 files on the website that hosted the leaked documents “match those produced in discovery,” the special counsel said.  The documents were published from a computer with a Russian IP address, according to Mueller, and whoever released them clearly “had access to at least some of the non-sensitive discovery produced by the government.” But forged documents were mixed in to the trove, too, apparently in an attempt to accuse Mueller of characterizing American websites and Facebook pages like Occupy Democrats as Russian disinformation operations. The website also inserted irrelevant documents into the unique folder names—known only to those with access to the discovery materials—and characterized them as the sum-total of Mueller’s evidence “in an apparent effort to discredit the investigation,” the special counsel said.

It’s complicated, so I hope you’ll go read the rest at The Atlantic.

Girl With a Cat, 2012, by Ju Hong Chen

Yesterday, the The Virginian-Pilot broke the news that Governor Ralph Northam included a racist photo of himself and another man in his medical school yearbook. I’m not going to post the photo; I’m sure you’ve seen it by now.

Ralph Northam admits he’s in “clearly racist” photo; vows to serve out term amid calls for resignation.

A photo from Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook shows him and another person in racist costumes — one wearing blackface and one a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood, though it was not clear which person was the future governor.

Hours after the 35-year-old photo came to light Friday, Northam apologized for his decision to appear in it. Elected officials and activist groups from across the political spectrum called for him to resign.

But in a video posted to Twitter Friday evening, Northam said he had spent the past year “fighting for a Virginia that works better for all people” and he would continue to do so throughout the rest of his term, which ends in January 2022.

Northam admitted that he appears in the photo, but for some reason did not say which of the costumed men he is. It’s obvious he is going to have to step down, but as of this morning he’s apparently still hanging on. Multiple Democratic politicians, including former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe have called for his resignation.

Shortly after this news broke, CBS New reported that the yearbook also lists a racist nickname for Northam, who was 25 years old at the time.

CBS News uncovered a page from Northam’s yearbook at the Virginia Military Institute that had nicknames listed underneath his name. One of them was “Coonman,” a racial slur.

Woman with a black cat, by Pablo Picasso

Northam has to go, but the upside of this is that his Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax is a rising star and would be Virginia’s second black governor if Northam resigns. The Washington Post:

Justin Fairfax is an Ivy League-educated lawyer descended from slaves, who as lieutenant governor of Virginia was known mostly for sitting out tributes to Confederate leaders in the historic Capitol in Richmond.

He could now become the commonwealth’s 74th governor, if fellow Democrat Ralph Northam resigns over a racist photo he included in his medical school yearbook in 1984.

Fairfax, 39, was elected as Northam’s deputy in the 2017 blue wave in which Democrats won all three statewide offices and picked up 15 seats in the House of Delegates.

He would be the second African American governor of Virginia, following L. Douglas Wilder, who held the office from 1990 to 1994. Only two other African Americans have been governors in modern U.S. history.

Read more about Northam’s background at the WaPo. Also check out this powerful piece at the Root: Justin Fairfax, The King of Confederate Shade, Shuts Down 100-Year Tribute to American Traitors.

For more than 100 years, the Virginia State Senate has had a little tradition, where they honor Confederate “heroes” Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee at the close of a Senate session sometime near the birthdays of two men. Now if you didn’t take Treason 101 in high school, you probably missed the part where Jackson and Lee were part of the Confederacy that broke away from the United States and started the Civil War by firing on Fort Sumter. Perhaps you also didn’t learn that Robert E. Lee, as head of the Confederate Army, is responsible for more American deaths than the Nazis, The Vietcong, ISIS, the LAPD, Cobra, Hydra, and high blood pressure.

The point is, at the time and by modern standards, Jackson and Lee were horrible men. They also happen to have birthdays very close to each other (Jackson, January 21; Lee, January 19) and Jackson occasionally shares a birthday with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

By François Batet 1921

Consequently, for years, on or around the birthdays of these two Confederates, a member of the Virginia Senate would announce, “I would like to adjourn in honor of General Lee or Stonewall Jackson.”

The Senate would agree, someone would take the podium to speak a couple of words, and then everyone would break for orange slices and Mint Julip Capri-Suns. All of this has gone off without a hitch for decades, even after the first African Americans got elected to the Virginia Senate; even after the state adopted the ridiculous Lee-Jackson-King Holiday from 1984 to 2000; even after Virginia elected its first black governor, Doug Wilder, from 1990-1994. However, Justin Fairfax didn’t come to Richmond to play footsie with Confederates and he is very much his great-grandfather’s child….

Since being elected Lt. Governor of Virginia in 2017, Fairfax has served as the president of the state Senate and has quietly left the podium whenever state senators have attempted to honor Stonewall or Lee at the end of the session. He did it last Friday when a Republican senator stepped up to honor Robert E. Lee. The reasons are obvious. First, no one should be honoring American traitors in a government building, no matter where that traitor was born. Secondly, Justin Fairfax, a man who literally took his oath of office with his three-greats-ago grandfather’s Freedom papers in his pocket, knows history and knows power.

It sounds like Fairfax would do just fine as governor; he was expected to run in 2021 after Northam completed his term-limited governorship anyway.

I’m post a few more important reads in the comment thread, but I want to call attention to this one from Raw Story: ‘Incredibly dangerous’: Yale psychiatrist warns Trump will resort to ‘extreme measures’ as Mueller closes in.

‘La Sieste’ by Magalie Bucher

On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared that he was not concerned about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

He claimed that departing Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein had told him he was not a person of interest in the investigation.

“He told the attorneys that I’m not a subject, I’m not a target,” Mr. Trump told the New York Times.

Nevertheless, the probe seems to be circling closer to the president and his family. The arrest of long-time Trump ally Roger Stone—and wording in his indictment that suggested he’d been directed to perform criminal acts by a more senior campaign official—spurred discussion that Donald Trump Jr. or even Trump himself would be implicated in Stone’s alleged crimes.

Trump also told the Times that he would build a wall along the Southwest border with Mexico regardless of Congress.

Raw Story spoke with Yale psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee about how the latest developments are likely to impact the president. Lee’s views are her own, not a reflection of Yale’s position.

I hope you’ll go read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

Bandy X. Lee: His anxieties are palpable, as he resorts to more and more extreme measures and unreal justifications for building a wall. We had the extended shutdown that put us at real security risk, according to the FBI, and declaring a national emergency is a very real possibility.

He needs to maintain his shrinking base as well as to give himself a sense of victory, and he will go to all lengths to achieve it. What concerns me, however, is our own lack of readiness for when the real crisis comes. As a nation, we continue merely to react, while dangers escalate, and underestimate the profound effects that mental instability can have.

With all the negative news for Mr. Trump, “rational” people may feel relief, as he is finally held to account, but while being driven to a corner, the president’s only desperate remaining diversion may be war. Forces around the globe—the Israelis and the Saudis, for example—want that for their own reasons, and with a foreign policy team that now reflects his psychology, times could turn incredibly dangerous.

What stories have you been following?


Thursday Reads: Polar Vortex Deep Freeze and Other News

View of Chicago across a frozen Lake Michigan

Good Afternoon!!

The biggest news this morning is the weather. The Midwest is getting hit hard by the polar vortex. So far it’s not that bad in the Boston area. It’s 12 degrees this morning with a high of 18, and the temperatures will be going up after that, so I feel fortunate.

The New York Times: Polar Vortex Updates: Bitter Cold Weather Spreads East.

As the middle of the nation awoke on Thursday, the deep freeze seemed to have settled in for a long, unwanted visit, disrupting life across an entire region for much of a week, contributing to deaths and injuries, and leaving residents impatient to emerge from their homes and get back to normal.

The grim temperatures and gusty winds lingered in the Midwest, and had spread to the Northeast.

Here are the latest developments:

• Temperatures broke records in some places, and remained low, near record levels, in much of the Midwest on Thursday morning. Minneapolis was minus 23, with a wind chill of minus 38, the National Weather Service said. Chicago was at minus 21, with a wind chill of minus 41. And Milwaukee hit minus 21, with a wind chill of minus 40.

