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?


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?


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!


Thursday Reads: Trump-Russia Connections Just Keep Piling Up.

Good Morning!!

Last Minute Update:

This is a developing story.

Also: Today is JJ’s birthday. Happy Birthday to our favorite cartoon maven.

Now to the news that was breaking when I started this post.

In my Saturday post, I tried to connect some dots to demonstrate that Trump’s almost benign missile strike on Syria was likely orchestrated in coordination with Russia. Today that seems even more likely, as the new of Trump-Russia connection pile up almost daily.

The missile strike was on Friday night. Since then, we’ve learned damning information about former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former foreign policy adviser Carter Page. The distraction caused by Trump’s military action hasn’t lasted long.

Remember that secret handwritten ledger found in Ukraine that listed payments of $12.6 million to Manafort? That NYT story led to Manafort being sidelined by the campaign.

Associated Press: Manafort firm received Ukraine ledger payout.

Last August, a handwritten ledger surfaced in Ukraine with dollar amounts and dates next to the name of Paul Manafort, who was then Donald Trump’s campaign chairman.

Ukrainian investigators called it evidence of off-the-books payments from a pro-Russian political party — and part of a larger pattern of corruption under the country’s former president. Manafort, who worked for the party as an international political consultant, has publicly questioned the ledger’s authenticity.

Now, financial records newly obtained by The Associated Press confirm that at least $1.2 million in payments listed in the ledger next to Manafort’s name were actually received by his consulting firm in the United States. They include payments in 2007 and 2009, providing the first evidence that Manafort’s firm received at least some money listed in the so-called Black Ledger.

The two payments came years before Manafort became involved in Trump’s campaign, but for the first time bolster the credibility of the ledger. They also put the ledger in a new light, as federal prosecutors in the U.S. have been investigating Manafort’s work in Eastern Europe as part of a larger anti-corruption probe.

Last night the New York Times reported that right after he resigned from the Trump campaign, he took out millions in loans from Trump-connected companies.

Aug. 19 was an eventful day for Paul Manafort.

That morning, he stepped down from guiding Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign, after a brief tenure during which Mr. Trump won the Republican nomination, Democrats’ emails were hacked and the campaign’s contacts with Russia came under scrutiny. Dogged by revelations about past financial dealings in Ukraine, Mr. Manafort retreated from public view.

But behind the scenes, he was busy with other matters. Papers were recorded that same day creating a shell company controlled by Mr. Manafort that soon received $13 million in loans from two businesses with ties to Mr. Trump, including one that partners with a Ukrainian-born billionaire and another led by a Trump economic adviser. They were among $20 million in loans secured by properties belonging to Mr. Manafort and his wife.

The purpose of the loans is unstated in public records, although at least some of them appear to be part of an effort by Mr. Manafort to stave off a personal financial crisis stemming from failed investments with his son-in-law.

The transactions raise a number of questions, including whether Mr. Manafort’s decision to turn to Trump-connected lenders was related to his role in the campaign, where he had agreed to serve for free.

That is on top of accusations of money laundering by Manafort and evidence that he made a deal with a Russian oligarch to provide services that would “greatly benefit the Putin Government,” according the AP.

Yesterday the Washington Post reported that Manafort is negotiating to retroactively register as a foreign agent.

Paul Manafort, the former campaign chair for Donald Trump, has signaled that he plans to register as a foreign agent for his past work on behalf of political figures in Ukraine.

If he files, Manafort would become the second former senior Trump adviser in recent weeks to retroactively acknowledge the need to disclose foreign work. Gen. Michael Flynn, the former White House national security adviser, filed a disclosure last month saying he had done work on behalf of Turkish interests.

A spokesman for Manafort said Wednesday that the longtime political consultant considered a new filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) after receiving “formal guidance recently from the authorities” regarding work he and a colleague had performed on behalf of Ukrainian political interests.

And then there’s Carter Page.

The Washington Post on Tuesday: FBI obtained FISA warrant to monitor Trump adviser Carter Page.

The FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of an adviser to presidential candidate Donald Trump, part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign, law enforcement and other U.S. officials said.

The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.

This is the clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents. Such contacts are now at the center of an investigation into whether the campaign coordinated with the Russian government to swing the election in Trump’s favor.

Page has not been accused of any crimes, and it is unclear whether the Justice Department might later seek charges against him or others in connection with Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election. The counterintelligence investigation into Russian efforts to influence U.S. elections began in July, officials have said. Most such investigations don’t result in criminal charges.

Yesterday Page gave a bizarre interview to CNN.

From CNN: Carter Page now a ‘no comment’ on FBI investigations.

Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser on President Donald Trump’s campaign, declined repeatedly Wednesday to confirm or deny the FBI had interviewed him yet.

“I have nothing to say about any ongoing investigations,” Page said on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”

Page’s CNN interview came a day after the Washington Post reported the FBI had received a warrant to surveil him in summer 2016 as part of the federal investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the presidential race….

“Let’s not jump to any conclusions, and until there’s full evidence and a full investigation has been done, we just don’t know,” Page said.

Pressed on FBI questioning, he wouldn’t say if he had been interviewed by the FBI, but said that he looked forward to supporting congressional investigations into the matter.

In interviews as recently as February, Page had said the FBI had not questioned him, but in his CNN interview he declined to answer.

This morning Page spoke to ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos: Carter Page: ‘Something may have come up in a conversation’ with Russians about US sanctions.

ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos asked Page on “Good Morning America” today if he met with anyone in the Russian government or connected to Russian intelligence during that trip.

