Fraud Filled Friday Reads: Pity the US Taxpayer and pray for the Kurds

Image result for famous paintings chaos

The Beginnings of Chaos, Zhong Baio, 2009

Good Morning!

I figured things that went crazy yesterday would be further elucidated today.  I was right.  Yesterday’s Trumpist regime actions still look appalling even with a bit more information and explanation.   We have Mike Pence getting outfoxed by the Turks which unfortunately means death for the Kursish people in Syria.  His negotiations were basically a recipe for capitulation and genocide. I’m also wondering how much money from the US Treasury will be piled into refitting the Doral for a grand old case of emoluments violations?  Plus there was  Mulvaney’s mea culpa on a Trumpist quid pro quo that cannot be unwound once put on national TV.  Is there a stronger description of what’s going on in the White House other than utter chaos? Labeling it all chaos seems like such an understatement!

kennedy memeLet me start with USA Today’s opinion page and the heading from Paul Brandus: “Trump’s unmatched sleaze: Grifters, women, trampling Constitution and now G-7 at Doral”. 

We’ve had presidents who were used by members of their own family for personal gain, like Ulysses S. Grant.

We’ve had presidents who stocked their Cabinet with greedy, self-serving mediocrities who took advantage of the public trust, like Warren G. Harding.

We’ve had presidents who swore to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution, only to then abuse it, like Richard Nixon.

And we’ve had presidents who, thanks to a presumptive sense of entitlement, lived slimy private lives, using countless women before tossing them aside — Harding again, plus John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton.

President Donald Trump falls into every single sleazy category, squarely and shamelessly. Just Thursday, we learned that he’ll hold next year’s Group of Seven meeting (with leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom) at his own Doral golf resort in Miami.

It’s the latest example of how Trump, who never divested from his businesses, continues to make millions from them. It’s also the latest reminder that he constantly violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which is supposed to ban presidents from accepting money from foreign governments. This while the House is in the middle of an impeachment inquiry and there are two lawsuits pending over the emoluments clause.

This is unbelievable,” said Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed one of those suits, speaking for much of America.

WILSON FLOWER%20OF%20DEATH SAAM

“Flower of Death—The Bursting of a Heavy Shell— Not as It Looks, but as It Feels and Sounds and Smells” (1919) by Claggett Wilson Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC

And then there’s this tell-all book by Ex VA chief Shulkin as reviewed in WAPO by Lisa Rein.  Here’s the headline: “Ex-VA chief Shulkin’s new book decries ‘toxic, subversive’ culture in Trump’s Washington”.

His security detail leaked his schedule, putting him at risk. A senior adviser on his team circulated a three-page memo outlining his ouster — with a succession plan. His inner circle held meetings without him and scurried to secret huddles at the White House.

And a trio of rich men who are fixtures at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla. — but had no experience in the federal government — were his keepers.

These are some of the scenes from David Shulkin’s new book, “It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country,” an account of his tumultuous 15 months as Trump’s first Veterans Affairs secretary.

The book portrays a toxic, backstabbing culture in Trump’s Washington that, as its title suggests, should give pause to anyone considering public service, Shulkin writes. From his rib-tickling interview with the president-elect to his dismissal by tweet in March 2018, Shulkin says he was blindsided at almost every turn by a multitude of institutions, from his inspector general to the media. And he says veterans are paying the cost.

“The VA was once thought to be the only part of the federal government that was above politics,” Shulkin, 60, writes. But “the environment in Washington had grown so toxic, chaotic and subversive that it became impossible for me to accomplish the important work that our veterans need and deserve.”

Ultimately his own staff did him in, Shulkin writes, turning ethics questions about a trip he took to Europe that mixed business with pleasure to their advantage. The Ivy League-trained physician who had excelled at turning around ailing hospitals was unprepared for the onslaught.

The score-settling book, to be published Tuesday by a division of Hachette Book Group, is Shulkin’s comeback to the forces that derailed him. He describes a deep state of subordinates within his own inner circle — not of career bureaucrats but political appointees — who assumed outsize power with a singular goal: to privatize veterans’ health care.

Two halves of a fractured face next to a serene ocean.

René Magritte. The Double Secret, 1927.

I can only imagine that every privatized VA hospital would also carry the Trump logo across its entrance paid for with a hefty bill by the US Taxpayer while Vets languish in lines waiting for services they’ll never receive in the name of personal profit for Trump and his family crime syndicate.

And meanwhile, what is supposed to be a ceasefire in Syria, appears to be a free for all including chemical weapons. This headline is from Foreign Policy and is written by Lara Seligman: “Turkish Proxies Appear to Be Using White Phosphorus in Syria. Photos of children show horrific burns caused by what looks like white phosphorus.”   This is a NATO all.  WTF?

Turkish-backed forces appear to be using munitions loaded with white phosphorus—a chemical that can maim and kill when it comes in contact with human flesh—in their violent campaign against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria, Foreign Policy has learned.

Meanwhile, reports emerged overnight that Turkey has continued to attack Kurdish fighters and civilian settlements in the border town of Ras al-Ain, despite a cease-fire agreement announced by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. Turkish-backed forces targeted a Kurdish medical convoy and an American aid organization trying to get into the town to evacuate wounded civilians, according to a Syrian conflict monitor.

Photos provided to Foreign Policy by a Kurdish source and confirmed by a senior U.S. administration official show children in Ras al-Ain with chemical burns on their chests and faces consistent with wounds from white phosphorus. (One of the photos, which is graphic, is published here.)

An official with an aid organization, who declined to be named for security reasons, confirmed that several people had been admitted into the National Hospital in Hasakah city coming from Ras al-Ain with “severe burns” that appeared to have been caused by white phosphorus or napalm.

In a letter supplied to Foreign Policy by Bassam Saker, the representative of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) to the United States, the co-secretaries of the SDC’s health department, Rapareen Hasn and Manal Mhemed, urgently called on the international community to evacuate the wounded civilians.

“Turkey uses all kind of weapons including the internationally prohibited ones, and our medical teams are unable to evacuate the civilians,” according to the letter, which was also confirmed by the senior U.S. administration official. Saker confirmed that the prohibited weapons referred to in the letter are suspected to be “unusual bombs” loaded with white phosphorus.

Separately, a former combat medic who deployed to Syria in 2017-2018 confirmed to Foreign Policy that the photos appeared to show chemical burns.

The She Wolf, 1943 - Jackson Pollock

The She Wolf, 1943 – Jackson Pollock

This is what the Orange Snot Blob in the Oval office laughs off as “not our problem”.

And the letter sent to Erdogen by the Toddler in Chief was seen as an insult to Turkey so there’s this reporting from the UK Independent. “Erdogan says Turkey will take necessary steps against Trump’s ‘disrespectful’ letter. Letter ‘was not in line with diplomatic and political courtesy. We will not forget this lack of respect'”.

The letter “was not in line with diplomatic and political courtesy. We will not forget this lack of respect. This is not a priority for us. But when the time comes we would like it to be known that we will take the necessary steps.”