Another shot of frozen Chicago

• At least eight deaths have been connected to the Midwest’s dangerously cold weather system, according to The Associated Press, including that of a University of Iowa student who was found behind an academic hall several hours before dawn on Wednesday.

• The sustained cold taxed energy systems across the Midwest, leading to some outages and urgent calls to customers to reduce the heat in their homes.

• Many schools, businesses and restaurants remained shuttered on Thursday, though some offices were reopening and many more were expected to reopen Friday, when temperatures are expected to rise.

• Airlines have already canceled more than 2,000 flights scheduled for Thursday in the United States, according to FlightAware. On Wednesday, cancellations topped 2,700.

• The East Coast was feeling the bitter cold, too. At 6 a.m. the temperature in New York City hit 2 degrees, but with the wind it felt like 17 below zero.

Yahoo News: Live updates: Deep freeze blasts Northeast as dangerously cold temperatures are unrelenting in Midwest.

A dangerous deep freeze is blasting the Northeast and Midwest, where record-breaking cold temperatures are paralyzing cities and communities.

At least eight people have died in connection with the coldest weather in decades across the Northern Plains and Midwest.

The wind chill in Chicago plunged to minus 52 on Wednesday — the coldest wind chill since 1985. It was minus 55 in Minneapolis, also the coldest wind chill since 1985….

Emergency responders help victims after a pileup near Reading, PA

The bone-chilling temperatures are unrelenting in the Midwest, where the actual temperatures — not wind chills — were in the minus 20s and minus 30s.

Record low temperatures were recorded in Chicago: minus 21 degrees; Madison, Wisconsin: minus 26 degrees; and Milwaukee: minus 23 degrees….

On the East Coast, New York City had a temperature of 2 degrees — the coldest day in three years.

Philadelphia reached a temperature of 5 degrees with a wind chill of minus 11 — the coldest so far this winter.

Boston also fell to 5 degrees 5 with a wind chill of minus 16 — the worst so far for the year.

I’m not sure about that. We had below zero real temperatures a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, it’s cold and I don’t plan to go outside until tomorrow, when it’s supposed to go back into the 20s.

My Mom lives in an assisted living community in the Indianapolis area, and it has been really cold there. Last night her apartment was so cold that they had to giver her a space heater. They’re not prepared for temperatures like that in that part of Indiana.

You probably heard about this yesterday: Russians have been trying to spread disinformation about the Mueller investigation using discovery materials from the Concord Management case.

NBC News: Mueller says Russians are using his discovery materials in disinformation effort.

Russians are using materials obtained from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office in a disinformation campaign apparently aimed at discrediting the investigation into Moscow’s election interference, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.

.

Ice is seen on the side of the Great Falls National Historic Park in Patterson, NJ yesterday

One or more people associated with the special counsel’s case against Russian hackers made statements last October claiming to have stolen discovery materials that were originally provided by Mueller to Concord Management, Mueller’s team said in court documents filed on Wednesday in the Russian troll farm case.

That discovery — evidence and documents traded between both sides of a lawsuit — appears to have been altered and disseminated as part of a disinformation campaign apparently aimed at discrediting the ongoing investigations in Russian interference in the U.S. political system, according to the documents.

Concord Management, a company owned by a Russian oligarch known as President Vladimir Putin’s “chef,” is one of three Russian entities that were accused by the special counsel last February of helping to mastermind the social media meddling into the 2016 election. Thirteen Russian citizens were also indicted and accused of taking part in the widespread effort.

According to the documents filed Wednesday, a Twitter account called @HackingRedstone tweeted: “We’ve got access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller. You can view all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!”

Click on the link to read the rest.

Trump is infuriated because his own intelligence chiefs disagree with his ignorant, information-free pronouncements about foreign countries. The heads of intelligence agencies testified to Congress on Tuesday.

CNN: Trump singled out Dan Coats in morning rant about intelligence community.

Icicles form on a railing in Port Washington, WI yesterday

President Donald Trump seethed Wednesday morning as he watched the highlights of his intelligence chiefs testifying on Capitol Hill and singled out Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats by name during his morning rant, two people with knowledge of the outburst tell CNN.

The President didn’t see Coats’ full testimony in front of lawmakers that took place on Tuesday, but he was furious Wednesday as he watched television chyrons blare that the officials had contradicted him. The snippets of Coats saying that North Korea had “halted its provocative behavior related to its WMD program” but was unlikely to “completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities” angered him, CNN has learned.

Trump made his displeasure with the intelligence team clear on Twitter just after 6 a.m. Wednesday, but he didn’t single Coats out in his tweets like he did verbally. The President was more frustrated with the coverage than the assessments of the intelligence chiefs, who brief him on national security matters regularly.

The White House says Trump isn’t yet going to fire Coats for telling the truth.

At The Washington Post, Tim Weiner, author of books on the histories of the CIA and FBI, writes: When Trump savages his intelligence chiefs, the ‘deep state’ has reason to worry.

President Trump has compared the CIA to Nazis. Now he is attacking the sentinels of American national security as “extremely … naive” on Iran, and much else. “They are wrong!” he tweeted on Wednesday. “Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!”

The chiefs of U.S. intelligence, an enterprise costing well north of $80 billion a year, report that Iran isn’t building nuclear weapons, North Korea isn’t dismantling them, and the Islamic State is undefeated in Syria and Iraq. Trump batted back their conclusions on ISIS and North Korea in tweets delivered before dawn, in who knows what dark night of the soul.

The Sheboygan lighthouse glows at sunrise in Wisconsin.

“The President has a dangerous habit of undermining the intelligence community to fit his alternate reality,” tweeted Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “People risk their lives for the intelligence he just tosses aside on Twitter.”

The CIA’s spies and analysts are the lead reporters on these issues. All their work contradicts the president’s assumptions. And they are almost assuredly correct. Trump says they don’t know what they’re talking about. Why is he savaging American intelligence and its leaders? He may be playing deaf, dumb and blind to their work, fending it all off as fake news, because he thinks they have something on him. He certainly sees the CIA (and the FBI) as an instrument of a “deep state” conspiring to undo his presidency. And so he denigrates their work and dismisses their leaders as fools and naifs.

Sure, the CIA has been tragically wrong in the past. The United States went to war in Iraq 15 years ago, in part, because of its supposition that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. But it’s just as great a tragedy when it gets it right and the president won’t listen. We are living through that kind of tragedy right now. If Trump trashes whatever the CIA tells him — just as he ignored its solid reporting that a certain Saudi prince had a contributing Washington Post journalist murdered four months ago — who knows what will happen if we have an actual crisis.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

The Polar Vortex from space

The media has worked hard this weeks to make former Starbucks boss and billionaire Howard Schwartz into a viable presidential candidate. I don’t think it’s working, because Schultz is an unattractive man with zero charisma and no understanding of politics or government. Yesterday Schultz really stepped in it.

CNN: Howard Schultz deletes tweet about column that contained smears on Warren, Harris.

Schultz, who is weighing an independent centrist bid for president, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper he was unaware the column on PJMedia.com called Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts “Fauxcahontas” — a reference to her claim of Native American heritage — and Sen. Kamala Harris of California a “shrill … quasi-socialist.”

Asked on “Anderson Cooper 360” why he deleted the tweet, Schultz said it was “because I don’t want to get into the mud with anybody.”

“I don’t want to get into revenge politics, which has been obviously been the problem that I’m identifying,” he said. “I don’t want to be part of mudslinging. I want to speak aspirationally and positively and do everything I can to elevate the national conversation. That is what’s necessary.”

Schultz’s tweet Wednesday morning had thanked the column’s author for a “thoughtful analysis of what’s possible” as it argued the former CEO could win the White House.

So why did he recommend a column on PJ media then? Here’s what it said about Warren and Harris, from The Hill: Schultz deletes tweet of column calling Warren ‘Fauxcahontas’ and Harris ‘shrill.’

In the now-deleted tweet, Schultz linked to a piece that called Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) “shrill” and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) “Fauxcahontas,” a reference to her claims of Native American heritage.

