Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

This is Trump’s last week before he hits the 100 day mark and things are getting weird. I can’t tell if he’s planning to start a war or if this is all just bluster to distract from the fact that he has accomplished so little.

Trump held a lunch meeting with representatives of the UN Security yesterday, and he didn’t invite anyone from the State Department. You can read his remarks at the White House press office website. During the meeting, he “joked” that he could easily replace Nikki Haley as UN Ambassador if he wanted to. On Wednesday, Trump has asked the entire US Senate to meet at the White House for a secret briefing on North Korea. On Friday in New York Secretary of State Tillerson will chair a UN Security Council meeting on North Korea. And of course you’ve heard that Trump will hold one of his weird campaign rallies instead of going to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Saturday night. Meanwhile, a US submarine is lurking in South Korea waiting for the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and its “armada” of warships to arrive; and North Korea is ramping up their military exercises.

Some pertinent reads:

Foreign Policy via The Chicago Tribune: Trump breaks bread with UN dignitaries he sought to starve.

From day one, the TrumpWhite House screamed its desire to emasculate the United Nations, pushing for draconian budget cuts that would kneecap the world body and ease Washington’s retreat from multilateralism.

Yet President Donald Trump’s U.N. envoy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, has turned Turtle Bay into one of the administration’s favored soapboxes, providing an unexpected boost to the organization the White House set out to marginalize.

In her first months on the job, Haley has used the U.N. as a perch to deliver some of the administration’s most visceral attacks against Russia, Syria and North Korea. It was Haley who delivered the first hint that the U.S. would use military force to punish the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad for using chemical weapons.

There is no reason to think Trump is ready to fully embrace an institution he derided before his inauguration as an ineffectual talk shop. The president blithely bypassed the U.N. Security Council when it launched Tomahawk missiles at Syria, seeing little need to secure the U.N.’s blessing and shrugging off claims that missile strikes constituted a violation of international law.

Haley is attracting lots of press attention but hasn’t really accomplished much.

Haley has made the U.N. “the center of attention” but she has not made it the “center of action”- at least not on the diplomatic front, said Richard Atwood, the New York director of the International Crisis Group.

One senior European diplomat said that Haley’s office – handicapped by a shortage of senior and mid-level policy makers in the State Department and in New York – often lacks the bandwidth to delve deeply into a range of issues before the U.N.

“I worry that U.N. watchers are dazzled by Haley, but miss the fact that Trump still seems intent on undercutting” key pillars of the multilateral system, said Richard Gowan, a U.N. scholar at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Articles like the one above might be the reason Trump “joked” about firing Haley.

The Washington Post reports:

If there’s one member of President Trump’s team who has been a wild card early in his presidency, it’s Nikki Haley. The United Nations ambassador has been a surprisingly strong presence, often making news about U.S. foreign policy in ways that seem somewhat, well, un-Trump.

On Monday, Trump joked about firing her — quickly clarifying that she’s doing a “fantastic job.”

“She’s doing a good job. Now does everybody like Nikki?” Trump asked at a meeting of U.N. Security Council ambassadors and their spouses. “Otherwise she could easily be replaced. Right?”

Trump added: “No, we won’t do that. I promise. She’s doing a fantastic job.”

Is Trump jealous of the attention Haley has been getting?

Trump is reputed to be wary of aides getting too much publicity and overshadowing him.

Russia and Syria are perhaps the best examples of Haley’s message getting out in front of the White House’s. After the chemical weapons attack in Syria, Haley went to the United Nations on April 5 and held up photos of the children who were targeted. The next day, Trump himself said such images had affected him and changed his viewpoint, and he launched military strikes against the Syrian government the day after that.

Haley has also been more forward when talking about regime change in Syria, even as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has emphasized that defeating the Islamic State is Goal No. 1.

And indeed, as Tillerson has sought to avoid the media, Haley seems to be filling the void and making news — sometimes with a more hawkish bent than the rest of the Trump administration. Vanity Fair has mused about whether Haley could find herself at odds with the State Department.

Newsweek: Donald Trump Calls for New United Nations Sanctions on North Korea.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday the U.N. Security Council must be prepared to impose new sanctions on North Korea as concerns mount that it may test a sixth nuclear bomb as early as Tuesday.

“The status quo in North Korea is also unacceptable,” Trump told a meeting with the 15 U.N. Security Council ambassadors, including China and Russia, at the White House. “The council must be prepared to impose additional and stronger sanctions on North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile programs.”

“This is a real threat to the world, whether we want to talk about it or not. North Korea is a big world problem and it’s a problem that we have to finally solve,” he said. “People put blindfolds on for decades and now it’s time to solve the problem.”

U.S. officials have told Reuters tougher sanctions could include an oil embargo, banning North Korea’s airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks and other foreign doing busiThenness with Pyongyang.

The Guardian: North Korea won’t bow to Donald Trump’s threats. It needs assurances, by Lawrence Douglas. Douglas describes what happened when Muammar Gaddafi tried to “turn Libya into a nuclear stronghold.”

Thanks largely to the diplomacy of the Clinton and Bush administrations, Gaddafi voluntarily abandoned his nuclear weapons. The diplomatic effort required both forcefulness and great delicacy. While imposing crippling economic sanctions on Libya, the United States also pursued back-channel negotiations to convince Gaddafi that the sanctions would be lifted in exchange for his giving up on his nuclear ambitions.

The quid pro quo and the promise of future cooperation could not work without forging bonds of trust between two distrustful and antagonistic parties. And yet the diplomacy succeeded. Gaddafi dropped the weapons program and the sanctions were promptly lifted.

Then came the Arab Spring, NATO got involved in Libya, and before long Gaddafi was dead. Kim Jong-un doesn’t want the same thing to happen to him, Lawrence says.

All this means that the chance of negotiating a peaceful end to North Korea’s weapons program is vanishingly small. Alas, Donald Trump seems intent on destroying whatever chance might remain. As Bill Clinton understood, the only possible path to peaceful disarmament is by building trust where there is only suspicion and hostility. This requires patience and planning. Trump appears incapable of either.

Trump evidently believes that a show of toughness and a display of brinkmanship will convince Kim Jong Il to negotiate. The thinking betrays a disturbing ignorance. The threat of force can only work to deter a nation from developing nuclear weapons. Once that threshold has been crossed, the threat is worse than empty. It can serve only to strengthen the North Koreans in their belief in the indispensability of their warheads.

Worse still, Trump seems temperamentally incapable of strategic thinking. When he openly confesses that he only learned of the complexity of the Chinese-North Korean relationship after being briefly tutored by Xi Jinping, China’s president, he does more than reveal an embarrassing lack of preparation. He sends a powerful message to America’s adversaries.

It is much the same message that is sent when a commander-in-chief misplaces a carrier group, cannot correctly name the country he has just struck with missiles, and launches his most vociferous verbal volleys against allies such as Australia and now Canada while expressing squeaky admiration of strongmen like Erdogan.

All In The Family

In other news, Trump family members are getting a lot of press. You may have already read the delicious profile of Melania that Vanity Fair published a few days ago: Inside the Trump Marriage: Melania’s Burden. Here’s a taste:

After two high-maintenance wives, Donald Trump seems deliberately to have chosen as his third a woman who would be both bombshell and cipher, a physical testament to his manhood and amazingness. She would be decorative and polite, not needy and annoying. “I’m not a nagging wife,” Melania has declared a couple of times—her manifesto. According to some of Trump’s friends and associates, she has stuck to it.

“She enjoys her role of stepping back and letting him take center stage,” says decorator friend William Eubanks, who spent Thanksgiving with the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago, along with romance-novel-cover model Fabio and boxing promoter Don King. According to Lisa Bytner, who did P.R. for Trump Model Management when it was launched in 1999, and became a friend of the couple’s, Trump found in Melania the perfect mate. “She doesn’t make waves,” says Bytner. “She speaks only when spoken to. She’s just very sweet.” Except, in public, when called upon to defend her husband’s demeaning attitudes toward women, or to be a mouthpiece for some of his offensive claims, such as birtherism.

And yet, woefully pliant as Melania may be, even she may have a breaking point. Over the course of reporting this story, for which her close friends declined to talk, an uneasy picture has emerged of their marital union. Melania’s unhappiness and the couple’s apparent lack of closeness are becoming more noticeable. Despite assurances from her spokesperson, Stephanie Grisham, that Melania is embracing the role of First Lady, most signs point to a distinct lack of interest. And while Grisham says Mrs. Trump plans to move to the White House once their son, Barron, “finishes out the school year,” there have been indications that she is in no particular rush.

Read the rest at the link–it’s fascinating.

Graydon Carter on Trump Family Values.