The extraordinary missive warned the Turkish leader not to be a “fool” over Turkish plans to start a military campaign in northern Syria.

It emerged on Thursday that Mr Erdogan reacted angrily to the letter, throwing it in the bin and commencing the military offensive, which has left dozens of civilians dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Well, so much for impressing folks with his stable genius and art of the deal.  From Raw Story Today: “Turkey’s foreign minister bursts out laughing as he mocks Trump’s erratic tweets.”

Speaking to the BBC’s HARDtalk this Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu scoffed at the Trump administration’s threat of sanctions over his country’s military operation in northeast Syria, saying that the threat is the result of erratic confused messaging that’s not doing anything to help the situation.

Cavusoglu laughed and mocked Trump for his constant tweeting about various issues, including Turkey.

“Different voices, different positions are coming from the United States, because of the differences between the administration, the State Department, Pentagon, and this and that,” he said.

Meanwhile, here’s what’s partying at Mar A Lago these days.  Yeah, it’s still grifting bigots pushing conspiracy theories and stupid rich people if you want to know.  This is from the Palm Beach Post: “Another anti-Muslim group to host event at Mar-a-Lago”.

Another anti-Muslim group has scheduled a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, prompting the nation’s largest Muslim advocacy group to again ask the Trump Organization to cancel an event sponsored by such a group.

The Center for Security Policy, a Washington, DC think-tank whose founder, Frank Gaffney once suggested President Barack Obama was a Muslim and that Sharia law threatens American society, intends to host its annual Flame Dinner at Mar-a-Lago on Nov. 23. Tickets for the event start at $650, according to the Center’s website.

Fred Fleitz, the Center’s president and CEO, said the group was not deterred by the Trump Organization’s abrupt decision on Oct. 6 to cancel an event hosted by another anti-Muslim group, ACT for America, after news of that group’s dinner plans grabbed national headlines and drew widespread criticism.

“We are honored to have this event at Mar-a-Lago,” said Fleitz, adding that he has dined at the club many times.

And then there was another HaterPalooza in Texas with the typical Trumpist Rage and Rant.  It was even more amped up than usual.

Plus, there was the usual misogyny and lies and insanity. Where do these Trumpers spring from? Who likes this sort’ve thing? Trump’s hateful catharsis in front of aggrieved white bigots is something you could not pay me to do. Not any amount. No HOW.

The Fall of the Rebel Angels by Pieter Bruegel | © Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium/WikiCommons

The Fall of the Rebel Angels, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1592

 Beto O’Rouke had a counter rally in what the Dallas Observer called a packed venue.

Standing on a platform surrounded by a crowd of screaming fans and waving signs, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke told a packed theater at his Rally Against Fear about his plans and dreams for the country.

Throughout the night, he and other speakers focused on the need for gun control, immigration and healthcare reform and denounced the imprisonment of immigrant children and last week’s shooting of Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old woman who was killed in her home by a Fort Worth police officer.

Many issues make it easy to be afraid right now, he said, but it’s important to come together and work to overcome terror, racism, sexism and discrimination.

“We cannot stand for that fear because we must stand for those who have been the victims of that fear,” he said.

Rather than speak from the stage behind him, he opted to stand among the people who came to support him at Thursday night’s event in Grand Prairie. The theater seats 6,000 people and was packed to the gills.

Quite a contrast to the usual attacks on Hillary, “crazy” Nancy Pelosi and any one that dares name the orange devil for what he is.

So let me end with a few things that show we can make progress despite him.  Notice this is another moment from a Democratic Candidate President celebrating the strides women have made in Space.

And, there are other things that go on despite the chaos … like Bulldog Mattis roasting Trump which you know always makes the Orange Snot Blob testy.

So, let me end with a classic song that also sums up the times today:

Have a good weekend! What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads

Elijah Cummings in Baltimore, 1997, Andre Chung, Baltimore Sun

Good Morning!!

I woke up this morning at 5:30 and I turned on the TV to see if there was any news. There was. Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings had died at age 68. What a heartbreaking loss for our country.

Reactions:

The Washington Post: Rep. Elijah Cummings, Democratic leader and regular Trump target, dies at 68.

Elijah E. Cummings, a Democratic congressman from Maryland who gained national attention for his principled stands on politically charged issues in the House, his calming effect on anti-police riots in Baltimore, and his forceful opposition to the presidency of Donald Trump, died early Thursday morning at Gilchrist Hospice Care, a Johns Hopkins affiliate in Baltimore. He was 68.

After undergoing an unspecified medical procedure, the Democratic leader did not return to his office this week, the Baltimore Sun reported. A statement from his office said that he had passed away due to “complications concerning longstanding health challenges.” Mr. Cummings was chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee and a leading figure in the Trump impeachment inquiry.

Born to a family of Southern sharecroppers and Baptist preachers, Mr. Cummings grew up in the racially fractured Baltimore of the 1950s and 1960s. At 11, he helped integrate a local swimming pool while being attacked with bottles and rocks. “Perry Mason,” the popular TV series about a fictional defense lawyer, inspired him to enter the legal profession.

“Many young men in my neighborhood were going to reform school,” he told the East Texas Review. “Though I didn’t completely know what reform school was, I knew that Perry Mason won a lot of cases. I also thought that these young men probably needed lawyers.”

In the Maryland House of Delegates, he became the youngest chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus and the first African American to serve as speaker pro tempore, the member who presides in the speaker’s absence.

In 1996, he won the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives that Kweisi Mfume (D) vacated to become NAACP president. Mr. Cummings eventually served as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and as ranking Democrat and then chairman of what became the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

He drew national attention as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s chief defender during 2015 congressional hearings into her handling of the attack three years earlier on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya. The attack killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

He was “the quintessential speaking-truth-to-power representative,” said Herbert C. Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md. “Cummings has never shied from a very forceful give-and-take.”

Here is Rep. Cummings last tweet.

ABC News quotes a statement from Cummings’ wife:

Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, the chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party and Cummings’ wife, said in a statement that Cummings was “an honorable man who proudly served his district and the nation with dignity, integrity, compassion and humility.”

“He worked until his last breath because he believed our democracy was the highest and best expression of our collective humanity and that our nation’s diversity was our promise, not our problem,” Rockeymoore Cummings said. “I loved him deeply and will miss him dearly.”

In other news, Trump is still Trump and he’s still occupying the people’s house.

Trump lackey Gordon Sondland is testifying at the impeachment hearing today. He seems to be claiming that he was completely in the dark about Trump’s and Giuliani’s machinations in Ukraine, even while he (Sondland) was carrying out their orders.

The Daily Beast: Sondland Throws Trump Under the Bus.

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, will tell Congress that he was told by President Trump that he had to help his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani with his plan on Ukraine.

In his opening statement, which was obtained by The Daily Beast, Sondland will say: “I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s2020 reelection campaign.”

“Based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.”

Click the link to read the full statement. We’ll probably hear more details later on today.