Melissa Seitz at Higgins Lake, Michigan, caught this sunrise halo on January 30, 2019. Halos like this are caused by ice crystals drifting in the air. She wrote: “I created the heart in the snow a few days ago by walking around in tall boots!

“Thank you @Rogerlsimon for a thoughtful analysis of what’s possible. #ReimagineUS,” Schultz tweeted, along with a link to an article on PJ Media by Roger L. Simon titled “Howard Schultz Could Actually Win the Presidency.”

“Current frontrunner Kamala Harris is far from reassuring,” Simon writes in the column. “She’s a shrill (see the Kavanaugh hearings) quasi-socialist promising pie in the sky — Medicare-for-all, debt-free college, guaranteed pre-K, minimum basic income, confiscatory taxes — and she’s just getting started. Bernie [Sanders] and others will soon be following suit. Fauxcahontas already has, competing in a game of socialist one-upmanship.”

Not a very good start for a man who claims he wants to unite the country. Oh by the way, he also wants to cut Social Security, Medicare, and other social programs and doesn’t think the rich should pay more taxes.

More stories to check out:

New York Law Journal: Hasn’t the Time Come for Rudy Giuliani to be Disciplined?

CNN: Even some Republicans balk as Trump targets US spy chiefs.

Vox: Jerome Corsi’s claims about Roger Stone, WikiLeaks, and the Access Hollywood tape, explained.

The Daily Beast: NRA Heavyweight Wanted Access to Putin: Leaked Email.

Think Progress: Newly emerged photo shows Ben Carso.n with key employee of sanctioned Russian oligarch.

Lawfare: What an Old Watergate Document Can Teach the House Judiciary Committee.

SFGATE: Elephant seals took over a Pt. Reyes beach during shutdown. It won’t reopen a.nytime soon.

APNewsBreak: ICE force-feeding detainees on hunger strike.

Raw Story: How Donald Trump brought about the end of my marriage.

So . . . what stories have you been following?

 


Tuesday Reads: Trump Tantrum Live From The Oval Office Tonight

Good Morning!!

The TV networks are giving Trump free time tonight to spout lies about a non-existent “crisis” at the Southern border. Fortunately, they are also giving equal time to Democrats to respond. But they should have just said no. After all, they refused to carry an Oval Office speech by Obama in 2014. Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

In 2014, Obama was ready to announce a series of executive actions on immigration in the wake of the collapse in negotiations over a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. The plan had a lot of moving parts, but the centerpiece was to give work permits and formal protection from deportation to millions of unauthorized immigrants while focusing the nation’s immigration enforcement resources on immigrants who’d committed violent crimes.

This was, naturally, very controversial. And Obama, naturally, wanted to try to make it less controversial by convincing people that it was a good idea.

Conservative pundits were, at the time, pushing the notion that Obama was essentially seizing power like a Latin American dictator, so essentially anything that refocused the conversation on banal policy details would have played to his advantage. TV networks, however, didn’t give him what he wanted, in part because it was November sweeps time, but officially because he was playing partisan politics rather than addressing a true national emergency.

So why are they running Trump’s obviously political speech? Because they’re scared. This is what what one anonymous network executive told CNN’s Brian Stelter.

This “exec” didn’t even have the guts to let Stelter use his name!

Here’s what the U.S. Secretary of State thinks of what Trump plans to say tonight.

These people are pathetic. Meanwhile, in Turkey, more pathetic incompetence from National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Bloomberg: Erdogan Snubs Trump Adviser Bolton for Blocking Syria Roadmap.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, frustrated by evolving U.S. conditions for quitting Syria, refused to meet with visiting National Security Adviser John Bolton and ripped into U.S. proposals to give Kurds a key role in Syria after the withdrawal.

Turkey is angered that Bolton, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and top American military officials are slowing what President Donald Trump suggested only weeks ago would be a quick exit. The delay would restrict Turkey’s ability to launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers enemies but who allied with a U.S. coalition to oust the Islamic State terrorist group from Syria.

“Although we made a clear agreement with U.S. President Trump, different voices are emerging from different parts of the administration,” Erdogan said as Bolton prepared to leave Ankara, where he met with other Turkish officials. “Trump’s remarks continue to be the main point of reference for us.”

It looks like attempts to walk back Trump’s insane policy decisions are no longer working.

Will Trump try to declare a national emergency tonight? I have no idea, but if he does it’s going to cause more problems than any of us can predict. Here are some opinions about what could happen, beginning with the worst case scenarios

Elizabeth Goitein at The Atlantic: What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency. A brief excerpt:

It would be nice to think that America is protected from the worst excesses of Trump’s impulses by its democratic laws and institutions. After all, Trump can do only so much without bumping up against the limits set by the Constitution and Congress and enforced by the courts. Those who see Trump as a threat to democracy comfort themselves with the belief that these limits will hold him in check.

But will they? Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest.

This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down.

Read the whole thing at The Atlantic.

At Bloomberg, Noah Feldman disagrees, because only Congress can authorize spending: No ‘Emergency’ Will Allow Trump to Build His Wall.

President Donald Trump has said that he can declare a national emergency and order his border wall to be built. He’s wrong. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t contain any national emergency provision that would allow the president to spend money for purposes not allocated by Congress. And it’s clearer than clear that Congress not only hasn’t authorized money for a wall along the border with Mexico but also doesn’t intend to do so.

The upshot is that any attempt by Trump to get around Congress by using invented emergency powers would violate the Constitution. It almost certainly would be blocked by the courts. And it would constitute a high crime and misdemeanor qualifying him for impeachment.

Of course, Trump may not care. He’s established a pattern of taking clearly unconstitutional action, waiting for the courts to block it, and winning (at least in his estimation) political points with his Republican base regardless. It would be perfectly within that pattern for Trump to announce that he can do whatever he wants in a national emergency. He is expected to lay the groundwork for such a declaration in a prime-time address Tuesday. But we should recognize any such action for what it is: a usurpation of clear constitutional commands for the purposes of political grandstanding.

A bit more detail:

The Constitution does contain an emergency powers clause. Article I, Section 9 allows for the suspension of habeas corpus in cases of rebellion or invasion.

Those emergency powers are unsurprisingly varied and broad. But none of them can displace the Constitution itself. And it is the Constitution that says the Congress appropriates money and the executive spends it.

If there were some statutory provision saying that in an emergency the president could do things Congress otherwise has told him he can’t do, that would pose an intriguing constitutional question: Which law would prevail in a conflict between one saying the president could do something and another saying he couldn’t?

But I know of no law that says the president can spend money on purposes that Congress doesn’t want him to spend it on.

From the fact that the suspension clause exists, you can deduce something very basic to the U.S. constitutional system: There are no other inherent constitutional emergency powers. Yes, the president is commander in chief, with the power to defend the United States — but he can only do that with an army authorized and paid for by Congress.

That means any emergency power the president might have must come directly from Congress. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 is Congress’s last word on what emergency powers it gives the president. That law was enacted after Senate staffers’ research revealed some 470 emergency provisions across the whole of the U.S. Code.

As Trump often says, “we’ll see what happens.”

Trump thinks he knows better than anyone about anything, and yet we can all see that he knows almost nothing about what his job entails. This video has been floating around lately.

How to explain Trump’s illusion of competency? Seemingly in answer to this question, The Washington Post has posted an article on the Dunning-Kruger effect: What’s behind the confidence of the incompetent? This suddenly popular psychological phenomenon.

You may have witnessed this scene at work, while socializing with friends or over a holiday dinner with extended family: Someone who has very little knowledge in a subject claims to know a lot. That person might even boast about being an expert.

This phenomenon has a name: the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s not a disease, syndrome or mental illness; it is present in everybody to some extent, and it’s been around as long as human cognition, though only recently has it been studied and documented in social psychology.

In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Put simply, incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and they tend to be more boastful about it.

To test Darwin’s theory, the researchers quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought they did. Specifically, participants were asked how many of the other quiz-takers they beat.

Dunning was shocked by the results, even though it confirmed his hypothesis. Time after time, no matter the subject, the people who did poorly on the tests ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts.

That’s it for me today. I’m trying to decide whether to leave the TV off tonight or just mute it until the Democratic response begins. What are you going to do?