You’re not alone if you think you are living through an Allen Drury novel—or, depending upon your age, Dr. Strangelove or Wag the Dog. Sean Spicer, the poor fellow, is living through his own episode of South Park. In the B.T. (Before Trump) era, most people I know went about their daily lives reasonably confident in the knowledge that the papers or news sites they read that morning were all they needed to stay informed for the rest of the day. But now, A.T., all that has changed. Those same people check their phones with the regularity of lovelorn teenagers—wincing as they look to see what fresh horrors the great man in the White House has unleashed. Trump may thrive on conflict and disorder, but most of us do not.

Read the whole thing at Vanity Fair.

At Huffington Post: The Guide To Becoming Jared Kushner.

When Charles Kushner was heading to federal prison in 2005 for illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering, his son Jared got some advice from Howard Rubenstein ― the dean of New York damage control ― on how to rehabilitate the Kushner name, Charles would later tell a family friend.

Step one: Buy a New York newspaper. Don’t be too particular, Rubenstein told Jared, according to the family friend’s recounting of their conversation with Charles. Any newspaper will do. Step two: Buy a big Manhattan building. Any building will do. Step three: Marry the daughter of a rich New York family. Anyone will do.

The younger Kushner went on to do just that. He bought the New York Observer in 2006, made a debt-laden $1.8 billion purchase of 666 Fifth Ave. in 2007 and married Ivanka Trump in 2009. (A Kushner Companies spokesman denied the family friend’s account. Rubenstein said: “That’s preposterous. I never said that or anything like that.”)

 LOL!

Finally, the “First Daughter” went to Germany and heard boos and hisses when she tried to claim that her dad cares about women’s issues. New York Magazine:

Ivanka Trump came to Berlin prepared to discuss how micro-finance can #empower female entrepreneurs in the Third World to lean into innovation, and lean out of poverty. (Or so a snarky blogger might uncharitably summarize her recent op-ed in the Financial Times.) But moments after taking her place beside German chancellor Angela Merkel and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde on a panel at the W20 summit, Trump found herself discussing her own motives for being there.

“You’re the First Daughter of the United States, and you’re also an assistant to the president,” the panel’s moderator, Wirtschaftswoche editor-in-chief Miriam Meckel, began. “The German audience is not that familiar with the concept of a First Daughter. I’d like to ask you, what is your role, and who are you representing, your father as president of the United States, the American people, or your business?”….

Trump could not say precisely what her new job as a senior White House official entailed, but defined her goals as “empowering women in the workplace” and achieving “incremental positive change.”

The largely female crowd was willing to politely entertain Trump’s attempt to rebrand herself as a feminist crusader. But when Ivanka tried to rebrand her father as the same, the audience’s patience gave out.

“I’m very proud of my father’s advocacy,” she said of the president’s official (but, so far, entirely passive) support for paid family leave, before calling her father “a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive.”

Boos and hisses ensued.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a great Tuesday despite the insanity that surrounds us.


Monday Reads: One Hundred Days of Shame

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

I’m a little slow getting started today as I deal with my ongoing shell shock.  I admit to waking up each morning and being quite surprised that nothing has been completely blown up yet. This includes our home planet, Earth.  Then, I head to twitter to see if something is likely to be blown up today.  That gets a little wearing after three months. Kremlin Caligula gave an interview to AP and it should convince every one that his frontal lobe is seriously damaged. I’m not going to be stopping that ritual for some time it seems.

This series of lined threads punctuated by excerpts from the interview transcript offered by Joy Reid says it succinctly.  The man operates at nursery school levels of thinking at best.  I’m still going for a combination of dementia with a huge dollop of personality disorders. I’m also waiting for the mother ship to take me to my home planet where these things don’t happen.  So, excuse me, I’m a little spaced today.

“Watch Trump’s mind wander from subject to subject with no apparent charted course, but always stumbling back to how cable news treats him…”

“He’s like a babbling brook of incoherence and obsession…”

“It’s not even funny. Trump clearly doesn’t know anything about the policies he’s trying to explain. He just recalls who likes him/is nice …”

There is so much crap in that interview that it’s a work fit for flies. Who is going to believe that the Russian Hacks of the election is the fault of Democrats? Bueller?

President Trump blamed Democratic officials for having weak cyber defenses that allowed hackers to compromise their email systems ahead of the 2016 election in a recent interview.

Trump faulted the Democratic National Committee for lacking  “the proper defensive devices” to safeguard against cyber intrusions in an interview with the Associated Press, according to a transcript published over the weekend.

Trump also indicated that his praise for WikiLeaks on the campaign trail last year did not actually mean he supports the organization, which was involved in publishing hacked emails from the DNC and former Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.

The U.S. intelligence community said in January that the Russian government had ordered an influence campaign during the election to undermine democracy and damage Clinton. The GRU, Russia’s main intelligence agency, targeted the DNC and high-level Democratic officials and passed hacked material to WikiLeaks, the intelligence community assessed.

On Friday, Trump took aim at the DNC when asked about WikiLeaks’ involvement in the influence campaign, arguing that the DNC did not have the same defenses as the Republican National Committee.

“You know, they tried to hack the Republican, the RNC, but we had good defenses. They didn’t have defenses, which is pretty bad management,” Trump said, referring to the DNC. “But we had good defenses, they tried to hack both of them. They weren’t able to get through to Republicans.”

There is so much wrong with the facts in this that it’s hard to even know where to start but, hey, grab them by the pussy!  It’s always the victim’s fault!

Meanwhile, this week’s trauma is the likely shut down of government of what’s functional in the government. Oh, and 100 days will be celebrated with another flurry of Executive Orders.  This is what happens when you really, truly, can’t figure out how to get the system to work for you.  Or, perhaps a crisis … 

To see how Trump changes the normal calculation, consider what the appropriations process would look like in a more generic case, where Republicans enjoyed identical congressional majorities but under a president who behaved rationally.

In that case, we would expect the president and GOP leaders to work backwards from a desire to avoid a shutdown, toward an optimal outcome in which appropriations did not lapse and Congress funded as many of their priorities as possible. The hard fact that funding the government almost always requires a measure of bipartisanship places a fairly firm limit on what’s possible in that context. The minority party has a disproportionate amount of power over annual appropriations, but you go to the spending fight with the army you have, not the army you might want, or wish to have at a later time. If Democrats were horribly recalcitrant, they could reject every single Republican bid, leaving Republicans a choice between simply extending existing funds or shutting down the government—in which case a rational party would harrumph and agree to extend the funds.

The fact that Democrats are not horribly recalcitrant creates room for limited dealmaking. Republicans want to spend more money on defense and immigration enforcement, Democrats want to fund other priorities, and to the extent that these different points of emphasis don’t cross any ideological redlines, the parties can accommodate one another. But Democrats won’t persuade Republicans to agree to adequately fund the IRS, just as Republicans won’t convince Democrats to help them gut the EPA. The construction of a wall along the southern border, meanwhile, is a non-starter for Democrats and many Republicans. A rational GOP president would accept this reality and move on. Trump has made its inclusion in the funding bill a top priority.

It’s fund the wall or we’re all gonna die!!  So, what is it with Trump and ratings and cable? Does every one obsessively tune in?

During a small working lunch at the White House last month, the question of job security in President Trump’s tumultuous White House came up, and one of the attendees wondered whether press secretary Sean Spicer might be the first to go.

The president’s response was swift and unequivocal. “I’m not firing Sean Spicer,” he said, according to someone familiar with the encounter. “That guy gets great ratings. Everyone tunes in.”

Trump even likened Spicer’s daily news briefings to a daytime soap opera, noting proudly that his press secretary attracted nearly as many viewers.

For Trump — a reality TV star who parlayed his blustery-yet-knowing on-air persona into a winning political brand — television is often the guiding force of his day, both weapon and scalpel, megaphone and news feed. And the president’s obsession with the tube — as a governing tool, a metric for staff evaluation, and a two-way conduit with lawmakers and aides — has upended the traditional rhythms of the White House, influencing many spheres, including policy, his burgeoning relationship with Congress, and whether he taps out a late-night or early-morning tweet.

Those Trump tweet-storms, which contain some of his most controversial utterances, are usually prompted by something he has seen on television just moments before. The president, advisers said, also uses details gleaned from cable news as a starting point for policy discussions or a request for more information, and appears on TV himself when he wants to appeal directly to the public.

Some White House officials — who early on would appear on TV to emphasize points to their boss, who was likely to be watching just steps away in his residence — have started tuning into Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” because they know the president habitually clicks it on after waking near dawn.

Here’s a fact check list of what Candidate Caligula said he would do and what President (sic) Kremlin Caligula has done via NPR.

Back in October, before his election, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump laid out a 100-Day Action Plan. He called it his “Contract With The American Voter.” Among other things, it called for the full repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, suspension of immigration from certain “terror-prone regions” and the lifting of “roadblocks” to let “infrastructure projects like the Keystone Pipeline move forward.”