I’m sure you’ve read Trump’s idiotic letter to Turkey’s Erdogan. This is from Bess Levin at Vanity Fair: “Is This Real?”: Trump Sends Third-Grade Reading-Level Letter to Erdogan.

Donald Trump has said or done something certifiably insane nearly every day of his presidency. And not like, “This guy’s a little kooky”-level insane, but full-on “Mr. President, put down the stapler and unhand the president of Finland”-level insane. But last week, apparently seeking to prove to the world that we ain’t seen nothing yet re: the depths of his mental instability, he wrote and reportedly proudly distributed the following letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for all the world to see:

The Turkish government was not amused. Middle East Eye: ‘We dumped it in the trash’: Trump’s letter to Erdogan gets hostile reception.

A leaked letter written by US President Donald Trump to Recep Tayyip Erdogan warning his Turkish counterpart not to be a “fool” has sent shockwaves around Turkey due to its lack of protocol and seriousness.

Dated 9 October, the day Erdogan launched an offensive in northeastern Syria against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia, the letter aimed to make a deal between Turkey and the SDF and included an open economic sanctions threat.

Yet this wasn’t the part Turks focused on.

“It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen,” Trump wrote. “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” [….]

It has now been confirmed as genuine by the White House, but soon after the leak on Wednesday, thousands of Turks asked each other on Twitter and WhatsApp whether the letter was authentic or a joke.

“If this letter is real, Trump is absolutely completely crazy,” one Turk tweeted.

Turkish officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Middle East Eye that they responded to Trump’s letter in kind and with stronger language.

“We just dumped his letter into the trash,” one of them said.

The leak comes at a particularly sensitive time, with US Vice President Mike Pence touching down in Ankara on Thursday in a bid to seek a ceasefire between Turkey and the Kurdish-led SDF.

“This Trump letter to Erdogan is the most damaging correspondence that could’ve been leaked ahead of VP Pence’s visit to Ankara tomorrow,” Soner Cagaptay, a prominent Turkey expert tweeted on Wednesday.

“Now, Erdogan has no option but to delay ceasefire in Syria, less he be humiliated in front of his nation as weak and bowing to America’s threat.”

Trump was so proud of this letter that he bragged about it in the same meeting in which he attacked Nancy Pelosi as a “third-grade politician.” From the AP:

The administration called in congressional leadership to discuss the situation in Syria. The House had just voted, 354-60, to overwhelmingly oppose the president’s announced U.S. troop withdrawal, a rare bipartisan rebuke. Trump’s action has opened the door for a Turkish military attack on Syrian Kurds who have been aligned with the U.S. in fighting the country’s long-running war.

Trump kicked off the meeting bragging about his “nasty” letter to Turkish President Recep Erdogan, according to a Democrat familiar with the meeting who was granted anonymity to discuss it. In the letter, Trump warned the Turkish leader, with exclamation points, not to be “slaughtering” the Kurds. The person called Trump’s opening a lengthy, bombastic monologue.

Pelosi mentioned the House vote and Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, started to read the president a quote from former Defense Secretary James Mattis on the need to keep U.S. troops in Syria to prevent a resurgent of Islamic State fighters.

But Trump cut Schumer off, complaining that Mattis was “the world’s most overrated general. You know why? He wasn’t tough enough.” Trump went on, “I captured ISIS.”

Pelosi explained to Trump that Russia has always wanted a “foothold in the Middle East,” and now it has one with the U.S. withdrawal, according to a senior Democratic aide who was also granted anonymity.

“All roads with you lead to Putin,” the speaker said.

Then it began.

Trump said to Pelosi, “I hate ISIS more than you do.”

Pelosi responded, “You don’t know that.”

Schumer intervened at one point and said, “Is your plan to rely on the Syrians and the Turks?”

Trump replied, “Our plan is to keep the American people safe.”

Pelosi said: “That’s not a plan. That’s a goal.”

Trump turned to Pelosi and complained about former President Barack Obama’s “red line” over Syria. According to Schumer, he then called her “a third-rate politician.”

At that point, the genteel Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House Majority Leader, interjected, “This is not useful.”

Pelosi and Hoyer stood and left the meeting. As they did, Trump said, “Goodbye, we’ll see you at the polls.”

From the White House driveway, Pelosi told reporters Trump was having some kind of “meltdown” inside. She said they had to leave because Trump was unable to grasp the reality of the situation.

Later, she would insist he even botched the insult, calling her “third-grade” rather than “third-rate.”

The impeachment inquiry never came up, she said.

Trump insisted later on Twitter that it was Pelosi who had a “total meltdown,” calling her “a very sick person!”

He also tweeted pictures from the room. “Do you think they like me?” he asked mockingly about one, showing Pelosi and Schumer looking exhausted and glum.

“Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown!” he tweeted with another.

In that photo, Pelosi can be seen, surrounded by congressional leaders and military brass around a table at the White House, finger outpointed. She is standing up, literally, to Trump.

Pelosi turned the photo into the banner on her Twitter page.

No one likes him.

Mike Pence is in Turkey right now and it’s not going well.

Who knows what horrors today may bring. This is our reality now. Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.


Wednesday Reads: #PronounsDay

 

Have you added your pronouns to your social media?

Support #PronounDay!

Here’s a few other tweets to round out this open thread:

 

 

It is so disgustingly true…

This is an open thread.


Tuesday Reads: Democratic Debate and Trump’s Troubles

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 2008

Good Morning!!

The latest Democratic debate airs on CNN tonight at 8PM. You can read about what to expect in this piece at Vox.

Sorry to be a wet blanket, but I have to admit that I’m far from enthused about watching it, although I’ll try to give it a chance. I’m sick of the irrelevant candidates like Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, and Tom Steyer; and as for the top three–Biden, Warren, and Sanders–I still believe they are too old for the job.

If we are going to have a septuagenarian president, I would rather have it be Hillary. I guess I have to face the fact that I’ll never be as excited about a candidate as I was about her.

Another issue with tonight’s debate is the Biden campaign’s decision to allow Hunter Biden to participate in an ABC News interview today.

From The Daily Beast: Biden’s Rivals Are Utterly Perplexed at the Timing of Hunter’s Interview.

After months of staying silent amid an avalanche of attacks by President Trump and his team, Hunter Biden, son of the former vice president, made his first public comments in an interview Tuesday morning just about 12 hours before his father takes the debate stage Tuesday night.

Wassily Kandinsky, Autumn in Murnau, 1908

For the majority of the Democrats running for president, and even one notable surrogate to Joe Biden himself, there is a sense of confusion as to why Hunter is choosing now to finally speak up about the extent of his business ties in Ukraine and China.

“I wouldn’t have put Hunter on the air,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a top surrogate for Biden, told The Daily Beast. “I think the more you respond, the more you’re playing into Donald Trump.” [….]

For Team Biden, Hunter’s Biden’s interview, which aired on ABC News’ Good Morning America, was an opportunity to clear the air and turn the attention back to the widespread corruption running rampant in the Trump White House. It also gave the younger Biden a chance to present facts in his own words to counter Trump’s misinformation campaign.