Friday Reads: Why would a US President spout Soviet Talking Points?

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers and welcome to the New Year!

It’s been apparent to any one watching that Trump is delusional, lies, and has no grasp on reality, truth, or facts.  One of the most oft repeated personality traits you hear about him is that whoever talks to him last puts the most current words in his mouth. This raises a question for me today.  Why does Trump keep spouting old Soviet talking points and new Russian Federation ones on things like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan?  BB and I keep wondering if he has Putin on speed dial. Where does he get this and why is he repeating it?

Here’s a bit of the back ground on that Afghanistan invasion thing and the crackpot narrative of the US President.

“The terrifying depths of Donald Trump’s ignorance, in a single quote” written by Terry Glavin for Maclean’s. ” The president’s recent claim that the Soviets were ‘right’ to invade Afghanistan is worse than idiotic—it’s downright frightening”.

It’s been two years since a reality-television mogul, billionaire real estate grifter and sleazy beauty-pageant impresario who somehow ended up on the Republican ticket in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, failed to win the popular vote but fluked his way into the White House anyhow by means of an antique back-door anomaly peculiar to the American political system known as the Electoral College.

We’re now at the half-way mark of Donald Trump’s term in the White House, and the relentless hum of his casual imbecilities, obscenities, banalities and outright fabrications has become so routine to the world’s daily dread that it is now just background noise in the ever-louder bedlam of America’s dystopian, freak-show political culture.

And yet, now and again, just when you think the president has scraped his fingers raw in the muck at the bottom of stupidity’s deep barrel, the man somehow manages to out-beclown himself. Such was the case this week, in a ramble of fatuous illiteracy that should drive home the point, to all of us, that the Office of the President of the United States of America is currently occupied by a genuinely dangerous maniac.

At a press briefing at the end of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Trump sat at a long table with a huge faux Game of Thrones television-series poster, featuring an image of himself taking up the whole thing, splayed out on the table in front of him.

In the course of contradicting himself—or maybe not, it’s hard to say—on the matter of if and when he intends to withdraw U.S. troops from the 79-member anti-ISIS coalition (“Syria was lost long ago … we’re talking about sand and death”), Trump muttered something about Iranian forces in Syria being at liberty to do as they please. “They can do what they want there, frankly,” he said. Unsurprisingly, upon hearing the news of what certainly sounded like an abrupt and dramatic shift in U.S. policy, Israeli officials were reported to be in shock.

But then the subject turned to Afghanistan, and Trump’s fervent wish to withdraw American troops from the 39-nation military coalition there—down from 59 nations, at its height—which is currently battling a resurgent Taliban that has been emboldened by American dithering generally, and specifically by Trump’s oft-repeated intent to get shut of Afghanistan and walk away from the place altogether.

Trump mocked India—a highly-valued friend of Afghanistan and contributor of $3 billion in infrastructure and community-development funding—with a weird reference to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan.” Officials in Modi’s office say nobody knows what the hell Trump was talking about. Then Trump complained that Pakistan—a duplicitous enemy of Afghan sovereignty and a notoriously persistent haven-provider and incubator of Taliban terrorism—isn’t making a sufficient military commitment to Afghanistan. Which made absolutely no sense.

But then Trump went right off the deep end with a disquisition on the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and his remarks betrayed a perilous, gawping ignorance of the very reason why Afghanistan became such a lawless hellhole in the first place—which is how it came to pass that al-Qaeda found sanctuary there with the deranged Pakistani subsidiary that came to be called the Taliban, which is how al-Qaeda managed to plan and organize the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—which is the very reason the American troops that Trump keeps saying he wants to bring home are still there at all.

Now, it’s safe to say that Trump never read anything in the news or books about the invasion but there were several movies out there that gave us all a good idea of what was going on and some of them were fairly recent.  Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts starred in “Charlie Wilson’s War” in 2007 for example. This basically outlines the Congressman’s role in funding what became the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.

Then, there was this marvelous film from 1988 titled “The Beast” about a Soviet Tank Crew that gets lost in Afghanistan.

In 1981 Afghanistan, a Soviet tank unit viciously attacks a Pashtun village harboring a group of mujahideenfighters. Following the assault, one of the tanks, commanded by the ruthless Commander Daskal (George Dzundza), gets separated from the unit and enters a blind valley. Taj (Steven Bauer) returns to discover the village destroyed, his father killed and his brother martyred by being crushed under the tank, to serve as execution for disabling and killing a Russian tank crew. As the new khan, following his brother’s death, Taj is spurred to seek revenge by his cousin, the opportunistic scavenger Mustafa – and together they lead a band of mujahideen fighters into the valley to pursue the separated tank, counting on their captured RPG-7 anti-tank weapon to destroy it.

The tank’s crew is made up of four Soviets and an Afghan communist soldier. As night falls and the crew sets up camp, the Afghan tank crewman Samad (Erick Avari) educates the tank driver, Konstantin Koverchenko (Jason Patric), about the fundamental principles of Pashtunwali, the Pashtun people‘s code of honour: milmastia(hospitality), badal (revenge), and nanawatai, which requires even an enemy to be given sanctuary if he asks. As the plot progresses, Commander Daskal (called “Tank Boy” during World War II for destroying a number of German tanks when he was a child soldier during the Battle of Stalingrad) demonstrates his ruthlessness not only to the enemy, but also to his own men. He despises Samad for his ethnic association to the enemy and, after a couple of attempts to kill him, finally gets his wish on the pretext of suspecting Samad of collaborating with the mujahadeen. After Koverchenko threatens to report Daskal for the killing, Daskal entraps him and orders Kaminski (Don Harvey) and Golikov (Stephen Baldwin) to tie him to a rock, with a grenade behind his head to serve as a booby-trap for the mujahideen. Some wild dogs come upon him and as Koverchenko tries to kick at them, the grenade rolls down the rock and explodes, killing several dogs but leaving Konstantin unhurt. A group of women from the village, who had been trailing the mujahideen to offer their support, come across Koverchenko and begin to stone him, calling for his blood as revenge (badal). As the mujahideen approach, Koverchenko recalls the term nanawatai (sanctuary) and repeats it until Taj cuts him free, and allows him to follow their procession. That night, hidden in a cave, the fighters eat and Taj asks Koverchenko in broken language if he will fix their non-functioning RPG-7, and help them destroy the tank.

As the remaining three members of the tank crew begin to realize they are trapped in the valley, a Soviet helicopter appears and offers to rescue them. Daskal, caring more for his tank than his men, refuses the offer and simply refills the vehicle’s oil and gasoline. They get their bearings from the helicopter pilot and head back into the narrow mountain pass from which they came, looking for the way out of the valley.

It’s not your typical war movie and basically has more of a cult status than anything. But, please do notice that the reason Reagan and Charlie and every one was all excited about this invasion was that the Soviets got there to prop up what was basically a Communist-style puppet regime in Afghanistan.  It was well known at the time for any one who didn’t even rely on movies for their dose of history.  Well, every one who lived through the period and was some what aware of the goings on knew the deal. But–and I refer back to the Gladin piece–Trump was either not paying attention or forget a long time ago.  Here was his bizarre comment.

“Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan,” Trump began. “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt; they went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer part of Russia, because of Afghanistan.”

They were right to be there.

You’ll want to let that sink in for a moment: on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, Donald Trump endorsed a revisionist lunacy that is currently being championed by a bunch of cranks at the outermost neo-Stalinist fringe of Vladimir Putin’s ruling circle of oligarchs. They’ve already managed to cobble together a resolution in Russia’s Potemkin parliament that is to be voted on next month. It’s jointly sponsored by lawmakers from Putin’s United Russia and the still-existing Communist Party.

There are so many things wrong with those statements you really have to wonder where it came from until you actually read Russian propaganda about it.  Then, you know.  The WSJ opinion page–not exactly the bastion of liberal enlightenment–even called it “cracked”.

This mockery is a slander against every ally that has supported the U.S. effort in Afghanistan with troops who fought and often died. The United Kingdom has had more than 450 killed fighting in Afghanistan.