The 100-day mark is not an official milestone, but in roughly the last century it has been a traditional point to take stock of a new administration. Throughout President Trump’s first 100 days, there have been both flurries of action and some setbacks. In many cases, the status of some of these efforts is not clear-cut — often with substantial talk but less action. In other areas, progress is clearer.

Charlie Pierce has nailed it on our 100 days of shame: ” The 100 Days: Who Can Stop an Unfit President*? Troubling signs in Trump’s Associated Press interview.”

The word for the 95th day of the presidency* of Donald Trump is “unintelligible.” As nearly as I can recall, the word first came to political prominence on April 29, 1974, when President Richard M. Nixon, in one of his last desperate attempts to throw the hounds of Watergate off his tracks, released to the nation edited transcripts of carefully selected White House tape recordings. (The president* will celebrate his 100th day in office with a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday, the 43rd anniversary of the release of these transcripts. History rhymes.) More famously, the transcripts injected the phrase, “Expletive deleted” into the political jargon.

 But “unintelligible” had its day, too. Given what they already knew about Nixon, many people around the country suspected that what was “unintelligible” probably had something to do with a crime or two. Over the weekend, “unintelligible” came back into our politics in a new and terrifying way.

The presidential elections in France took an interesting turn as the usual suspect party got eliminated and the moderate and the nationalist head to a run off. Statistically, it looks like the moderate will win. However, we do know that story here and this horrible sweep of white nationalism sweeping the west is like a plague with no end.  It looks like there will be no more socialist France for some time. But, what will they opt for?  The middle path or the path to destruction?

Emmanuel Macron will be almost certainly be the next French president. And the relief is immense. The much anticipated domino effect following the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s election has not, so far, materialised. And the European project has won – at least for now. At Macron’s headquarters in Paris, a euphoric crowd was waving French flags, as well as many European ones. “C’est magnifique!”, his supporters kept saying. Being in the second round is a huge achievement, being the frontrunner even more so.

This result is a relief but it also represents a shock – not because of Marine Le Pen’s presence in the second round, which the polls prepared us for. But because the next president will come from neither of the two traditional main parties, the conservatives and socialists, the first time since the beginning of the fifth Republic, founded in 1958 by Charles de Gaulle.

François Fillon, who surprisingly won the conservative primaries last November, and was initially considered the frontrunner, has suffered badly as a result of allegations of corruption. He refused to stand down and even managed to make up some of his early losses, but not sufficiently to overcome Macron.

Benoît Hamon scored nearly the worst result of any socialist presidential candidate in the history of the fifth Republic. With just 6% of the votes, he comes just ahead of Gaston Defferre who scored just 5.01% in 1969, against Charles de Gaulle. Hamon’s lack of charisma failed to convince the socialist electorate, already badly disappointed by the Hollande presidency.

So, we’re hoping France does not go the way we went which basically is straight to crazy land.

I’m still loving the pictures and stories of the scientists who showed up to protest the Republican attack on Scientific findings and fundings. I adores seeing the number of women and girls fighting for science.  Doctor Daughter ran the Tutoring Center for the Science Department at LSU for a number of years. She was the only undergraduate who had done so at the time.  I always filled her room up with microscopes, rocks, shells, crystals and Sci Fi Books.  It’s easy to get kids interested in science!

From across the fields of science they came, marching to show that women in science have a lot to say.

Biologists and ecologists, medical researchers and EMTs, doctors and nurses, biomedical engineers and neuroscientists came with stories of why they fell in love with science.

They ranged from little girls to seasoned science veterans, all carrying a message of what they’d like to tell other women.

“It’s important for women scientists to be here because there are still too few of us,” said neuroscientist Sharri Zamore.

She drove from Blacksburg, Virginia, to support the cause, but also to “encourage more diversity” in the sciences, she told CNN.

There were many who stood up and marched for the first time in their lives.

Follow the link to read Sharri’s and other women scientists’ stories below.  It goes to a series of CNN interviews.

So, I’m going to go get lost in space for awhile in my particular form of science and grade some papers.   However,  I will not be drinking Starbuck’s Unicorn Frappucino.  It sounds horrible and it’s terrifically unhealthy.  What’s the big deal with it anyway?

Although Starbucks’ new Unicorn Frappuccino has garnered national attention for its whimsical name and and enchanting, pink-and-blue color scheme, at least one local group is cautioning people about its oh-so-sweet content.

On Friday, the Stratford Health Department succinctly called out the drink’s high sugar content on its Facebook page. “While the Unicorn Frappuccino may be pretty to look at, it’s loaded with 59 grams of sugar! That is over two times the amount of sugar recommended by the American Heart Association!”

That statement likely shocked few fans, as the Unicorn Frappuccino contains four kinds of syrup, according to its ingredients label — Frappuccino syrup (Water, Sugar, Salt, Natural And Artificial Flavor, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid); Mango Syrup (Sugar, Water, Mango Juice Concentrate, Natural Flavor, Passion Fruit Juice Concentrate, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Turmeric, Gum Arabic); Vanilla Syrup (Sugar, Water, Natural Flavors, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid) and Classic Syrup (Sugar, Water, Natural Flavors, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid). The calorie count is also high, at 410 per 16 fluid-ounce serving.

Blech!!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today? 


Thursday Reads: It’s a Baby Animals Day

April with her new baby boy calf

Good Morning!!

This is going to be another baby animals day for me. I’m having one of those *How much longer can we survive this* mornings.

Trump and the so-called “adults” in his administration seem dead set on getting us into another war, the Democratic Party is apparently going to allow Bernie Sanders to trash its chances to take back Congressional seats in 2018, and Trump’s “America First” policies are on the road toward destroying the economy that President Obama spent eight years rebuilding after the last disastrous Republican president tore it down.

The Trump-Russia investigation is our only hope; and, although it is moving much faster than the Watergate investigation, it may take too long to save us from complete disaster.

Here’s the latest:

The New York Times: Trump Adviser’s Visit to Moscow Got the F.B.I.’s Attention.

Ever since F.B.I. investigators discovered in 2013 that a Russian spy was trying to recruit an American businessman named Carter Page, the bureau maintained an occasional interest in Mr. Page. So when he became a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign last year and gave a Russia-friendly speech at a prestigious Moscow institute, it soon caught the bureau’s attention.

That trip last July was a catalyst for the F.B.I. investigation into connections between Russia and President Trump’s campaign, according to current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials.

It is unclear exactly what about Mr. Page’s visit drew the F.B.I.’s interest: meetings he had during his three days in Moscow, intercepted communications of Russian officials speaking about him, or something else.

After Mr. Page, 45 — a Navy veteran and businessman who had lived in Moscow for three years — stepped down from the Trump campaign in September, the F.B.I. obtained a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing the authorities to monitor his communications on the suspicion that he was a Russian agent.

April’s calf resting in his favorite corner

The article recaps much of what we already know about Page, but here’s a bit about how he got into the Trump campaign in the first place and what happened next.

In March of last year, Sam Clovis, an economics professor and Tea Party activist in Iowa, was asked by the Trump campaign to line up some foreign policy advisers. He produced the list that included Mr. Page.

After several tries, Mr. Page got the campaign’s permission to speak at the New Economic School, where Mr. Obama spoke in 2009. Denis Klimentov, a spokesman for the school, said some alumni knew of Mr. Page’s work at Merrill Lynch in Moscow. But his role as a Trump adviser also played into the decision to invite him, Mr. Klimentov said in an email….

In recent months, Mr. Page has often seemed to revel in the attention he has drawn. In December, he gave another speech at the New Economic School, complaining that “fake news” had hurt United States-Russia relations.

I’m not convinced that Page didn’t play a greater role in connections between Trump associates and Russian oil companies, but if all he did was spark the FBI investigation, that’s a good thing.

We also learned recently that the FBI has been using the so-called Trump dossier to guide it’s investigation.

CNN: FBI used dossier allegations to bolster Trump-Russia investigation.

The FBI last year used a dossier of allegations of Russian ties to Donald Trump’s campaign as part of the justification to win approval to secretly monitor a Trump associate, according to US officials briefed on the investigation.

The dossier has also been cited by FBI Director James Comey in some of his briefings to members of Congress in recent weeks, as one of the sources of information the bureau has used to bolster its investigation, according to US officials briefed on the probe.
This includes approval from the secret court that oversees the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to monitor the communications of Carter Page, two of the officials said. Last year, Page was identified by the Trump campaign as an adviser on national security.
Officials familiar with the process say even if the application to monitor Page included information from the dossier, it would only be after the FBI had corroborated the information through its own investigation. The officials would not say what or how much was corroborated.