In the interview, he admitted that he had shown “poor judgment” in taking the job with a Ukrainian natural gas company but insisted that he had done nothing unethical.

Does anyone believe that the debate moderators will ignore all this and focus on Donald Trump and his children’s blatant self-dealing? I don’t.

Meanwhile, Trump is burning down the post-WWII world order. That should be the subject of tonight’s debate, not Hunter Biden.

Edward Hopper, October on Cape Cod

Fred Kaplan at Slate: Trump’s Worst Betrayal Yet.

President Trump didn’t make a “mistake” in pulling troops out of northeastern Syria last week, as many have charged. It’s what he has long wanted to do. The mistake was not understanding—and, more to the point, not caring about—the consequences.

Trump’s fateful phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Oct. 6, giving him the green light to cross the Syrian border and crush the Kurds without U.S. resistance, did more than any single act has ever done to demolish the post-WWII global order and isolate America from the rest of the world. This, again, has been Trump’s goal since he entered the White House.

Until recently, one or more of his advisers—Jim Mattis, H.R.
McMaster, John Bolton, or Gen. Joseph Dunford—obstructed or dissuaded him from withdrawing. Now all of those advisers are gone, and their replacements lack either the clout or the gumption to push back.

Trump may believe that he’s doing the right thing, that abandoning the rest of the world’s problems will “make America great again.” He doesn’t realize that America’s might and wealth depend, in large measure, on the cooperation it receives from others—either offered or coerced—in pursuing its interests around the world.

He is also blind to the fact—or loath to admit—that he, in fact, is not getting out of the world. On Friday, days after abandoning the Kurdish allies to the Turks (and consequently, all of Syria to Bashar al-Assad and the Russians), Trump announced that he was sending 1,800 troops to Saudi Arabia. But to Trump’s mind, there was a big difference in this deployment.
“Saudi Arabia, at my request, has agreed to pay us for everything we are doing to help them,” he told reporters. “That’s a first. We appreciate that.”

Georgia O’Kefee, Autumn Leaves, 1924

To Trump, the U.S. military is nothing more than a mercenary force to be rented out to the highest bidder.

It was as if sending American troops abroad doesn’t count as a commitment if taxpayers don’t have to pay for it. It was as if Trump were telling the world that the U.S. military is now a mercenary force. It was a message to any country currently hosting American troops at least in part at our largesse—because, say, previous presidents have considered it in U.S.
interests to keep troops there—that they should start rethinking their options for how to stay secure

Trump has made a practice of abrogating treaties, filching on commitments, and alienating allies, but, more than any single act, the betrayal of the Kurds should tell everyone that—as long as Trump is president and, who knows, perhaps beyond—there is no reason to trust the United States on anything.

I hope you’ll go read the rest at Slate.

From Axios, here’s a quote from deep thinker Trump on abandoning the Kurds:

“Anyone who wants to assist Syria in protecting the Kurds is good with me, whether it is Russia, China, or Napoleon Bonaparte.” read one of the president’s tweets. “I hope they all do great, we are 7,000 miles away!”

He doesn’t seem at all concerned about getting U.S. troops out of Syria safely or getting our nukes out of Turkey.

Trump even tried to blame the Kurds for the release of Islamic State prisoners. From The Week:

It appears that President Trump was a bit off the mark Monday morning when he tweeted a theory that Kurdish forces were releasing prisoners with ties to the Islamic State in an attempt to get the U.S. to continue fighting alongside them. Trump’s suspicions were likely derived from the fact that the Kurds, longtime U.S. allies in the Middle East, were disappointed in Washington for removing U.S. troops from the region, providing Turkey — which considers Kurdish forces a national security threat — an opening to invade.

Gustav Klimt, Birch Forest I, 1902

U.S. officials have said that prisoners with ISIS ties are being deliberately released, but it’s actually Turkish proxy forces in the Free Syrian Army — a decentralized rebel group that has been linked to extremists groups and was once recruited by the CIA to aid the U.S. in its fight against ISIS — who are behind it, rather than the Kurds, Foreign Policy reports. The Free Syrian Army has also been accused of executing Kurdish prisoners and killing unarmed civilians.

As for the Kurds, one U.S. official said the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have not abandoned or released any prisoners with ISIS ties and, in some cases, the SDF has reportedly moved detainees to other facilities further south.

Subsequently, Trump’s theory is not sitting well with U.S. and Kurdish forces. “That has enraged our forces in Syria,” another senior U.S. administration official said. “Kurds are still defending our bases. Incredibly reckless and dishonest thing to say.”

Yesterday, Trump’s former Russia and Ukraine adviser Fiona Hill testified at the Impeachment hearings. Here’s the latest on that.

The Washington Post: Trump’s ex-Russia adviser told impeachment investigators of Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine.

Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia adviser, told impeachment investigators on Monday that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, ran a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine that circumvented U.S. officials and career diplomats in order to personally benefit President Trump, according to people familiar with her testimony.

Hill, who served as the senior official for Russia and Europe on the National Security Council, was the latest witness in a fast-moving impeachment inquiry focused on whether the president abused his office by using the promise of military aid and diplomatic support to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals.

Henri Rousseau, Eiffel Tower at Sunset, 1910

In a closed-door session that lasted roughly 10 hours, Hill told lawmakers that she confronted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about Giuliani’s activities which, she testified, were not coordinated with the officials responsible for carrying out U.S. foreign policy, these people said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to disclose details of her deposition.

Sondland played a leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to open investigations of the president’s political rivals, text messages obtained and later released by House Democrats show. Three congressional committees are now probing how Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, as well as a debunked theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election in an attempt to damage Trump’s candidacy.

Sondland plans to testify on Thursday and the Committees are now talking about questioning John Bolton.

The New York Times: Bolton Objected to Ukraine Pressure Campaign, Calling Giuliani ‘a Hand Grenade.’

The effort to pressure Ukraine for political help provoked a heated confrontation inside the White House last summer that so alarmed John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, that he told an aide to alert White House lawyers, House investigators were told on Monday.

Mr. Bolton got into a tense exchange on July 10 with Gordon D. Sondland, the Trump donor turned ambassador to the European Union, who was working with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats, according to three people who heard the testimony.

Paul Gauguin, Landscape in Arles near the Alyscamps, 1888

The aide, Fiona Hill, testified that Mr. Bolton told her to notify the chief lawyer for the National Security Council about a rogue effort by Mr. Sondland, Mr. Giuliani and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the people familiar with the testimony.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition. (Another person in the room initially said Mr. Bolton referred to Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Mulvaney, but two others said he cited Mr. Sondland.)

Read the rest at the NYT.

Finally, The Daily Beast reports that Trump Suspects a Spiteful John Bolton Is Behind Some of the Ukraine Leaks.