As reprehensible was Mr. Trump’s utterly false narrative of the Soviet Union’s involvement there in the 1980s. He said: “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there.”

Right to be there? We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American President. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with three divisions in December 1979 to prop up a fellow communist government.

The invasion was condemned throughout the non-communist world. The Soviets justified the invasion as an extension of the Brezhnev Doctrine, asserting their right to prevent countries from leaving the communist sphere. They stayed until 1989.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a defining event in the Cold War, making clear to all serious people the reality of the communist Kremlin’s threat. Mr. Trump’s cracked history can’t alter that reality.

I’m old enough to remember when we all were supposed to hate Russia and Communism. WTF did Trump drink on New Year’s Eve?  Russian Koolaide?  Let’s talk again about the No Puppet! No Puppet!” thing by reading Melissa at Shakesville about Trump’s proclivities to spout Russian Propaganda at piece called: “Trump’s Strange Familiarity with Kremlin Talking Points“.

In comments, Shaker Aphra_Behn pointed to this piece at Maclean’s by Terry Glavin, in which Glavin notes [Content Note: Disablist language] that Trump’s “disquisition on the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan” is not only deeply problematic but alarmingly timed:

“Russia used to be the Soviet Union. Afghanistan made it Russia, because they went bankrupt fighting in Afghanistan,” Trump began. “The reason Russia was in Afghanistan was because terrorists were going into Russia. They were right to be there. The problem is, it was a tough fight. And literally they went bankrupt; they went into being called Russia again, as opposed to the Soviet Union. You know, a lot of these places you’re reading about now are no longer part of Russia, because of Afghanistan.”

They were right to be there. 

You’ll want to let that sink in for a moment: On Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019, Donald Trump endorsed a revisionist lunacy that is currently being championed by a bunch of cranks at the outermost neo-Stalinist fringe of Vladimir Putin’s ruling circle of oligarchs. They’ve already managed to cobble together a resolution in Russia’s Potemkin parliament that is to be voted on next month. It’s jointly sponsored by lawmakers from Putin’s United Russia and the still-existing Communist Party.As Aphra said: “The timing is interesting, to say the least. We all know that Trump spouts off shit that somebody has been telling him. Who’s been giving him the pro-Stalinist version of the Afghanistan invasion just as the Russian parliament is set to debate it?”

She’s not the only person wondering. On Twitter, Jamie O’Grady asked: “Where/when/how does Trump access and memorize these random Russian talking points?” He further noted that Rachel Maddow used her show last night to lay out “multiple instances — Poland supposedly invading Belarus, Montenegro a risk to start WW3, justification of Russia’s Afghanistan adventure — where Trump has parroted Putin propaganda that doesn’t (shouldn’t) exist anywhere in Trump’s normal info sources.”

Okay if they’re not in “normal info sources” where the freak did they come from and how did we get to hear them on national TV?  And better yet, WHY?  There’s a lot of strangeness to unpack here. From NPR: “NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly speaks with Seth Jones about President Trump’s claim that the Soviet Union collapsed due to its military operations in Afghanistan.”

SETH JONES: Thank you for having me on.

KELLY: So a lot to unpack there, but start with the why – why Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The president, as we just heard, says it was to stop terrorists who were attacking Russia. Was that the reason?

JONES: Well, we actually have now declassified Soviet documents, so we can fact check this ourselves. And what Soviet leaders say at the time is that their primary reason for going into Afghanistan was because of concerns that the U.S. government, including the CIA, were having significant influence among Afghan leaders. We know from these documents that the Soviets were increasingly concerned, much like the Soviets had been meddling in the soft underbelly of the United States in Cuba, that the U.S. was now doing the same just south of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

KELLY: And again, just to be completely clear, were terrorists from Afghanistan crossing the border into Russia?

JONES: No, I mean, there were certainly mujahideen operating in Afghanistan at that point. But no, there were no major terrorist attacks. And the Soviet archives are pretty clear about this. The reason was not about terrorism. The reason was entirely about balance of power politics.

KELLY: What about another assertion to fact check here that war in Afghanistan bankrupted Moscow and caused the collapse of the Soviet Union? Do the facts support that, that it was the war in Afghanistan that broke up the USSR?

JONES: No, the facts don’t support that the war in Afghanistan broke up the USSR. The USSR had tons of problems. It had overreach globally. Its military industrial complex was way too large. Its economy was in shambles because of a state-run system, and it had numerous ethnic problems both in Central Asia and in its Eastern European flank. So the Soviet Union collapsed for a range of very complex reasons. Virtually none of them had to do with its operations in Afghanistan.

KELLY: One more piece of the president’s comments to ask you about – he asserted that the Soviet Union was right to be in Afghanistan, which is an opinion, not a fact to check per se, but – safe to say this is not a view that has ever been staked out by a U.S. president before.

JONES: Well, I think the irony of the comment is that this was entirely about great power competition with the United States. So by saying they were right to be there, either it’s a misunderstanding of why the Soviets were actually there, or you’re giving them credence to be competing with the United States at that very point and to be worried about the U.S. influence. So it’s sort of a strange interpretation.

KELLY: Do we know where the president is getting his information about history in Afghanistan and the Soviet Union?

JONES: I could not tell you on this one (laughter).

Even Afghan leaders have stepped up to this revisionists history. This is via the NYT.

The Soviet Union, Mr. Trump said, invaded Afghanistan in 1979 “because terrorists were going to Russia.”

“They were right to be there,” he added. “The problem is it was a tough fight.”

On Thursday, Afghan officials contested Mr. Trump’s account — which was also at odds with the State Department’s Office of the Historian and historians, generally.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, after it fell into civil war, and occupied it until 1989, propping up “a friendly and socialist government on its border,” according to the Office of the Historian. The United States and its allies condemned the brutal, long-running war, and Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan supplied aid to Afghan insurgents fighting the Soviet Army.

In a statement on Thursday, the office of President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan recalled this era, saying, “After the invasion by the Soviet Union, all presidents of America not only denounced this invasion but remained supporters of this holy jihad of the Afghans.”

During this war, the statement said, Afghans did not threaten other countries, but rather “started a national uprising to earn liberation of their holy soil.”

Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani made similar remarks, writing on Twitter that the “Soviet occupation was a grave violation of Afghanistan’s territorial integrity” and national sovereignty. Any other depictions defy historical fact, he said.

I find these kinds of things very disturbing because it lets us know that he’s making decisions based on caca he’s gotten from who knows where at best and directly from Putin at worst. Then, it really worries me when the next morning’s headlines read:US halts cooperation with UN on potential human rights violations.”  In an Exclusive from the UK Guardian we learn that the US “State department has ceased to respond to complaints from special rapporteurs in move that sends ‘dangerous message’ to other countries” It seriously appears that tearing down the UN, NATO, and the US is high on Trump’s to do list.

The Trump administration has stopped cooperating with UN investigators over potential human rights violations occurring inside America, in a move that delivers a major blow to vulnerable US communities and sends a dangerous signal to authoritarian regimes around the world.


Sunday Reads: Penny Marshall, et al …2018

Penny Marshall

Penny Marshall Dead at 75.

 

It is that time of year, and in memory of those who are no longer with us…here is a review of who we lost this 2018.

 

 

 

Penny Marshall from Celebrity Deaths: 2018’s Fallen Stars | E! News

That link takes you to a gallery of pictures representing celebrity deaths from 2018….including:

SONDRA LOCKE

The Oscar-nominated actress passed away on Nov. 3. The Any Which Way You Can star was 74 years old.

RICKY JAY

The magician and actor, best known for his roles in Tomorrow Never Dies, Deadwood and Boogie Nightsdied on November 24 from natural causes. He was 72.

ROY CLARK

The country star was known for hosting Yee Haw died at the age of 85 on November 15. He died of complications from pneumonia while surrounded by family and friends at his Tulsa, Okla. home.

KATHERINE MACGREGOR

The star, who played Harriet Oleson in the ’70s hit series Little House on the Prarie, died on November 13 at the age of 93. She was living at the Motion Picture Fund Long Term Nursing Care facility in Woodland Hills, California at the time of her death.