Baby chipmunk taking a nap

You’ve probably read that one, but I think it’s important. I hope one of the Congressional committees that are supposedly investigation can get Steele to testify.

Why, oh why, didn’t President Obama inform the country about this in no uncertain terms? Why did the media ignore the warnings he did issue? Why did James Comey destroy Hillary Clinton’s chances with his remarks in July and his pointless letters to Congress just before election day? Now we’re stuck with this corrupt, authoritarian no-nothing; and it may be too late to forestall global disaster. But that’s all water under the bridge; we are where we are . . . in deep sh**t.

Here’s the latest on the Trump-created North Korea crisis.

Reuters: North Korea warns of ‘super-mighty preemptive strike’ as U.S. plans next move.

North Korean state media warned the United States of a “super-mighty preemptive strike” after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the United States was looking at ways to bring pressure to bear on North Korea over its nuclear programme.

U.S. President Donald Trump has taken a hard line with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has rebuffed admonitions from sole major ally China and proceeded with nuclear and missile programmes in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party, did not mince its words.

“In the case of our super-mighty preemptive strike being launched, it will completely and immediately wipe out not only U.S. imperialists’ invasion forces in South Korea and its surrounding areas but the U.S. mainland and reduce them to ashes,” it said.

Reclusive North Korea regularly threatens to destroy Japan, South Korea and the United States and has shown no let-up in its belligerence after a failed missile test on Sunday, a day after putting on a huge display of missiles at a parade in Pyongyang.

 

The New York Times: Activity Spotted at North Korea Nuclear Test Site: Volleyball.

Analysts who examine satellite images of North Korea reported on Wednesday that they had spotted some unexpected activity at the country’s nuclear test site: active volleyball games in three separate areas.

The surprising images were taken on Sunday as tensions between the United States and North Korea seemed to spike. The Korean Peninsula pulsed with news that the North was preparing for its sixth atomic detonation and that American warships had been ordered into the Sea of Japan as a deterrent, even though the ships turned out to have sailed in the opposite direction.

The volleyball games, played in the middle of that international crisis, were probably intended to send a message, analysts said, as the North Koreans are aware that the nuclear test site is under intense scrutiny. But what meaning the North wanted the games to convey is unclear.

“It suggests that the facility might be going into a standby mode,” Joseph Bermudez told reporters on a conference call organized by 38 North, a research institute at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. “It also suggests that these volleyball games are being conducted with the North Koreans knowing that we’ll be looking and reporting on it.”

Mr. Bermudez, a veteran North Korean analyst, emphasized the ambiguity of North Korean intentions. “They’re either sending us a message that they’ve put the facility on standby, or they’re trying to deceive us,” he said. “We really don’t know.”

Trump trolling? Possibly, but literally no one knows what’s happening in North Korea, not even the intelligence community, according John Schindler: Why North Korea Is a Black Hole for U.S. Intelligence.

This is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, after all, the weirdest country on earth—a deeply militarized Communist regime, almost hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world, and governed by a dynastic family in pre-1789 fashion. That the DPRK possesses nuclear weapons means there’s nothing to laugh about here, notwithstanding the fact that Pyongyang lacks the ability to accurately get those nukes anywhere very far from North Korea.

Then there’s the problem that nobody seems to understand what makes North Korea tick. Most Western “experts” on the regime have no idea what they’re talking about, as I’ve explained, and there’s a very good case that the DPRK actually may welcome confrontation with the United States—even nuclear confrontation. While Pyongyang’s bluster about preemptive nuclear strikes against friends of America (read: South Korea and Japan) sounds far-fetched, it’s best to side with caution and accept that the DPRK really might do exactly that.

Read the rest at the New York Observer link above.

South Korea wants to know where Trump got his information about their country, according to Bloomberg:

South Korea’s government wants to know whether Chinese  gave alternative facts on the nation’s history to Donald Trump.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last week, Trump said Xi told him during a recent summit that “Korea actually used to be a part of China.” The comments sparked outrage in Seoul and became an issue in South Korea’s presidential race, prompting the foreign ministry to seek to verify what Xi actually said.

“It’s a clear fact acknowledged by the international community that, for thousands of years in history, Korea has never been part of China,” foreign ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said at a briefing in Seoul on Thursday.

Candidates for South Korea’s May 9 presidential election weighed in on the issue, which comes as the nation’s relations with China are already strained over moves to deploy a U.S. missile defense system on its soil.

“This is clearly a distortion of history and an invasion of the Republic of Korea’s sovereignty,” conservative Liberty Korea Party candidate Hong Joon-pyo said through a spokesman.

Now we wait for “clarification” from President Xi Jinping. President Stupid probably misunderstood whatever Xi said.

 

As if the North Korea situation weren’t scary enough, the Trump administration has now begun attacking Iran and threatening to alter the agreement that has so far kept Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. You can read that one at BBC News. And from NBC News: Why Scrapping Nuclear Deal May Embolden Iran’s Hardliners: Analysis.

Donald Trump’s top diplomat is reviewing last year’s nuclear deal with Iran, saying the country remains a leading state sponsor of terrorism. But while ripping up the agreement would make good an election promise, it would also embolden Iran’s hardliners who believe President Hassan Rouhani has been too friendly to the West.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s announcement Wednesday will be seen within Rouhani’s moderate circles as an attempt by the Trump White House to try and undermine the landmark 2015 agreement.

Rouhani has invested much of his political capital in the agreement, promising that the lifting of sanctions in exchange for curtailing Tehran’s nuclear program would usher in economic prosperity and a better relationship with the world.

Read the rest at the link.

I’ll end with this piece on Bernie Sanders by Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: Bernie Sanders’s strange behavior.

Bernie Sanders has embarked on a “Come Together and Fight Back” tour with with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez. But he’s not really helping on that first part.

Over the last few days, Sanders’s has at times offered some odd comments for a guy pushing for Democratic unity.

To wit:

But the most puzzling development this week is Sanders’s decision to keep Georgia special election candidate Jon Ossoff at arms-length. Sanders hasn’t endorsed Ossoff, and in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he seemed to suggest Ossoff’s progressive bona fides were in question.

“If you run as a Democrat, you’re a Democrat,” Sanders said. “Some Democrats are progressive, and some Democrats are not.”

Why is Tom Perez enabling this non-Democrat who lost in the primaries by 3 million votes? I’m sick to death of him and I’d guess the majority of actual Democrats are too.

What stories are you following today?


Wednesday Reads: Itty Bitty Hump Day Cartoons 

04/19 Mike Luckovich: Heartless. | Mike Luckovich

How goes it?

This latest “armada” shitbacle seems like a scripted backstory for Veep.

Despite talk of a military strike, Trump’s ‘armada’ actually sailed away from Korea – The Washington Post

 

Yeah, it was going the other way…

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters on April 11 that the Carl Vinson was “on her way up there.” Asked about the deployment in an interview with Fox Business Network that aired April 12, President Trump said: “We are sending an armada, very powerful.”

U.S. media went into overdrive, and Fox reported on April 14 that the armada was “steaming” toward North Korea.

But pictures posted by the U.S. Navy suggest that’s not quite the case — or at least not yet.

A photograph released by the Navy showed the aircraft carrier sailing through the calm waters of Sunda Strait between the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java on Saturday, April 15. By later in the day, it was in the Indian Ocean, according to Navy photographs.

In other words, on the same day that the world nervously watched North Korea stage a massive military parade to celebrate the birthday of the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, and the press speculated about a preemptive U.S. strike, the U.S. Navy put the Carl Vinson, together with its escort of two guided-missile destroyers and a cruiser, more than 3,000 miles southwest of the Korean Peninsula — and more than 500 miles southeast of Singapore.

Instead of steaming toward the Korea Peninsula, the carrier strike group was actually headed in the opposite direction to take part in “scheduled exercises with Australian forces in the Indian Ocean,” according to Defense News, which first reported the story.

Here is the NYTs article:

Aircraft Carrier Wasn’t Sailing to Deter North Korea, as U.S. Suggested – NYTimes.com

Yet I wonder, if that was the real situation…what about this news from earlier in the week?

I really hate that fucker tRump.

But hey…even if it was all just play-acting…and the “armada” was too far away to actually do anything if the North Koreans did start a nuclear catastrophe, the swinging dicks had their fun.

 

 

 

As you can see, that “gentleman” had his own version of make-believe too:

North Korea Celebrates Founder’s Birthday With Mock Missile Attack On United States | The Huffington Post

North Korea marked the birthday of its founder on Sunday with a massive celebration featuring military musicians and singers performing beneath images that included a simulated missile attack on the United States.

Footage from North Korean state-run TV showed leader Kim Jong Un in attendance at the celebration of the 105th birthday of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994.

About 1 hour and 13 minutes in, video screens in the concert hall highlighted various North Korean weapons, including missiles being launched. Eventually, the footage changed to computer graphics showing several missiles destroying a city.