In recent weeks, numerous leaks have appeared in the pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other major papers and news outlets detailing the president’s attempts to enlist foreign leaders to help dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden and also aid Trump’s quest to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s concluded investigation. And as is his MO, the media-obsessed president has been fixated on not just the identity of the whistleblower behind the internal complaint that brought this scandal to the fore, but also on who, exactly, has been namelessly feeding intel to the press.

In the course of casual conversations with advisers and friends, President Trump has privately raised suspicions that a spiteful John Bolton, his notoriously hawkish former national security adviser, could be one of the sources behind the flood of leaks against him, three people familiar with the comments said. At one point, one of those sources recalled, Trump guessed that Bolton was behind one of the anonymous accounts that listed the former national security adviser as one of the top officials most disturbed by the Ukraine-related efforts of Trump and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney who remains at the center of activities that spurred the impeachment inquiry.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread.


Thursday Reads: The Latest News, With Trolls

Painting by John Bauer, 1915

Good Morning!!

My latest escape from Trump world has been reading a Swedish horror/crime novel, The Shapeshifters, by Stefan Spjut. It’s not really that scary; it involves people investigating crimes by trolls and other creatures from Swedish folklore. A prominent character in the story is the famous Swedish artist John Bauer, whose painting illustrated books of Swedish fairy tales. I’m using some of his paintings in this post.

Trolls are huge in all Scandinavian folklore, but my sister-in-law, who is Danish, informed me that Swedish trolls are big, ugly, and frightening while Danish trolls are small and cute. I don’t know about Norwegian, Finnish, and Icelandic trolls. It would be fun to find out about those.

Now on to the news. Breaking this morning from The Wall Street Journal: Two Foreign-Born Men Who Helped Giuliani on Ukraine Arrested on Campaign-Finance Charges.

Two foreign-born donors to a pro- Trump fundraising committee who helped Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Democrat Joe Biden were arrested late Wednesday on criminal charges of violating campaign finance rules and are expected to appear in court on Thursday, according to people familiar with the matter.

Troll mother and child, by John Bauer

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Florida businessmen, have been under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan, and are expected to appear in federal court in Virginia later on Thursday, the people said. The men’s nationalities were unclear, though both were believed to have been born in former Soviet republics.

Mr. Giuliani, President Trump’s private lawyer, identified the two men in May as his clients. Both men have donated to Republican campaigns including Mr. Trump’s, and in May 2018 gave $325,000 to the primary pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, through an LLC called Global Energy Producers, according to Federal Election Commission records.

I wonder if Cover-Up General Barr with allow this to continue? A bit more:

Messrs. Parnas and Fruman had a dinner with the president in early May 2018, according to since-deleted Facebook posts captured in a report published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. They also met with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. , later that month at a fundraising breakfast in Beverly Hills, Calif., along with Tommy Hicks Jr. , a close friend of the younger Mr. Trump who at the time was heading America First Action. Mr. Parnas posted a photo of their breakfast four days after his LLC donated to the super PAC.

If you saw Rachel Maddow’s show last night you heard about another new Trump corruption story that broke at Bloomberg News: Trump Urged Top Aide to Help Giuliani Client Facing DOJ Charges.

President Donald Trump pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help persuade the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader who was a client of Rudy Giuliani, according to three people familiar with the 2017 meeting in the Oval Office.

From the story The Trolls and the Youngest Tomte

Tillerson refused, arguing it would constitute interference in an ongoing investigation of the trader, Reza Zarrab, according to the people. They said other participants in the Oval Office were shocked by the request.

Tillerson immediately repeated his objections to then-Chief of Staff John Kelly in a hallway conversation just outside the Oval Office, emphasizing that the request would be illegal. Neither episode has been previously reported, and all of the people spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the conversations….
The Turkish attacks continue in Syria.

Zarrab was being prosecuted in federal court in New York at the time on charges of evading U.S. sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program. He had hired former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Giuliani, who has said he reached out repeatedly to U.S. officials to seek a diplomatic solution for his client outside the courts.

The president’s request to Tillerson — which included asking him to speak with Giuliani — bears the hallmarks of Trump’s governing style, defined by his willingness to sweep aside the customary procedures and constraints of government to pursue matters outside normal channels. Tillerson’s objection came to light as Trump’s dealings with foreign leaders face intense scrutiny following the July 25 call with Ukraine’s president that has sparked an impeachment inquiry in the House.

Read the rest at the link.

More corruption news from the Financial Times: Trump adviser says China provided information about Hunter Biden.

Michael Pillsbury, an informal White House adviser on China, said he received information about the business activities of Hunter Biden during a visit to Beijing in the same week Donald Trump urged China to probe the son of Joe Biden.

“I got a quite a bit of background on Hunter Biden from the Chinese,” Mr Pillsbury told the Financial Times.

By John Bauer

Mr Trump came under heavy criticism last week after publicly urging China to investigate the Bidens in a move that mirrored his request to the Ukraine’s president in a July phone call that has sparked an impeachment inquiry.

Mr Pillsbury’s comments to the FT came after he revealed on Fox Business that he had raised the issue of the Bidens during a visit to China a week ago.

“I tried to bring up the topic in Beijing,” Mr Pillsbury told the television channel. “I’ve never seen them get so secretive in my entire life. They would discuss ICBM warheads sooner than talk about what Hunter Biden was doing in China with [former] vice-president Biden.” Mr Pillsbury, a China hawk who was widely seen as far from the mainstream before the Trump administration came to power, shares a similar stance on China to Peter Navarro, a trade adviser to Mr Trump.

But Trump was just “joking” when he publicly asked China for help for his reelection campaign, according to Republicans.

The Turkish assault on the Kurds and others in northern Syria, enabled by Trump, continues. The latest:

The New York Times: Death Toll Climbs as Turkish Offensive in Syria Enters 2nd Day.

SANLIURFA, Turkey — Fighting lit up the sky early Thursday as Turkish troops pressed their air and ground offensive against United States-allied Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. At least 16 Kurds were reported to have been killed, one monitoring group said.

Members of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in the Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain areas of northeastern Syria, along with six attackers of unknown identity, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a conflict monitor based in Britain. American troops had withdrawn from both areas on Monday.

An additional 33 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces were wounded, the monitoring group said.

The Turkish military’s move into Syria began on Wednesday, following President Trump’s decision on Sunday to pull American troops out of Turkey’s way, despite disagreement from his own military officers and State Department.

Even Fox News is publishing stories condemning Trump’s actions: Turkey’s Syria invasion: Member of US Special Forces says, ‘I am ashamed for the first time in my career.’

A member of U.S. Special Forces serving alongside the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria told Fox News on Wednesday they were witnessing Turkish atrocities on the frontlines.

“I am ashamed for the first time in my career,” said the distraught soldier, who has been involved in the training of indigenous forces on multiple continents. The hardened service member is among the 1,000 or so U.S. troops who remain in Syria.

Forest Troll, John Bauer

“Turkey is not doing what it agreed to. It’s horrible,” the military source on the ground said. “We met every single security agreement. The Kurds met every single agreement [with the Turks]. There was no threat to the Turks — none — from this side of the border.” [….]