NEIL SIMON

The famous Broadway playwright and screenwriter, known for plays such as The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park, died at age 91 on August 26 after battling complications from pneumonia

ED KING

The Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist died on August 22 at age 68 after battling lung cancer.

ARETHA FRANKLIN

The iconic songstress died at home in Detroit on August 16 following a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 76 years old.

TAB HUNTER

The ’50s movie idol (born Arthur Andrew Kelm) died July 8, three days shy of his 87th birthday. Known for starring in movies like The Burning Hills and Damn Yankees, Hunter came out of the closet in 2005 in his autobiography, confirming rumors that had been swirling since his heyday. Hunter’s cause of death was not immediately known.

KATE SPADE

The famous fashion designer died of apparent suicide in June 2018. She was 55 years old.

Designer, Kate Spade

 

The surprise for many was the recent death of Penny Marshall:

Penny Marshall in 1980.

 

Penny Marshall’s Legacy, From Laverne & Shirley to Directing

As both a performer and a filmmaker, Marshall, who died Monday at the age of 75, stood counter to the prevailing wisdom of what women like her were supposed to be, and do. From her breakthrough as a sitcom star to her subsequent success as a blockbuster filmmaker, Marshall never seemed to get hung up on what other people thought she was supposed to be doing — or if she did, you could never tell. And as both an actress and a director, she was simultaneously big and subtle, aiming at the widest possible audience while smuggling in little grace notes that caught even fans by surprise.

When viewers of a certain age first noticed Marshall on sitcoms in the 1970s — first as Oscar Madison’s secretary on The Odd Couple, and then as Laverne DeFazio on Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley — they saw a throwback to character actresses from ’50s television and prewar movies. She was a scene-stealer with big city, white ethnic bluntness, the kind of woman who might’ve dispensed tough but loving advice to Grace Kelly or bashed a mugger over the head with an umbrella.

Give that obit a read through…it details Marshall’s work in Hollywood through the years.

Penny Marshall, Star of Laverne & Shirley, Dead at Age 75 | E! News

Actress and director Penny Marshall died “peacefully” last night at age 75 at her Hollywood Hills home, E! News has confirmed. Her cause of death was complications from diabetes, and a celebration of life ceremony will be held at a later date. “Our family is heartbroken over the passing of Penny Marshall,” a spokesperson for the star’s family told E! News in a statement. Born Oct. 15, 1943, Penny is predeceased by her brother, actor/director Garry Marshall. She is survived by her sister Ronny Marshall; her daughter Tracy Reiner; and her three grandchildren.

A no-nonsense New Yorker, Penny’s Hollywood breakthrough came from starring in the hit sitcom Laverne & Shirley, which ran for eight seasons on ABC from Jan. 27, 1976, until May 10, 1983. But Penny found even more success behind the camera, directing hit films like Big (1988), Awakenings (1990), A League of Their Own (1992), The Preacher’s Wife (1996) and Riding in Cars With Boys (2001), among others. With Big, Penny made history as the first woman to direct a movie that grossed $100 million—something she did again with A League of Their Own.

“With directing, I didn’t have to wear makeup or get my hair done. But I do not like getting up that early,” she said in a Women and Hollywood interview in 2012. “In TV we did our show in front of an audience, so we got up early only one morning. We did camera blocking in the morning and we shot at night which was a much more humane existence. No one is funny at 7 a.m. It’s faster to act, but a lot of times you are sitting in a Winnebago waiting. Directing is more fun—if you can create stuff, if you can create business for people to do and not just pull lines out of people’s mouths. So if people come prepared then you can add business. I like behavior.”

A multitalented workhorse, Penny also produced a number of movies and TV series. “Penny was a girl from the Bronx, who came out West, put a cursive ‘L’ on her sweater and transformed herself into a Hollywood success story,” the Marshall family said. “We hope her life continues to inspire others to spend time with family, work hard and make all of their dreams come true.”

This next one deals with:

Carrie Fisher and Penny Marshall’s Friendship: A Timeline

When actress, director, and general multi-hyphenate trailblazer Penny Marshall died earlier this week, one of the trending topics that followed the news was her BFF status with Carrie Fisher — fun quotes they said about each other, some cute photos, you name it. We love it! But despite the very public celebration of their friendship on social media, the women enjoyed spending time together away from life’s flashbulbs and recorders, really only regaling us with their life’s anecdotes through memoirs and rare interviews. “We’ve lasted longer than all of our marriages combined. Our crazy lives have meshed perfectly,” Marshall perhaps put it best in her 2012 memoir. “We’ve always said it’s because we never liked the same drugs or men, but I know there’s more to it.” Here, let’s take an abridged look at the early stages of their pairing, which we promise we won’t refer to as “friendship goals.”

Great pictures there at that link…and read the few stories as well. A cheerful look on both women’s lives.

In another death of 2018:

Last Warsaw Ghetto uprising fighter dies in Israel

The last surviving fighter from the doomed 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising by Jewish partisans against the Nazis died Saturday in Israel aged 94, the country’s president said.

Simcha Rotem, who went by the nom-de-guerre Kazik, served in the Jewish Fighting Organisation that staged the uprising as the Nazis conducted mass deportations of residents to the death camps.

“This evening, we part from… Simcha Rotem, the last of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters,” Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin said in a statement.

“He joined the uprising and helped save dozens of fighters”.

Hundreds of Jewish fighters began their fight on April 19, 1943, after the Nazis began deporting the surviving residents of the Jewish ghetto they had set up after invading Poland.

The insurgents preferred to die fighting instead of in a gas chamber at the Treblinka death camp where the Nazis had already sent more than 300,000 Warsaw Jews.

Speaking at a 2013 ceremony in Poland to mark the 70th anniversary of the uprising, Rotem recalled that by April 1943 most of the ghetto’s Jews had died and the 50,000 who remained expected the same fate.

Rotem said he and his comrades launched the uprising to “choose the kind of death” they wanted.

“But to this very day I keep thinking whether we had the right to make the decision to start the uprising and by the same token to shorten the lives of many people by a week, a day or two,” Rotem said.

Thousands of Jews died in Europe’s first urban anti-Nazi revolt, most of them burned alive, and nearly all the rest were then sent to Treblinka.

Rotem survived by masterminding an escape through the drain system with dozens of comrades. Polish sewer workers guided them to the surface.

He went on to participate in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising led by Polish resistance fighters against the Nazis.

And let us not forget the death of Jakelin Caal… and the deaths of other children and immigrants who seemed to lurk in the background of news story recaps:

Where seven-year-old Jakelin Caal crossed, migrants risk death to enter US | US news | The Guardian

Antelope Wells, an isolated point of entry in New Mexico, is where hundreds cross over, seeking refuge from violence

The deceptively beautiful landscape around Antelope Wells in the remote south-western corner of New Mexico.
 The deceptively beautiful landscape around Antelope Wells in the remote south-western corner of New Mexico. Photograph: Don Usner/Searchlight New Mexico

The black shadows of yucca shrubs huddled under a three-quarter moon. A stiff desert wind hushed all but the deafening crunch of footsteps where a chest-high barrier divides the US and Mexico.

Behind María and her son were the thousands of miles they covered overland from Guatemala, with Mexico streaming by the bus window, day and night. On the way, she broke her ankle but pressed on with few stops.

Then came the last leg: the night crossing into the New Mexico Bootheel. The state’s rugged, remote south-western corner was where seven-year-old Guatemalan girl Jakelin Caal crossed with her father one December night and became gravely ill.

Her death earlier this month became the symbol of a dangerous new pattern of human smuggling through New Mexico, where 20 groups of more than 100 migrants each have arrived since October, a massive increase from just eight large groups in all of fiscal 2018, according to US Customs and Border Protection. A record number are asking for asylum in the US.

I was going to end it there…but here are a few news worthy links:

A volcano…Child of Krakatoa has made some noise, this time causing a tsunami that has killed and injured many in Indonesia.

As of 7 am this morning:

Tsunami from erupting Krakatau kills at least 222 in Indonesia | Reuters

PANDEGLANG, Indonesia (Reuters) – A tsunami killed at least 222 people and injured hundreds on the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra following an underwater landslide believed caused by the erupting Anak Krakatau volcano, officials and media said on Sunday.