The city wasn’t named, but one of the images featured a tattered American flag over a cemetery, with the entire scene engulfed in flames

Video at the link.

Now more cartoons, cause I can’t take this shit anymore.

 

 

 

 

SHAMELESS MARKETING: 04/19/2017 Cartoon by Deb Milbrath

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - SHAMELESS MARKETING

CRUMBLING FOREIGN POLICY: 04/18/2017 Cartoon by Deb Milbrath

Cartoon by Deb Milbrath - CRUMBLING FOREIGN POLICY

04/19/2017 Cartoon by Tom Stiglich

Cartoon by Tom Stiglich -

04/19/2017 Cartoon by Nick Anderson

Cartoon by Nick Anderson -

Nick Anderson cartoon: 04/18/2017 Cartoon by Nick Anderson

News on Twitter:

This last one is for the medievalist in the group…

This is an open thread…


Tuesday Reads: More Trump-Russia Shoes Drop (and Other News)

Good Morning!!

Breaking News Update: This story broke while I was writing this post:

NBC News: Cleveland Facebook Killer: Steve Stephens Dead in Car After Pursuit by Pa. Police.

The nationwide manhunt for Steve Stephens, the man accused of posting video of a murder to Facebook, ended Tuesday when his body was found in a vehicle in Erie, Pa., police said.

Pennsylvania State Police confirmed to NBC News that Stephens had been spotted by Pennsylvania State Police shortly before 11:30 a.m. Tuesday morning. After a brief pursuit, police said Stephens shot and killed himself.

A couple more shoes dropped this morning in the endless Trump-Russia saga.

Bloomberg reported more details about Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s involvement in the campaign and transition. Bloomberg’s sources tried to downplay the notorious Seychelles meeting between Prince and a Putin aide and confidant and claimed it had nothing to do with Trump. Prince was often in Trump Tower, but was sneaked in through the back way to avoid being seen.

Yet over a two to three month period around the election, Prince met several times with top aides as the incoming government took shape, offering ideas on how to fight terror and restructure the country’s major intelligence agencies, according to information provided by five people familiar with the meetings. Among those he conferred with was Flynn, a member of the transition team who joined the administration and was later dismissed, some of the people said. He discussed possible government appointees with people in the private sector, one person said. Prince himself told several people that while he was not offering his advice in any official capacity, his role was significant….

The meetings occurred in Trump Tower, the administration’s transition office in Washington and elsewhere, according to people familiar with them. In one informal discussion in late November, Prince spoke openly with two members of Trump’s transition team on a train bound from New York to Washington. He boarded the same Acela as Kellyanne Conway and they sat together. Joining the conversation at one point was Kevin Harrington, a longtime associate of Trump adviser Peter Thiel who is now on the National Security Council. They discussed, in broad terms, major changes the incoming administration envisioned for the intelligence community, as recounted by a person on the train who overheard their conversation.

The article also discusses Trump’s involvement with Peter Thiel who, along with Prince, made large contributions to a PAC run by Robert Mercer (who got Bannon and Conway involved in the Trump campaign).

A longtime critic of government defense and security policies, Prince advocated a restructuring of security agencies as well as a thorough rethink of costly defense programs, even if it meant canceling existing major contracts in favor of smaller ones, said a person familiar with the matter.

Newsweek has a story on Steve Bannon’s ideological ties to Russia.

Bannon, a former banker turned film producer and right-wing polemicist, has praised not only Putin but also a brand of Russian mystical conservative nationalism known as Eurasianism, which is the closest the Kremlin has to a state ideology. Eurasianism proclaims that Russia’s destiny is to lead all Slavic and Turkic people in a grand empire to resist corrupt Western values. Its main proponent is Alexander Dugin. With his long beard and burning blue eyes, Dugin looks like a firebrand prophet. His philosophy glorifies the Russian Empire—while Bannon and the conservative website that he founded, Breitbart News, revived the slogan of “America first,” which Trump later adopted in his campaign….

Yet Bannon and Dugin have common cause in the idea that global elites have conspired against ordinary people—and the old order must be overthrown. “We have arrived at a moment where the world is discovering a new model of ideologies. The election of Trump shows that clearly,” Dugin tells Newsweek.

Bannon, in turn, seems to admire Dugin—as well as Putin’s Russia—for putting traditional values at the heart of a revival of national greatness. “We, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what [Putin] is talking about as far as traditionalism goes, particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism,” Bannon said at a Vatican-organized conference in 2014. “When you really look at some of the underpinnings of some of [Putin’s] beliefs today, a lot of those come from what I call Eurasianism.” Bannon declined to respond to Newsweek’s questions about his position on Russia and Dugin.

Bannon and Dugin’s speeches and writings indicate that their common enemies are secularism, multiculturalism, egalitarianism—and what Dugin calls the “globalized and internationalist capitalist liberal elite.” In both Bannon’s and Dugin’s worldview, the true global ideological struggle is between culturally homogenous groups founded on Judeo-Christian values practicing humane capitalism on one side and, on the other, an international crony-capitalist network of bankers and big business.

Bannon’s fix for the world is to revive the nation-state—precisely what Putin’s Kremlin is promoting as it backs anti–European Union candidates from Hungary to France. “I happen to think that the individual sovereignty of a country is a good thing and a strong thing,” Bannon told an audience of Catholic thinkers at the Vatican by video-link from the U.S. in 2014. “Putin is standing up for traditional institutions, and he’s trying to do it in a form of nationalism. [People] want to see the sovereignty for their country; they want to see nationalism for their country. They don’t believe in this kind of pan–European Union, or they don’t believe in the centralized government in the United States. They’d rather see more of a states-based entity that the founders originally set up, where freedoms were controlled at the local level.”

It’s not clear to me how Bannon can accept the obvious “crony-capitalism” of the Trump family crime syndicate.

There are more rumors than ever going around that indictments could be coming out of the Trump-Russia investigation, and it’s difficult to know what to believe. I’m just trying to be patient and keep an open but skeptical mind. I did come across a couple of interesting pieces on Rudy Giuliani and Carter Page respectively. They are both too long and complex to excerpt, but here are the links:

Grant Stern at The Stern Facts: Is Rudy Giuliani The Mastermind Behind The Trump Russia Dossier’s Massive Oil Deal?

From Bright Young Things, an interview with Carter Page that contains quite a bit of background information: A Conversation with Carter Page.

Also, Boris Epshteyn has a new gig on conservative radio: Sinclair Announces the Addition of Boris Epshteyn.

On the Kleptocracy front, Ivanka is reportedly cleaning up in the meetings she’s been attending.

The Associated Press: Ivanka’s biz prospers as politics mixes with business.

SHANGHAI (AP) — On April 6, Ivanka Trump’s company won provisional approval from the Chinese government for three new trademarks, giving it monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services in the world’s second-largest economy. That night, the first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat next to the president of China and his wife for a steak and Dover sole dinner at Mar-a-Lago….

As the first daughter crafts a political career from her West Wing office, her brand is flourishing, despite boycotts and several stores limiting her merchandise. U.S. imports, almost all of them from China, shot up an estimated 166 percent last year, while sales hit record levels in 2017. The brand, which Trump still owns, says distribution is growing. It has launched new activewear and affordable jewelry lines and is working to expand its global intellectual property footprint. In addition to winning the approvals from China, Ivanka Trump Marks LLC applied for at least nine new trademarks in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Canada and the U.S. after the election.

The commercial currents of the Trump White House are unprecedented in modern American politics, ethics lawyers say. They have created an unfamiliar landscape riven with ethical pitfalls, and forced consumers and retailers to wrestle with the unlikely passions now inspired by Ivanka Trump’s mid-market collection of ruffled blouses, shifts and wedges.

Using the prestige of government service to build a brand is not illegal. But criminal conflict of interest law prohibits federal officials, like Trump and her husband, from participating in government matters that could impact their own financial interest or that of their spouse. Some argue that the more her business broadens its scope, the more it threatens to encroach on the ability of two trusted advisers to deliver credible counsel to the president on core issues like trade, intellectual property, and the value of the Chinese currency.

Some updates on the situation in North Korea:

Vanity Fair: Donald Trump Stumbles Toward War In East Asia.

How President Donald Trump intends to resolve the growing North Korean crisis remains unclear, though whether that is by design or reflects a lack of a coherent foreign policy is a matter of some debate. Over the past several weeks, as Kim has moved aggressively to advance his nuclear weapons program, the Trump administration has telegraphed a wide range of possibilities as to how the U.S. might respond. Last month, during his first major diplomatic tour of Asia, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that “the policy of strategic patience has ended” and that “all options are on the table” for dealing with North Korea. On Monday, Vice President Mike Pence repeated that line while making a surprise appearance on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries, which have been locked in a military standoff since the suspension of the Korean War in 1953. “North Korea will do well not to test his resolve or strength of the armed forces of the United States in this region,” he added.