At least seven civilians have been killed in strikes in northeastern Syria since the assault began on Wednesday, according to activists and a war monitor. Turkey later announced that its ground forces had invaded the region to fight the Kurds.

“This is insanity,” the concerned U.S. service member said. “I don’t know what they call atrocities, but they are happening.”

The New Yorker: Defying the World, Turkey Launches a War Against a U.S. Ally in Syria.

Two of America’s closest allies in the Middle East went to war on Wednesday—and Donald Trump didn’t seem to care. In what may have been the first declaration of hostilities on Twitter, the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, announced that Turkey, a nato ally, had launched an invasion of Syria, to clear out a Kurdish-led militia that controls about a third of the country. The militia, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, has been allied with the United States for the past five years in the war against isis. Both sides have been equipped by the United States, albeit in vastly different ways.

Erdoğan dubbed the invasion “Operation Peace Spring.” It is anything but. Panic swept across northern Syria as Turkey’s warplanes pounded Kurdish towns and artillery fired across the border, in order to—in ironic military jargon—“soften up” the terrain for a ground offensive. The S.D.F. posted videos on social media of the aftermath, showing fires, destruction, and bodies on the ground.

John Bauer painting from The Boy Who Was Never Afraid

The region’s latest war is a deeply uneven match—and has the potential to be a slaughter of the Kurds. Turkey, which contributes the second largest force to nato, is considered the ninth most powerful military in the world. It has more than three hundred and fifty thousand active-duty soldiers—and twice that with reserves. The S.D.F. militia has about sixty-thousand men and women in uniform, including reserves; they have only rudimentary training.

Click the link to read the rest.

Trump has been busy making ludicrous excuses for his insane behavior. The Washington Post: Trump downplays U.S. alliance with Syrian Kurds, saying ‘they didn’t help us in the Second World War.’

President Trump said Wednesday that it would be “easy” for the United States to form new alliances if Syrian Kurds leave the fight against the Islamic State to fend off a Turkish attack, noting that “they didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us in Normandy” and were only interested in fighting for “their land.”

“With all of that being said, we like the Kurds,” he said in response to questions about Turkey’s incursion into Syria.

Trump’s off-the-cuff remarks, following a White House ceremony where he signed unrelated executive orders, came as the administration continued an effort to correct what it has called the misimpression that Trump enabled the offensive against the U.S.-allied Kurds that Turkey launched Wednesday.

In his impromptu news conference, Trump said he expected Erdogan to conduct the offensive “in as humane a way as possible.”

“We’ll have to define that as we go along,” he said. “He can do it in a soft manner, he can do it in a very tough manner. If he doesn’t do it fairly, he’s going to [pay] a very big economic price.”

Yeah sure, asshole. Unfortunately, the rest of the world won’t just blame Trump for this outrage. They’ll hold all Americans responsible.  Trump is making all of Putin’s dreams come true. More Syria stories:

The New York Times: Military Leaders Fear They’ve Seen This Before. It Ended in the Iraq War.

NBC News: Intel officials say ISIS could regroup after U.S. ‘betrayal’ of Kurds in Syria.

Wolves circle a troll, John Bauer

I’ll end with this piece at Just Security by Frank O. Bowman III, who wrote High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump. White House Letter Distorts Both Law and History on Impeachment.

The White House letter of October 8 refusing all executive branch cooperation with the ongoing House impeachment inquiry is, simply put, a public relations exercise. The legal arguments it intersperses between insults to members of the House Democratic leadership and appeals to the President’s base voters are without foundation. The errors and mischaracterizations are so numerous that they cannot all be addressed in this space. Instead, I will consider only the fundamental misconceptions at the heart of the White House argument, as well as a single illustrative historical incident – the impeachment proceedings against President Andrew Johnson.

The White House justifies its refusal to respond to the House’s investigative demands on three basic grounds: First, it claims that the House impeachment inquiry is “constitutionally invalid” because the full House has not passed a resolution specifically authorizing an impeachment inquiry of this president. Second, it maintains that the House inquiry now underway is illegitimate because it does not afford the president “due process” rights the letter suggests are required under the Constitution. Third, it asserts that the first two points are established by “every past precedent.” All these assertions are wrong.

Read Bowman’s critique at the link.

What do you think? What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Trump’s EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland was scheduled to testify to the House Intelligence Committee this morning, but Trump and Pompeo ordered him not to do it.

The New York Times: Witness in Trump-Ukraine Matter Ordered Not to Speak in Impeachment Inquiry.

The Trump administration directed a top American diplomat involved in its pressure campaign on Ukraine not to appear Tuesday morning for a scheduled interview in the House’s impeachment inquiry.

The decision to block Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, from speaking with investigators for three House committees is certain to provoke an immediate conflict with potentially profound consequences for the White House and President Trump. House Democrats have repeatedly warned that if the administration tries to interfere with their investigation, it will be construed as obstruction, a charge they see as potentially worthy of impeachment….

Robert Luskin, Mr. Sondland’s lawyer, said in a statement that as a State Department employee, his client had no choice but to comply with the administration’s direction. He said Mr. Sondland had been prepared and happy to testify, and would do so in the future if allowed.

Of course that is simply not true.

Background on Sondland from the Times article.

Mr. Sondland has become enmeshed in the burgeoning scandal into how the president sought to push the Ukrainians to investigate his political rivals. Although Ukraine is not in the union, Mr. Trump instructed Mr. Sondland — a wealthy hotelier and campaign contributor — to take a lead in relations between the Trump administration and the country. Democrats consider him a key witness to what transpired between the two countries.

Mr. Sondland interacted directly with Mr. Trump, speaking with the president several times around key moments that House Democrats are now investigating, including before and after Mr. Trump’s July call with the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. The president asked Mr. Zelensky on the call to do him “a favor” and investigate the business dealings of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son and a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election.

Text messages provided to Congress last week showed that Mr. Sondland and another senior diplomat had worked on language for a statement they wanted the Ukrainian president to put out in August that would have committed him to the investigations sought by Mr. Trump. The diplomats consulted with Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, about the statement, believing they needed pacify him in order to allow the United States to normalize relations with the Ukrainians.

Adam Schiff responded to the Trump administration’s illegal action.

Yesterday Newsweek talked to a member of the National Security Council who heard the call between Trump and Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan after which Trump ordered U.S. troops out of northern Syria: Exclusive: Official Who Heard Call Says Trump Got ‘Rolled’ By Turkey And ‘Has No Spike.’

In a scheduled phone call on Sunday afternoon between President Trump and President Erdogan, Trump said he would withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria. The phone call was scheduled after Turkey announced it was planning to invade Syria, and hours after Erdogan reinforced his army units at the Syrian-Turkish border and issued his strongest threat to launch a military incursion, according to the National Security Council official to whom Newsweek spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. withdrawal plays into the hands of the Islamic State group, Damascus and Moscow, and the announcement left Trump’s own Defense Department “completely stunned,” said Pentagon officials. Turkey, like the United States, wants regime change in Syria. Russia and Iran support the Assad regime.