Angry ‘Child of Krakatoa’ rumbles on

The volcano that apparently triggered a deadly tsunami in Indonesia late Saturday emerged from the sea around the legendary Krakatoa 90 years ago and has been on a high-level eruption watchlist for the past decade.

Anak Krakatoa (the “Child of Krakatoa”) has been particularly active since June, occasionally sending massive plumes of ash high into the sky and in October a tour boat was nearly hit by lava bombs from the erupting volcano.

Anak Krakatoa tsunami – in pictures | World news | The Guardian

A resident searches for items among the ruins of a villa after the area was hit by a tsunami, at Carita beach in Padeglang, Banten province, Indonesia,

 

Indonesia tsunami hits Sunda Strait after Krakatau eruption – BBC News

More than 220 people have been killed and 843 injured after a tsunami hit coastal towns on Indonesia’s Sunda Strait, government officials say.

The tsunami waves struck at night without any warning, destroying hundreds of buildings.

Officials say the tsunami could have been caused by undersea landslides after Anak Krakatau volcano erupted.

The Sunda Strait, between the islands of Java and Sumatra, connects the Java Sea to the Indian Ocean.

More images and updates at the links above.

 

Here are a couple of articles on media. One deals with social media, the other with news media:

Social media is an existential threat to our idea of democracy | Opinion | The Guardian

At last, we’re getting somewhere. Two years after Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, we’re finally beginning to understand the nature and extent of Russian interference in the democratic processes of two western democracies. The headlines are: the interference was much greater than what was belatedly discovered and/or admitted by the social media companies; it was more imaginative, ingenious and effective than we had previously supposed; and it’s still going on.

 

This next one I find important for this key component: Der Spiegel takes the blame for scandal of reporter who faked stories | World news | The Guardian

US ambassador says revelations prove magazine guilty of institutional bias, as far-right groups seek to exploit the case

The US government has waded into the scandal of the German journalist forDer Spiegel magazine who faked stories on a grand scale over years, calling it proof of “institutional bias” in the media against America.

In a scathing letter to the magazine’s editors, Richard Grenell, US ambassador to Germany, claims the journalism of Claas Relotius, who resigned from the German news magazine last week, was symptomatic of anti-American bias across the mainstream media. “It is clear that we were the victims of a campaign of institutional bias,” Grenell wrote to Der Spiegel, in a letter also seen by the daily newspaper Bild. He said he was aghast at the way “anti-American coverage” had been facilitated by the magazine.

You can read the details at the link, main focus being:

The scandal has sparked fears that the far right will exploit the scandal to sow further distrust of the media. The German far right has a long history of attacking the press.

In recent years, the anti-immigration group Pegida and elements of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) have resurrected the Nazi-era slur of Lügenpresse (“lying press”) to describe mainstream journalism they claim does not represent the world as they see it. These voices have been further emboldened by US President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media and his use of the term “fake news.”

“Relotius is in the end only a product of an absurdly leftist writers’ fraternity that is increasingly seldom prepared to leave its own convenient moral comfort zone in favour of the facts,” wrote Alice Weidl, a leader of the AfD, in a Facebook post.

The leading German journalist Hendrik Wieduwilt wrote: “It’s started! The fraud of ‘reporter’ Relotius has now been made into ‘fake news’, or strategically fraudulent lies. The AfD will exploit this for all it is worth. That’s probably the biggest damage of the whole scandal.” The independent media journalist Stefan Niggemeier took to Twitter to express fears the case represented a “deep blow – not just for Der Spiegel, but for German journalism.” In a series of soul-searching written apologies, the magazine acknowledged the wider undermining affect Relotius’s actions will have on those striving to deliver objective, informative and well-sourced reporting.

“We are aware that the Relotius case makes the fight against fake news that much more difficult,” wrote the incoming Spiegel editor-in-chief Steffen Klusmann and deputy editor-in-chief Dirk Kurbjuweit in a joint open letter to readers. “For everyone. For other media outlets that are on our side and for citizens and politicians who are interested in an accurate portrayal of reality.”

One more link because, this is really a heavy post for a Sunday before Christmas…

The 2018 Medieval Book of the Year: The Golden Rhinoceros

Hundreds of books about the Middle Ages are published each year. They cover a vast number of topics, sometimes offering new research, sometimes retelling stories for new audiences. What makes one book stand out above the rest?

I’ve made it a habit the last few years of keeping track of as many new books about the Middle Ages as I can – a process that leads me to visit many libraries and book stories. I can’t possibly get familiar with all the works that have come out, so my choices are subjective, but I think the books mentioned below will prove to be important contributions to medieval studies. I look for those that I think will enlighten and expand our understanding of the Middle Ages, that are well written and well researched, and will have lasting significance in their field.

So, what is the book of the year?

The Golden Rhinoceros: Histories of the Africa, by François-Xavier Fauvelle, is my choice for the medieval book of the year. It’s not a particularly large book at just 264 pages, but it offers readers a great trove of topics related to the medieval history of Africa (with the exception of Egypt and the Mediterranean coast). It consists of 34 separate stories, each about six to eight pages long. They cover events between the eighth and fifteenth centuries, and zig-zag across the African continent, so you will be at first reading about Mauritania, then going to Zimbabwe, and then off to Ethiopia. Fauvelle is highly effective in giving us snapshots of life in these places, all the while acknowledging that his sources are often fragmentary and sparse.

Fauvelle’s aim in this book is to show that Africa was not mired in the ‘dark centuries’ as many historians have assumed, but was going through something more akin to a ‘golden age’ during the Middle Ages. Many of his sections reinforce the idea that merchants were flourishing in medieval Africa, with gold and slaves being sent across the continent into the Arab world, India, and even to China. Perhaps medievalists have been too focused on the connections between medieval Europe and Africa, which are very limited, and haven’t yet researched the much deeper relations between the Islamic and African worlds. Here Fauvelle offers a guide to historians on how they can learn more about Mali, Somalia or the Sahara, and the role they played in the medieval world.

Click here to read an interview with François-Xavier Fauvelle

There are a few other interesting reads that are recommended at that link, so please click over to check them out…one that even discusses emotions and sensibility in the middle ages…fascinating.

Well….I wish everyone a happy holiday, this is an open thread.

 

 


Lazy Caturday Reads: So Much Winning!

Maine Coon Cat

Good Morning!!

Trump threw a tantrum and forced a partial government shutdown that will force some government employees to work with out pay and others to be furloughed without pay. Merry Xmas from the fake “president.”

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Trump’s shutdown stunt is an act of needless stupidity.

As it became apparent Friday that no agreement could be reached on a stopgap spending measure, President Trump warned that a shutdown would “last for a very long time.” Affected is about a third of the government workforce — about 800,000 employees — in key departments, including Homeland Security, State and Justice. Because of the weekend and upcoming Christmas holidays, the impacts of a shutdown may not immediately be felt, but there should be no mistake that curtailment of these government agencies will impose costs across Washington and the country.

That seemed to be of little matter to Mr. Trump, who last week boasted he would be “proud” to shut down the government, glad to “take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.” He changed his tune on Friday in trying to shift the blame to Democrats for not going along with his demand for money to build a border wall he once promised would be financed by Mexico. Nothing better illustrates the needless stupidity of the shutdown than Mr. Trump’s claim to be taking a stand for border security when one of the agencies being caught up is Customs and Border Protection.

Himalayan Cat

Any doubt that it is politics — not principle — driving Mr. Trump was erased when he flip-flopped this week on the stopgap spending bill. He signaled he would sign on to a measure, passed by both House and Senate, without wall funding, but then buckled to criticism from the conservative media.

The likes of Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh are determining Trump’s domestic policies. His foreign policy are being run out of Moscow and Istanbul and he is being celebrated by the Kremlin, Iran, and the Taliban for his decisions to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan.

Julia David at The Daily Beast: Russia Gloats: ‘Trump Is Ours Again.’