While the era of strategic patience may be over, the Trump administration is clearly taking some kind of strategic steps. Last week, the president announced that he had ordered an “armada” of military ships, including the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson and several nuclear submarines, to sail toward North Korea. NBC News reported that the National Security Council had presented Trump with a list of potential responses to North Korea, including moving missiles to South Korea or outright assassinating Kim. And while the White House quietly dismissed a subsequent report that Trump was prepared to launch a pre-emptive conventional strike if Kim reached for the nuclear trigger last weekend, as he had been expected to do, the president warned that the North Korean problem “will be taken care of” one way or another. On Monday, Pence also said that the U.S. would be open to securing the region “through peaceable means, through negotiations,” suggesting that Trump may be coming around to Beijing’s way of thinking.

The ambiguity of Trump’s warnings, combined with the credible threat that he might be crazy enough to see them through, has yielded some results. China appears to be working more closely with the U.S. then before to increase pressure on Kim—cooperation that Trump suggested on Twitter that he had bought by backing away from labeling China a “currency manipulator.” And Kim seemed to have called off his expected nuclear test—for now.

Is Trump embracing Nixon’s “madman theory” of foreign policy, or is he just plain crazy? It seems kind of a dangerous policy when you’re facing off against another madman.

A couple more links:

The Guardian: US military considers shooting down North Korea missile tests, sources say.

Vox: An expert warns that a preemptive strike on North Korea would lead to “very big war.”

What stories are you following today?


Monday Reads

Good Morning!

The post World War 2 era led to the birth of a lot of new democracies as the colonial era started to wind down in earnest. European countries couldn’t rebuild and fund empires.  One of the most fascinating things to me about the current state of things in the world is that many places where democracy seemed well-rooted are plotting a path to return of autocratic forms of government. It hasn’t been that long since the USSR and its satellites broke up into many little experiments in democracy either.  What makes some countries shrug their collective shoulders and go back to strong men?

DIYARBAKIR, TURKEY – MARCH 27: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets crowd during a local election rally organized by the ruling Justice and Development Party in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on March 27, 2014. (Photo by Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

At some point, you have to question which institutions have failed a country’s people but it’s undoubtedly an interplay of many. Turkey’s decline has many lessons for us. The similarities between Kremlin Caligula and Erdogan are eerie.  That’s why I decided to write about it today.

Modern day religious extremism ventures into politics disguised as upholding traditional culture and values. Patriotism and nationalism appeal to many. The next thing you know is there is no culture but state-approved culture. Turkey has realigned itself. It looked to the West for most of the 20th Century.  It now looks backward in time.  Many of the same warning signals are present within the US so a good look at Turkey is necessary. Foreign Policy argues that “Recep Tayyip Erdogan didn’t just win his constitutional referendum — he permanently closed a chapter of his country’s modern history.”

Why are the world’s democracies facing such threat to modernity?  Why place so much power in an executive branch?

Whether they understood it or not, when Turks voted “Yes”, they were registering their opposition to the Teşkilât-ı Esasîye Kanunu and the version of modernity that Ataturk imagined and represented. Though the opposition is still disputing the final vote tallies, the Turkish public seems to have given Erdogan and the AKP license to reorganize the Turkish state and in the process raze the values on which it was built. Even if they are demoralized in their defeat, Erdogan’s project will arouse significant resistance among the various “No” camps. The predictable result will be the continuation of the purge that has been going on since even before last July’s failed coup including more arrests and the additional delegitimization of Erdogan’s parliamentary opposition. All of this will further destabilize Turkish politics.

Turkey’s Islamists have long venerated the Ottoman period. In doing so, they implicitly expressed thinly veiled contempt for the Turkish Republic. For Necmettin Erbakan, who led the movement from the late 1960s to the emergence of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in August 2001, the republic represented cultural abnegation and repressive secularism in service of what he believed was Ataturk’s misbegotten ideas that the country could be made Western and the West would accept it. Rather, he saw Turkey’s natural place not at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels but as a leader of the Muslim world, whose partners should be Pakistan, Malaysia, Egypt, Iran, and Indonesia.

When Erbakan’s protégés — among them Erdogan and former President Abdullah Gul — broke with him and created the AKP, they jettisoned the anti-Western rhetoric of the old guard, committed themselves to advancing Turkey’s European Union candidacy, and consciously crafted an image of themselves as the Muslim analogues to Europe’s Christian Democrats. Even so, they retained traditional Islamist ideas about the role of Turkey in the Middle East and the wider Muslim world.

Thinkers within the AKP — notably former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu — harbored reservations about the compatibility of Western political and social institutions with their predominantly Muslim society. But the AKP leadership never acted upon this idea, choosing instead to undermine aspects of Ataturk’s legacy within the framework of the republic. That is no longer the case.

The AKP and supporters of the “yes” vote argue that the criticism of the constitutional amendments was unfair. They point out that the changes do not undermine a popularly elected parliament and president as well as an independent (at least formally) judiciary. This is all true, but it is also an exceedingly narrow description of the political system that Erdogan envisions. Rather, the powers that would be afforded to the executive presidency are vast, including the ability to appoint judges without input from parliament, issue decrees with the force of law, and dissolve parliament. The president would also have the sole prerogative over all senior appointments in the bureaucracy and exercise exclusive control of the armed forces. The amendments obviate the need for the post of prime minister, which would be abolished. The Grand National Assembly does retain some oversight and legislative powers, but if the president and the majority are from the same political party, the power of the presidency will be unconstrained. With massive imbalances and virtually no checks on the head of state, who will now also be the head of government, the constitutional amendments render the Law on Fundamental Organization and all subsequent efforts to emulate the organizational principles of a modern state moot.

There is an uptick in groups of voters drawn to authoritarianism.  This is not what I expected when I watched the “Arab Spring” unfold on Twitter.  Donald Trump is not what I expected after Barrack Obama.  There appears to be a group of people that just love themselves better in the comfort of old school religion and backwoods bullies.  Each follower of the world’s largest religions needs to discern a difference between being a person of faith and blindly following your religion over a precipice and into slavery.  It always begins with a purge of intellectuals, scientists, and scholars.

It has been painful for me to witness the immense disappointment of Turkish intellectuals, resilient by tradition, and mainly left-leaning. All I could hear by phone or on social media was tormented despair – a crushing sense of defeat. What united all those in academia and the media or in NGOs, regardless of their political stripes, was that they had hoped for democratic change under the AKP.

Many of them had given credit to the party, and its early pledges and steps towards an order where the sharing of power would break the vicious circle of the republic. They wanted to believe in human rights, freedom and an end to the decades-long Kurdish conflict. But the deliberate reversal of democratisation left all of them feeling they had been duped.

This conclusion became undeniable when last summer’s attempted coup – the details of which are still unclear – led to an immense purge. Given this mood of despair and the sense of defeat, we should expect another exodus of fine human resources in the coming months and years.

Journalists – such as me, abroad, or at home – will find themselves challenged even more after the referendum. Coverage of corruption will be a daredevil act, severe measures against critical journalism will continue and the remaining resistance of media proprietors will vanish.

The Turkish media will begin to resemble those of the Central Asian republics, where only mouthpieces for those in power are allowed to exist. Inevitably, these conditions will shift the epicentre of independent journalism to outside the borders of Turkey. My colleagues have already realised that their dreams of a dignified fourth estate were nothing but an illusion.

“At the end of the day, Erdoğan is simply replacing one form of authoritarianism with another,” wrote Cook.

“The Turkish republic has always been flawed, but it always contained the aspiration that – against the backdrop of the principles to which successive constitutions claimed fidelity – it could become a democracy. Erdoğan’s new Turkey closes off that prospect.”

Just as in this country’s election in 2016, Erdoğan won a slim victory.  That’s not stopping him from sweeping reforms that are way out of line with progress and modernity.

An emboldened Recep Tayyip Erdogan followed his win in a referendum that ratified the supremacy of his rule by taking aim at political opponents at home and abroad.

At his victory speech late on Sunday, supporters chanted that he should bring back the death penalty — a move that would finish off Turkey’s bid to join the European Union — and Erdogan warned opponents not to bother challenging the legitimacy of his win. He told them to prepare for the biggest overhaul of Turkey’s system of governance ever, one that will result in him having even fewer checks on his already considerable power.

“Today, Turkey has made a historic decision,” he said. “We will change gears and continue along our course more quickly.” The lira surged as much as 2.5 percent against the dollar in early trading on Monday in Istanbul before gains moderated.