“President Trump was definitely out-negotiated and only endorsed the troop withdraw to make it look like we are getting something—but we are not getting something,” the National Security Council source told Newsweek. “The U.S. national security has entered a state of increased danger for decades to come because the president has no spine and that’s the bottom line.” [….]

According to the NSC official, who had first-hand knowledge of the phone call, Trump did not endorse any Turkish military operation against Kurdish Forces, but also did not threaten economic sanctions during the phone call if Turkey decided to undertake offensive operations.

Trump has also invited Erdogan to visit the White House next month.

Here’s a reminder what happened on a previous visit by Erdogan.

Yesterday, Trump threatened Turkey in a tweet that would cause any other person’s family to request a psychiatric evaluation:

Some outlets are reporting that Trump has been walking back the original order. We’ll see….

Meanwhile Turkey isn’t backing down. The Washington Post: Turkey rejects Trump’s threats amid conflicting U.S. signals over Syria offensive.

 Turkey’s vice president said Tuesday that his country would “not react to threats,” as it prepared to mount a military offensive against U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters in Syria, a day after President Trump warned that he would destroy Turkey’s economy if the offensive did not meet with his approval.

“When it comes to the security of Turkey, as always, our president emphasized Turkey will determine its own path,” the vice president, Fuat Oktay, said in a speech at a university in Ankara, the Turkish capital. He referred to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has vowed to create a “safe zone” in a lengthy swath of Syrian territory along Turkey’s border.

Erdogan and other Turkish officials have suggested for days that the military operation could begin at any moment. Turkish troop convoys have headed to the border, and local media outlets have published details of what they say is the battle plan. Turkey’s Defense Ministry wrote Tuesday on Twitter that all its preparations for the operation were complete.

But there was no sign yet that Turkish troops were moving forward, as the United Nations and aid agencies warned of potentially catastrophic humanitarian consequences, and as the Trump administration delivered confusing signals about how it views Turkey’s plans to attack a Syrian-Kurdish force that partnered with the U.S. military to fight the Islamic State militant group.

A new poll shows that 59 percent of Americans support the impeachment inquiry.

The Washington Post: Poll: Majority of Americans say they endorse opening of House impeachment inquiry of Trump.

A majority of Americans say they endorse the decision by House Democrats to begin an impeachment inquiry of President Trump, and nearly half of all adults also say the House should take the additional step and recommend that the president be removed from office, according to a Washington Post-Schar School poll.

The findings indicate that public opinion has shifted quickly against the president and in favor of impeachment proceedings in recent weeks as information has been released about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukrainian government officials to undertake an investigation into former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 campaign rival, and Biden’s son Hunter.

Previous Post-Schar School or Post-ABC News polls taken at different points throughout this year found majorities of Americans opposing the start of an impeachment proceeding, with 37 percent to 41 percent saying they favored such a step. The recent revelations appear to have prompted many Americans to rethink their position.

The poll finds that, by a margin of 58 percent to 38 percent, Americans say the House was correct to undertake the inquiry. Among all adults, 49 percent say the House should take the more significant step to impeach the president and call for his removal from office. Another 6 percent say they back the start of the inquiry but do not favor removing Trump from office, with the remainder undecided about the president’s ultimate fate. The results among registered voters are almost identical.

Read more at the WaPo.

Vanity Fair has a long piece on Bill Barr’s past history. Author Marie Brenner suggests that Barr’s relationship with his father could provide clues to Barr’s alignment with Trump: “I Had No Problem Being Poltically Different”: Young William Barr Among the Manhattan Liberals. A brief excerpt:

Who, then, is the real William Barr? I wanted to investigate that question through the prism of his growing up as a young conservative in the intellectually demanding and socially cosseted world of New York private schools—ironically, the same schools that educated Cohn. I wanted to understand how he might have been affected in the 1970s by the public scandal that consumed his father, Donald Barr, then the headmaster of the tony Dalton School and a respected voice in academics, on the right-wing opinion pages, and at the center of America’s calamitous culture wars.

Donny Montana: October 6, 2019

William Barr’s origin story is, in fact, a parable of how family, education, protest, and principle served to shape the era—and shape a young man who would become America’s chief law enforcement officer. At the same time, it is also a narrative about how a charismatic, domineering, and doctrinaire figure named Donald might have helped define the contours of his son’s formative years….

In the 1967 Horace Mann yearbook, Barr had already been tagged with his future persona: “a staunch conservative on political issues,” a master of “facial contortions,” and a brilliant mimic of his Catholic school priests. Often, he rode the subway home with another classmate, Barry Scheck, who would become an attorney and eventually cofound the Innocence Project, using DNA evidence to free wrongly convicted prisoners. “We would argue all the way down from school and all the way back,” Scheck said.

Barr and his three brothers revered their father, spending countless hours at the dinner table discussing philosophy, politics, and the issues of the day. Before attending Horace Mann, all four siblings had gone to Corpus Christi, a nearby parochial school where he was in class with many Irish, Hispanic, and black students. William Barr was the privileged son of an intellectual. In first grade, he made a speech in class supporting Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower for president. At age eight, Barr told his parents that he wanted to learn to play the bagpipes. His father not only encouraged him but located a former Scottish pipes major in the British army and for years personally escorted his son up to 168th Street for Tuesday-night classes. At one point, the young Barr even declared to his Horace Mann adviser that when he grew up, he wanted to become head of the CIA.

Horace Mann was another environment entirely: completely secular, with a large Jewish contingent. A few who knew the Barr boys came to call them “the bully Barrs”; the siblings, these former classmates claimed, could be intimidating. The fact that his father was born Jewish was not a factor in Bill Barr’s upbringing. While he knew he had Jewish relatives, he never discussed the specifics with his father. “He had become more Catholic than the Catholics,” he said to those who asked.

The school was an enclave of conservative privilege that had educated New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis, historian Robert A. Caro, and Si Newhouse Jr., the late owner of Condé Nast (the parent company of Vanity Fair). The head of the history department, Alfred Briggs, lectured on the evils of communism and Red China, and lavished praise on Horace Mann’s most notorious graduate, Roy Cohn. “We need more Roy Cohns in the world,” Briggs frequently said. “Roy was my best student of all time.”

I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I plan to do it as soon as this post goes up.

One more by Virginia Heffernan at The Los Angeles Times: Opinion: Do Barr, Pompeo and Giuliani share a death wish?

Atty. Gen. William Barr, who is deeply embroiled in the Trump-Ukraine affair, doesn’t care about his place in history. “I’m at the end of my career,” he told Jan Crawford of CBS in March. “Everyone dies.”

Rudolph Giuliani, the president’s fixer, who is even more deeply embroiled in the Trump-Ukraine affair, is likewise indifferent. “I don’t care about my legacy,” he told the New Yorker last month. “I’ll be dead.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, 55, who is especially embroiled in the Trump-Ukraine affair, also has his eye on an End Times cleansing. “It is a never-ending struggle,” he told a Kansas church group, describing his work for the president. “Until the Rapture.”