The Kremlin is awash with Christmas gifts from Washington, D.C. and every move by the Trump administration seems to add to that perception. On Wednesday, appearing on the Russian state TV show “The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev,” Director of the Moscow-based Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies Semyon Bagdasarov said that the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is “struggling to keep up” with the flurry of unexpected decisions by the U.S. President Donald Trump. The news that Mattis decided to step down sent shock waves across the world, being interpreted as “a dangerous signal” by America’s allies.

Norwegian Forest Cat

Meanwhile, the Mattis departure is being cheered in Russia. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Upper House of the Russian Parliament, has said that “the departure of James Mattis is a positive signal for Russia, since Mattis was far more hawkish on Russia and China than Donald Trump.” Kosachev opined that Trump apparently considered his own agenda in dealing with Russia, China and America’s allies to be “more important than keeping James Mattis at his post,” concluding: “That’s an interesting signal, and a more positive one” for Russia.

Jubilation was even more apparent on Russia’s state television, which adheres closely to the Kremlin’s point of view. The host of the Russian state TV show “60 Minutes,” Olga Skabeeva asserted: “Secretary of Defense Mattis didn’t want to leave Syria, so Trump fired him. They are leaving Syria.”

The Washington Post: U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria is ‘a dream come true for the Iranians.’

 One of the biggest winners of President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria will be Iran, which can now expand its reach across the Middle East with Washington’s already waning influence taking another hit.

The abrupt reversal of U.S. policy regarding its small military presence in a remote but strategically significant corner of northeastern Syria has stunned U.S. allies, many of whom were counting on the Trump administration’s seemingly tough posture on Iran to reverse extensive gains made by Tehran in recent years.

Ragdoll Cat

Instead, the withdrawal of troops opens the door to further Iranian expansion, including the establishment of a land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean that will enhance Iran’s ability to directly challenge Israel. It also throws in doubt Washington’s ability to sustain its commitment to other allies in the region and could drive many of them closer to Russia, an Iranian ally, analysts say.

“This is a dream come true for the Iranians,” said Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a defense consultancy in Dubai. “No longer will Iran take the Trump administration seriously. It’s an isolationist administration, it will no longer pose a threat, and Iran will become bolder in its actions because they know this administration is more bark than bite.”

NBC News: Taliban greets Pentagon’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan with cries of victory.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — News that the White House had ordered the Pentagon to draw up plans for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan provoked widespread criticism that the move would kneecap efforts to broker a peace deal to end America’s longest war.

But there was one group on Friday celebrating the reports — the Taliban.

Senior members told NBC News the news was a clear indication they were on the verge of victory.

Siberian Cats

“The 17-year-long struggle and sacrifices of thousands of our people finally yielded fruit,” said a senior Taliban commander from Afghanistan’s Helmand province. “We proved it to the entire world that we defeated the self-proclaimed world’s lone super power.”

“We are close to our destination,” added the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the group’s leadership had prohibited members from talking to the media about current events. He added that all field commanders had also been told to intensify training efforts to capture four strategic provinces in the run up to the next round of talks between the U.S. and Taliban, which are expected in January.

Are you tired of winning yet?

The Syria pullout has “Thwarted ‘Major’ Operation Targeting ISIS,” according to Bob Corker. From The Daily Beast:

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee revealed on Friday that the U.S. military was planning a “major clearing operation” targeting ISIS before President Donald Trump decided abruptly this weekto withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.

“One thing that hasn’t been reported is, we were six weeks away from a major clearing operation that has been planned for a long time. I got briefed on this a year ago—with ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said Friday on Capitol Hill, referring to the area where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to be hiding.

Chartreaux Cat

Trump’s decision, which at least partly led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, has rattled congressional Republicans, who have questioned the wisdom of withdrawing from Syria before ISIS is fully eradicated. In defending his decision, Trump claimed that the extremist caliphate has been defeated, but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a top Trump ally, called that claim “fake news,” and said America’s adversaries will benefit from Trump’s order.

I’ll wrap this up with three opinion pieces:

Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: It’s official. We lost the Cold War.

Perhaps the timing of George H.W. Bush’s death last month was merciful. This way he didn’t have to see America lose the Cold War.

Bush presided over the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. But the triumph he and others earned with American blood and treasure over 71 years, defeating the Soviet Union and keeping its successor in check, has been squandered by President Trump in just two.

Trump’s unraveling of the post-war order accelerated this week when he announced a willy-nilly pullout from Syria, leaving in the lurch scores of allies who participated in the campaign against the Islamic State, throwing our Kurdish partners to the wolves, isolating Israel, and giving Russia and Iran free rein in the Middle East. Then word emerged that Trump is ordering another hasty withdrawal, from Afghanistan. Trump’s defense secretary, retired Gen. Jim Mattis, resigned in protest of the president’s estrangement of allies and emboldening of Russia and China.

Egyptian Mau Cat

The TV series “The Man in the High Castle” imagines a world in which Nazis won World War II. But we don’t need an alternative-history show to imagine a Soviet victory in the Cold War. We have Trump.

David Rothkop at The Daily Beast: Mattis’ Message to the World: Trump Is Out of Control. The gist:

Mattis, who took his duty very seriously, came to the conclusion that the value of such checks was now gone. Repeatedly—in Helsinki with Putin, in Singapore with Kim, in his defense of Saudi Arabia’s murderous crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, in his attacks on the FBI and the intelligence community, in his rejection of facts obvious to all—Trump has shown he cannot be controlled from within the administration.

Now, we can expect even worse. The checks on his relations with Putin within the administration are gone. The experienced hands are few and far between and the policy process is non-existent, the most dysfunctional in U.S. history—which suits both Trump and Bolton. Bolton and Pompeo, Iran hawks and apologists for the Saudis, the Israelis, and other Gulf states, will have more freedom. Relations with the military, already bad, will sour. Stephen Miller will gain stronger control over our border and immigration policies which suggests more human rights abuses are ahead. Our allies will have few champions and even less trust in the administration.

All this will happen because today Trump’s most highly regarded aide sent a message to the world and in particular to those responsible for presidential oversight on Capitol Hill. The president is not only outside the mainstream in his thinking, he is out of control. The man who controls the world’s most powerful military and the resources of the world’s richest government, is beyond assistance, beyond redemption, beyond influence other than by our enemies and his greed and narcissism.

Susan Glasser at the New Yorker: The Year in Trump Freakouts.

Bengal Cat

President Trump is ending the year as he began it: outraging Washington with a Twitter diktat, one that was cheered in Moscow and jeered on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday morning, the city awoke to an unexpected Presidential announcement that Trump was unilaterally pulling American forces out of Syria, despite having agreed this fall that U.S. troops would remain on the ground there indefinitely. Trump portrayed the decision as both a final victory over the Islamic State, which had overtaken much of the country from the Russia-supported regime of the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and the fulfillment of a campaign promise to exit the Middle East. A full-scale bipartisan freakout ensued, culminating late Thursday with the long-awaited, long-feared news that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis would join the procession of Trump officials calling it quits. Was it a direct result of the abrupt about-face on Syria? “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis wrote in his resignation letter to the President, “because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.” What we do know is that all the chaos at year’s end is a powerful reminder that the manner in which the President operates is so outside of any normal parameters for governing, so disdainful of process, and so heedless of consequences that his decisions don’t resolve crises so much as create them.

It is, of course, possible to have a reasonable policy debate over whether U.S. forces belong in Syria, given the military’s small footprint (about two thousand troops), the haziness of American objectives, and the fact that there is no political appetite for an expanded intervention in the country’s long-running civil war. But it is not possible with Trump. The retired Admiral James Stavridis, the former commander of nato forces, called the President’s decision “geopolitically the worst move I have seen from this Administration.” Others disagreed, seeing in Trump’s move a disaster in process that otherwise resembled President Barack Obama’s desire to withdraw from the endless conflicts of the Middle East. “Trump is very capable of doing intelligent things in very stupid ways,” Ian Bremmer, the head of the geopolitical-analysis firm the Eurasia Group, said in an interview with CBS on Thursday morning.

It is hard to get past the stupid, though.

It certainly is “hard to get past the stupid” with Trump. I haven’t even scratched the surface of today’s news. What stories are you following? Please share.