The success of a package of 18 changes to the constitution was narrow, with about 51.4 percent of Turks approving it. It came at the end of a divisive two-month campaign during which Erdogan accused opponents of the vote of supporting “terrorists” and denounced as Nazi-like the decision of some EU countries to bar his ministers from lobbying the diaspora.

“The referendum campaign was dominated by strongly anti-Western rhetoric and repeated promises to bring back the death penalty,” said Inan Demir, an economist at Nomura Holdings Inc. in London. “One hopes that this rhetoric will be tempered now that the vote is over,” but recent steps by the Turkish government do“not bode well for the hoped-for moderation in international relations.”

I’m not the only one curious about this trend toward dilution of democracy in Western nations. There’s actually quite a bit discussion on the topic out there today.

Now that two obese men with bad hair and nuclear weapons didn’t end the world over the weekend, let’s talk about Turkey. Maybe keeping up with the former focal point of the Ottoman empire hasn’t been on the top of your to-do list. All well and good. But you may want to know they voted to weaken or even obliterate—depending on who you ask—their democracy over the weekend.

So what does this referendum of theirs mean? Only give the Turkish president hitherto unprecedented control over the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Now that the Turks have voted “Yes” to these constitutional reforms, they’re signing up for a form of government in which parliament’s monitoring of the executive branch is removed from the constitution and the judiciary is even weaker and less independent than it already was beforehand.

It’s a complex case though. Turkey’s government is different than America’s and, in some ways, they’re actually embracing a system more similar to the one US citizens are used to. The main transition is one from a parliamentary democracy to a presidential one, albeit a strongly authoritative one. Traditionally, the Turkish president is more figurehead than enforcer. They’re intended to be more Queen Elizabeth than Vladimir Putin or even Donald Trump.

As head of state, they act as the public face of the country, acting in times of emergency but largely delegating the business of lawmaking and government-running to their appointed prime minister. Until April 16, 2017, the president was mandated to cut ties from his party and maintain a largely neutral and apolitical stance, regardless of personal attachments or viewpoints. Now the office of prime minister is kaput and the president will have way more control over all branches of government. Parliament will still make laws and the judiciary will still try cases. But they’ll do little else and even those duties are capable of being bypassed by the president pretty easily.

The changes don’t go into effect until 2019 but when they do, the Turkish president can pass decrees as effective and codified as any parliamentary law, dissolve parliament, call for new elections, set the budget, declare a state of emergency, make unilateral national security decisions, appoint and remove all VPs and ministry heads at their own discretion and more. Don’t worry! If the president does something illegal, they can still be investigated if there’s a simple majority in parliament and a 60% vote to be tried then convicted by presidentially appointed judges.

And it’s so completely unconcerning the person who’ll most likely have all this unchecked executive power in 2019 is current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Just think of his inspirational and relatable backstory—he sold lemonade as a teenager in a rough part of town, played soccer for a while and wrote, and directed and starred in a play called Maskomya about how Freemasonry, Communism and Judaism are evil forces hellbent on destroying the world. Presidents: they’re just like us!

Yes, well much of this sounds eerily familiar doesn’t it?  Liz Cookman has argued that Turkey could be our future under Kremlin Caligula assuming the FBI and Eric Schneiderman don’t catch up with so many of his thugs that Congress has to act.  There are some frightening similarities.

Trump has voiced his support for the use of torture. And his similarities with the Turkish leader do not end there. Both use a rhetoric of patriotism to the point of nationalism, are vocal against abortion and are infamous for their tendency to objectify women and misunderstand feminism. They have both granted their sons-in-law important positions and both have a particularly thin skin when it comes to criticism, especially when it comes from comedians and journalists.

Erdoğan and Trump have publicly supported each other’s stance on the media in the past. Anyone who has spent time in Turkey will recognise Trump’s denouncement of negative coverage in outlets such as the New York Times as “fake news”. They will be familiar with headlines such as the one that appeared in far-right outlet Brietbart (whose founding member Steve Bannon is Trump’s chief strategist), used in relation to the protests in the US on Saturday – “Terror-tied group Cair causes chaos, promoting protests and lawsuits as Trump protects nation”. This is pure Erdoğan territory – denouncing opposition by associating it with terror while glorifying the strong leader. Turkey is the home of “alternative facts”.

A country that makes the media the enemy is a country where people are too easily manipulated by those in power. Journalists in Turkey, unless they work for organisations that toe the official government line on events, constantly wobble on a tightrope between reporting what’s going on and not reporting enough to get arrested. Even foreign journalists self-censor, double-check for unintended “insults” that could land them in trouble. They flinch when the doorbell rings unexpectedly, and wonder every time they go abroad whether they will be allowed back in the country.

We need to stand up against the vilification of the free press in the US now before it goes too far. Erdoğan is no longer good for Turkey, just like Trump is no good for America. They are changing the identities of their countries.

Not only English writers but French journalists notice the similarities.

But, back to the UK and Counterpunch.

The similarities between Erdogan and Trump are greater than they might seem, despite the very different political traditions in the US and Turkey.

The parallel lies primarily in the methods by which both men have gained power and seek to enhance it. They are populists and nationalists who demonise their enemies and see themselves as surrounded by conspiracies. Success does not sate their pursuit of more authority.

Hopes in the US that, after Trump’s election in November, he would shift from aggressive campaign mode to a more conciliatory approach have dissipated over the last two months. Towards the media his open hostility has escalated, as was shown by his abuse of reporters at his press conference this week.

Manic sensitivity to criticism is a hallmark of both men. In Trump’s case this is exemplified by his tweeted denunciation of critics such as Meryl Streep, while in Turkey 2,000 people have been charged with insulting the president. One man was tried for posting on Facebook three pictures of Gollum, the character in The Lord of the Rings, with similar facial features to pictures of Erdogan posted alongside. Of the 259 journalists in jail around the world, no less than 81 are in Turkey. American reporters may not yet face similar penalties, but they can expect intense pressure on the institutions for which they work to mute their criticisms.

Turkey and the US may have very different political landscapes, but there is a surprising degree of uniformity in the behaviour of Trump and Erdogan. The same is true of populist, nationalist, authoritarian leaders who are taking power in many different parts of the world from Hungary and Poland to the Philippines. Commentators have struggled for a phrase to describe this phenomenon, such as “the age of demagoguery”, but this refers only to one method – and that not the least important – by which such leaders gain power.

So, I’m sure this isn’t what you expected to read today.  But, it appears that my interest and concerns aren’t just wild hairs.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

 


Lazy Saturday Reads: April the Giraffe Gives Birth (and Other News)

Good Morning!!

Here’s some breaking news that isn’t about war and government corruption. April the giraffe has finally given birth!

After months of anticipation for one pregnant giraffe and hundreds of thousands of obsessed viewers, April just made good.

“It’s happening!” Animal Adventure Park owner Jordan Patch yelled into a camera from his car about 7:30 Saturday morning. “We are in labor 100 percent!”

There had been false starts before, but not far away in a pen in Upstate New York, two hooves were peeking out of April’s backside.

Then a head.

Then at 9:55 a.m …

An apparently healthy giraffe baby hit the floor in a shower of amniotic fluid and catharsis, as more than 1 million people watched live.

Half an hour later, the not-so-tiny infant took its first wobbly steps across a pen that’s been live-streamed 24 hours a day for nearly two months.

Then it flopped delightfully back to the floor and submitted to a tongue bath from its mother.

We still don’t know if the calf is a boy or girl giraffe. Read more at the WaPo.

Here’s a report from The Upshot at the NYT on research that shows that social programs are good for the economy: Supply-Side Economics, but for Liberals.

Certain social welfare policies, according to an emerging body of research, may actually encourage more people to work and enable them to do so more productively.

That is the conclusion of work that aims to understand in granular detail how different government interventions affect people’s behavior. It amounts to a liberal version of “supply-side economics,” an approach to economics often associated with the conservatives of the Reagan era.

Those conservative supply-siders argued that cutting taxes would lead businesses to invest more, unleashing faster economic growth as the productive capacity of the nation increases. In the emerging liberal version, government programs enable more people to work, and to work in higher-productivity, higher-income jobs. The end result, if the research is correct, is the same: a nation that is capable of growing faster and producing more.

The clearest example of a program that appears to increase labor supply and hence the United States’ economic potential is the earned-income tax credit (E.I.T.C.), first enacted in 1975 and expanded several times since then. It supplements the income of low-income workers, and numerousstudies find that its existence means more Americans work than would in its absence.

For example, there was a major expansion of the program that was passed in 1993 and phased in over the ensuing years. Jeffrey Grogger of the University of Chicago finds that it was a major driver of higher employment among single mothers. By 1999, his researchsuggests, 460,000 more women who headed their household were working than would have been without the E.I.T.C. expansion. That is more, in his estimates, than the number of such women who were pulled into the work force by welfare reforms or a booming economy during that decade.