Poets have envisioned death in thousands of ways. Clouds, worms, reunions, virgins and more. But Barr, Giuliani and Pompeo — each in the midst of a distinct moral crisis — may have a new one. Death as sweet, sweet liberation from congressional oversight.

Let me propose an epitaph, suitable for any of these men when the time comes: “He’s gone where subpoenas can lacerate his heart no more.”

But if these men are counting on death to end their sea of troubles, the House doesn’t intend to give them that chance. With every letter or subpoena, Congress is demanding that these men stop daydreaming about oblivion or ecstatic union with Jesus and do what’s right in the here and now.

Read the rest at the link.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Messed up Monday Reads: World Salad as Trump upsets the World Order for personal gain

 Good Morning Sky Dancers

Well, it’s Monday and it wouldn’t be a Messed up Monday morning without the “Human Tornado” doing something completely idiotic and self-serving.  I have no idea what’s being said between our NATO allies and our allies in the Middle East but I was not prepared to see what I saw this morning. I assume that they’re trying to figure out if it would do any good to call our idiot Preznit. Last night, a press release came out of some kind of agreement between Erdogan of Turkey and KKKremlin Caligulia. This morning Turkish Troops are on the move into Northern Syria and we’re suddenly outta there.

This is from Michael Weiss at The Daily Beast and the headline says it all: “SHORT-SIGHTED. Trump’s Crazy Syria Move Will Wipe Out America’s Allies and Set Up a Big ISIS Comeback. With Trump’s permission, Turkey will now ethnically cleanse the Syrian Kurds, who fought ISIS on behalf of the U.S., leaving no one to hold off the terror group.”

Turkey is about to invade the part of Syria the U.S. invaded to defeat the so-called Islamic State. Except Turkey is invading it to defeat the Kurdish proxy force the U.S. relied on to defeat ISIS, because Turkey considers that proxy a terrorist group. And U.S. President Donald J. Trump, apparently, is fine with that.

This according to a White House announcement released late Sunday evening that reads as if it were written by someone who wants absolutely nothing to do with a part of a world as fucked up as the Middle East and doesn’t care if the whole place burns to the ground.

The move came after Trump, in yet another decisive phone call that probably will be locked away, spoke with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Trump’s decision was to have the United States accede to a NATO ally’s invasion of a de facto U.S. protectorate—an invasion which has been long in the making and is expressly designed to gobble up a crucial U.S. ally.

This sounds crazy and it is. But before you turn on your cable news show to find all manner of pundits filtering this Alice-in-Wonderland development through the narrow prism of a domestic news cycle, let me assure you of the following. It has nothing to do with Trump’s manifold domestic crises or the fact that his Twitter feed now resembles that of a homeless man barking at oncoming traffic. What is happening now derives from the inherent contradictions built right into America’s war on terror that are coming to the fore and threatening to precipitate the very thing that the fight against ISIS was meant to reduce.

Since 2014, the Pentagon has disproportionately relied upon one faction of armed Kurdish guerrillas who, in a sticky little turn of fate, have been fighting the Turkish state for over 40 years. Ankara has been none too pleased that America’s preferred battering ram against jihadism has a long history of blowing up Turkish army bases and police stations, albeit on secular marxisant grounds rather than apocalyptic religious ones.

Image result for Trudeau side eyes Trump In other words, Trump just stabbed another set of allies in the back and made several Dictators very happy in the process.  And of course, the fattest and happiest one is Putin.  From CNBC: “Trump handing northern Syria to Turkey is a ‘gift to Russia, Iran, and ISIS,’ former US envoy says” by Natasha Turak.

The Trump administration is facing a torrent of criticism Monday after it unexpectedly announced a full U.S. troop withdrawal from northern Syria to effectively allow a long-planned military operation by Turkey against Kurdish ground forces, who had battled to uproot ISIS.

“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” a White House statement late Sunday said, noting that President Donald Trump had spoken to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan by phone. “The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial ‘Caliphate,’ will no longer be in the immediate area.”

Security experts on the region and former U.S. officials are calling the decision harmful and a gift to America’s adversaries, while some members of the Kurdish forces on the ground in Syria are calling it betrayal.

“The WH statement tonight on Syria after Trump spoke with Erdogan demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of anything happening on the ground,” Brett McGurk, the former U.S. special envoy to the global anti-IS coalition, said Monday on Twitter.

“Trump tonight after one call with a foreign leader provided a gift to Russia, Iran, and ISIS.”

So, here’s some Republican blowback but will they do anything?

Image result for Trudeau side eyes Trump

And yes, that last guy used to work for the Orange Snot Blob (h/t to BB).

“Donald Trump is not a Commander-in-Chief,” said McGurk, who resigned along with Mattis over Trump’s initial (but later aborted) plan for a full Syria withdrawal. “He makes impulsive decisions with no knowledge or deliberation. He sends military personnel into harm’s way with no backing. He blusters and then leaves our allies exposed when adversaries call his bluff or he confronts a hard phone call.”

McGurk also suggested the people around Trump have no idea what’s going on. He noted that the White House’s statement says the United States will not hold Islamic State fighters and how the decision will save U.S. taxpayer money, but the United States isn’t actually holding those fighters.

U.S. officials have long said these fighters are being held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Kurdish-led military force, with U.S. assistance. Despite this, Trump has said before that the United States is “holding thousands of ISIS fighters right now.”

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) extends his hand to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada during a meeting in the Oval Office at the White House on February 13, 2017 in Washington, D.C. This is the first time the two leaders are meeting at the White House. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images)  So, ABC reports the immediate response this morning: “Turkey begins mobilizing against Syria; US begins removing forces from area”. 

The Turkish move is likely to put the Kurdish forces that helped the U.S. defeat ISIS in peril. Turkey considers the Kurdish forces — the PKK and YPG — terrorist organizations.

The news came late Sunday after President Donald Trump spoke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by phone earlier in the day.

The White House also confirmed that Turkey will take possession of all captured ISIS fighters from the past two years.

Image result for world leaders dismiss trump In other news:

Federal judge rules Trump must turn over his tax returns to Manhattan DA, but Trump has appealed  —  The request for eight years of records relates to the DA’s investigation into hush-money payments during the 2016 election.  Bylines by WAPO’s David A. Fahrenthold and Ann E. Marimow

From Nancy Cook  at  Politico writes that : Impeachment tentacles spread throughout Trump’s team  —  The tentacles of the Democratic impeachment investigation are extending far beyond the arms of President Donald Trump.  —  The vice president’s office, acting chief of staff’s office, State Department, Energy Department ..

From David Leonhardt at the  New York Times: “The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You ” —  Almost a decade ago, Warren Buffett made a claim that would become famous.  He said that he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary, thanks to the many loopholes and deductions that benefit the wealthy.  —  His claim sparked a debate about the fairness of the tax system.

Well, this is like all those memes about upsetting apple carts only this is central to world peace.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?