Child care subsidies appear to work the same way. It’s a pretty straightforward equation that when government intervention makes child care services cheaper than they would otherwise be, people who might otherwise stay home raising their children instead work. More women work in countries that subsidize child care and offer generous parental leave than in those that don’t.

Please go read the whole thing.

All eyes have been on North Korea for the past couple of days as the country celebrates the anniversary of its founding with a huge parade on Saturday.

NBC News: North Korea Parades New Prototype Long-Range Missiles amid Nuclear Tensions: Experts.

North Korea paraded its military might Saturday in a massive public display that experts said showed new capabilities for its long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Kim Jong Un did not speak during the huge event, which celebrates the birthday of North Korea’s founding ruler Kim Il Sung, but another top official, Choe Ryong Hae, warned that the North would stand up to any threat posed by the United States.

Choe said President Donald Trump was guilty of “creating a war situation” on the Korean Peninsula by dispatching U.S. forces to the region.

“We will respond to an all-out war with an all-out war and a nuclear war with our style of a nuclear attack,” Choe added.

The parade, the annual highlight of North Korea’s most important holiday, came amid growing international worries that North Korea may be preparing for its sixth nuclear test or a major missile launch, such as its first flight test of an ICBM capable of reaching U.S. shores.

Reuters: North Korea displays apparently new missiles as U.S. carrier group approaches.

North Korea displayed what appeared to be new long-range and submarine-based missiles on the 105th birth anniversary of its founding father, Kim Il Sung, on Saturday, as a nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier group steamed towards the region.

Missiles appeared to be the main theme of a giant military parade, with Kim’s grandson, leader Kim Jong Un, taking time to greet the commander of the Strategic Forces, the branch that oversees the missile arsenal.

A U.S. Navy attack on a Syrian airfield this month with Tomahawk missiles raised questions about U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans for reclusive North Korea, which has conducted several missile and nuclear tests in defiance of U.N. sanctions, regularly threatening to destroy the United States.

Trump would love to be able to parade military equipment through the streets of Washington DC, as we learned from leaks about his inauguration plans. I have no doubt he’d love to be a dictator like Kim Jong-Un or Vladimir Putin.

The Washington Post: Trump delights in watching the U.S. military display its strength.

Amid the often jarring inconsistency of President Trump’s foreign policy, one thing has always been crystal clear: He loves a big show of American military force.

“You gotta knock the hell out of them — Boom! Boom! Boom!” Trump said of Islamic State terrorists at a January 2016 rally in Iowa, punctuating each “boom” with a punch of his fist.

That same impulse has been apparent over the past 10 days as Trump pummeled a Syrian air base with cruise missiles, threatened military action against North Korea over its nuclear weapons program and praised the U.S. military’s first-ever use of a massive 11-ton bomb, nicknamed the “mother of all bombs,” to kill Islamic State militants in Afghanistan.

“So incredible. It’s brilliant. It’s genius,” Trump said Tuesday of the missile strike in Syria. “Our technology, our equipment is better than anybody by a factor of five.”

As he searches for a coherent foreign policy during his first months in office, Trump has celebrated but often inflated the effect of military actions. The massive shows of strength, at times, have seemed to be a strategy unto themselves.

Remember during the campaign, when Trump kept telling us our military was “depleted?” Suddenly it’s the greatest show on earth, according to the man who took 5 draft deferments during the Vietnam war.

Meanwhile sane people are just hoping Trump doesn’t start World War III.

The Atlantic: North Korea and the Risks of Miscalculation.

Not long after the United States Navy dispatched a carrier strike group in the direction of the Korean peninsula following a North Korean missile test last week, Pyongyang vowed to counter “the reckless act of aggression” and hinted at “catastrophic consequences.” The remarks came amid rising tension in the region as satellite images seem to indicate that North Korea is preparing for a possible sixth nuclear test, and as U.S. President Donald Trump warns that North Korean President Kim Jong Un is “doing the wrong thing” and that “we have the best military people on earth.”

There’s nothing particularly unusual about this sort of creative, bellicose rhetoric from the North Korean regime, which routinely threatens to do things like turn Seoul into a “sea of fire” or fire “nuclear-armed missiles at the White House and the Pentagon—the sources of all evil.” North Korea needs to be taken seriously as a hostile regime in artillery range of a close U.S. ally, and potentially in missile range of another. But its leadership lobs threats so promiscuously and outlandishly that one can build in a discount factor—there’s a long track record of unrealized North Korean threats to judge by. In that context, the probability that any given one will be realized is quite small….

What’s different now is Donald Trump. Whereas many of his predecessors steered sedulously clear of escalatory rhetoric, preferring to treat various North Korean leaders as recalcitrant children at worst or distasteful but nevertheless semi-rational negotiating partners at best, Trump has threatened North Korea via Twitter, declaring that the regime is “looking for trouble.” As my colleague Uri Friedman pointed out Thursday, three successive presidents prior to Trump, since the Clinton administration considered military action against the North’s then-nascent nuclear program, have opted for trying negotiations rather than risk a strike. It’s apparent that none succeeded in halting the nuclear program’s progress. But it’s equally apparent that the kind of massive conflagration on the Korean peninsula that world leaders are now warning against has been avoided since 1953.

For allies, enemies, and observers alike, though, Trump appears to be a wild card,and self-avowedly so. Even foreign-policy positions that are “predictable” for an American president—condemning the use of chemical weapons in war, say, or not deriding NATO as obsolete—were unanticipated reversals from this particular president. Trump himself has said that America needs to be more “unpredictable;” as Kevin Sullivan and Karen Tumulty reported in The Washington Post this week, he has made it so, leaving diplomats to ask what exactly the White House intends to do on issues ranging from border-adjustment taxes to Russia. (Russians are themselves confused: A foreign ministry spokeswoman told my colleague Julia Ioffe and other journalists this week: “We don’t understand what they’re going to do in Syria, and not only there. … No one understands what they’re going to do with Iran, no one understands what they’re going to do with Afghanistan. Excuse me, and I still haven’t said anything about Iraq.”)

Read more at The Atlantic link.

One more important foreign policy read from Anne Applebaum at the WaPo: Yes, Rex Tillerson, U.S. taxpayers should care about Ukraine. Here’s why.

“Why should U.S. taxpayers be interested in Ukraine?” That was the question that Rex Tillerson, the U.S. secretary of state, was heard to ask at a meeting of the Group of Seven foreign ministers, America’s closest allies, a day before his visit to Moscow this week. We don’t know what he meant by that question, or in what context it was asked. When queried, the State Department replied that it was a “rhetorical device,” seeking neither to defend nor retract it.

If Tillerson were a different person and this were a different historical moment, we could forget about this odd dropped comment and move on. But Tillerson has an unusual background for a secretary of state. Unlike everyone who has held the job for at least the past century, he has no experience in diplomacy, politics or the military; instead he has spent his life extracting oil and selling it for profit. At that he was successful. But no one knows whether he can change his value system to focus instead on the very different task of selling something intangible — American values — to maximize something even more intangible: American influence.

So what’s Applebaum’s answer to Tillerson’s question?

It’s an explanation that cannot be boiled down to bullet points or a chart, or even reflected in numbers at all. I’m not even sure it can be done in a few paragraphs, but here goes. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 were an open attack on the principle of border security in Europe. The principle of border security, in turn, is what turned Europe, once a continent wracked by bloody conflicts, into a safe and peaceful trading alliance in the second half of the 20th century. Europe’s collective decision to abandon aggressive nationalism, open its internal borders and drop its territorial ambitions made Europe rich, as well as peaceful.

It also made the United States rich, as well as powerful. U.S. companies do billions of dollars of business in Europe; U.S. leaders have long been able to count on European support all over the world, in matters economic, political, scientific and more. It’s not a perfect alliance but it is an unusual alliance, one that is held together by shared values as well as common interests. If Ukraine, a country of about 43 million people, were permanently affiliated with Europe, it too might become part of this zone of peace, trade and commerce.
Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, an aggressive, emboldened Russia increasingly threatens European security and prosperity, as well as Europe’s alliance with the United States. Russia supports anti-American, anti-NATO and indeed anti-democratic political candidates all across the continent; Russia seeks business and political allies who will help promote its companies and turn a blind eye to its corrupt practices. Over the long term, these policies threaten U.S. business interests and U.S. political interests all across the continent and around the world.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday. If you’re celebrating, I hope you have a wonderful day. It’s also a long weekend here in Boston, because Monday is Patriot’s Day and the running of the Boston Marathon. I plan to relax and enjoy what I hope will be peace and quiet. I’m still getting used to the traffic noise and police sirens in my new apartment. (My old neighborhood was quiet every weekend and dead on long weekends.)

Have a great weekend Sky Dancers!