Page said he briefly said “hello” to one of the school’s board members.

When Stephanopoulos asked whether in any of his conversations Page suggested that Trump would be open to easing sanctions on Russia, Page initially said, “I never offered that” but then said, “I don’t recall every single word.”

Stephanopoulos pressed, “It sounds like from what you’re saying it’s possible you may have discussed the easing of sanctions.”

“Something may have come up in a conversation,” Page replied. “I have no recollection, and there’s nothing specifically that I would have done that would have given people that impression.”

“Someone may have brought it up,” he continued. “And if it was, it was not something I was offering or that someone was asking for.”

“We’ll see what comes out in this FISA transcript,” he said.

Well, that’s interesting. Page is hedging his bets in case the wiretaps picked up something damning. That guy is a real weirdo. Earlier he told ABC News that he believes “Obama targeted him as a ‘dissident’.”

My guess is that Page, Manafort, and Flynn are already talking to the FBI or soon will be. Notice we haven’t heard anything from Flynn since the last dust-up.

As always, since Trump became POTUS, there is way too much news! A few more stories to check out, links only:

CNN: US intelligence intercepted communications between Syrian military and chemical experts.

Reuters: North Korea may be capable of sarin-tipped missiles: Japan PM.

Express UK: Kim Jong-Un ‘orders IMMEDIATE EVACUATION of Pyongyang’ as tensions with US escalate

Letter to Editor, Chicago Tribune: I was on United flight 3411. Here’s what I saw.

Charlotte Observer: NC lawmaker calls Abraham Lincoln a ‘tyrant’ like Hitler.

Rich Lowry at Politico: When Jared Wins.

Gene Lyons at The National Memo: Does Trump Expect To Fool America With A Pro Wrestling Feud?

The Washington Post: Inside Bannon’s struggle: From ‘shadow president’ to Trump’s marked man.

The Miami Herald: Undercooled meat. Dangerous fish. Health inspectors zing Trump’s Mar-a-Lago kitchen.

The Sun UK: Ex-MI6 chief accuses Donald Trump of secretly borrowing from Russia to keep his property empire afloat during the financial crisis.

Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a terrific Thursday despite the insanity.


Tuesday Reads: Future of what?

 

Good Afternoon

Boston Boomer is under the weather today, so I’m bringing you the round up for the day.

First up I have to start this thread with a little tongue in cheek;

Okay, now let’s get serious.

Why do I get the feeling the passengers that were “randomly” chosen for United to “reaccommodate” perhaps had a little more than a random pick behind it?

Controversy over United passenger’s ‘troubled past’ – Business Insider

People are rallying around the passenger who was forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight on Sunday, in response to what many see as attempts to vilify a victim.

On Tuesday, the Louisville Courier-Journal published an article reporting that the passenger, David Dao, “has a troubled history in Kentucky.” The article cites past drug-related felonies in the early 2000s, noting that the Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure allowed Dao to resume practicing medicine in 2015.

Soon after the article published, many people took to social media to criticize the Courier-Journal for seemingly attempting to justify an incident in which Dao was dragged from United Express Flight 3411 by law enforcement officers. Dao suffered injuries to his face, and was taken to a local hospital for treatment.

None of this man’s past has anything to do with the atrocious treatment he received…but I would not put it past the company to have orchestrated the chosen 4 for just this possible situation. I bet that is part of the protocol. Pick people that can be exploited negatively in the press if you need to…

Louisville’s Courier-Journal Gets Smacked Around For Piece About United Victim’s Past | Mediaite

More tweets of anger at CJ and support of David Dao at that link.

Onward to the shooting and murder of two people at a California primary school.

 

The next series of links will deal with Trump and Syria and Russia…Trump and North Korea…China.

I mentioned in a comment last week that my dad is part of this survival group, and that there was a rumor going on about the strike force heading to the Korean Peninsula…well, last night he told me the new rumor is that China is dealing with a huge number of refugees from North Korea flooding into the country because of the fear that tRump is going to blow Kim Jong Un off the planet.

I don’t know, the shit is hitting the fan.

 

I had to do it…

But here are some news links about all that shit.

Trump threatens via Twitter to ‘solve the problem’ in North Korea | MSNBC

North Korea Threatens ‘Catastrophic Consequences’ Over Approach From U.S. Navy Ships | Mediaite

Geez.

As for the Syria and Putin and Assad shit. (The word shit has become my go to expression for everything lately, you can take a look at some of these updates.

US plans to attack Syria and blame Assad, Vladimir Putin claims | The Independent

Somehow, Russia knew about Syria’s chemical weapon bombing before it happened – Salon.com

It is all so disturbing.

Did Trump Attack Syria For Personal Profit? | Crooks and Liars

At any other time, the questions raised by (fill in the blank) would be the scandal of the decade. Now, with Donald Trump as president, we call it Monday.

Thursday evening, Trump attacked Syria, a sovereign country, with 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles. This act of war was done without Congressional authorization, even after Trump’s August, 2013, tweet that “Obama needs Congressional approval” before attacking Syria in nearly-identical circumstances.

The following morning, headlines like this one appeared in the business press: Raytheon, maker of Tomahawk missiles, leads premarket rally in defense stocks:

Defense and energy stocks dominated the list of premarket gainers on the S&P 500 Friday, led by Tomahawk missile-maker Raytheon Corp., after U.S. missile strikes against a Syrian air base overnight.

Donald Trump apparently owns Raytheon stock. In May, 2016, Trump reported to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) that he owned Raytheon stock. Interestingly, this FEC report does not appear to include the extensive web of offshore anonymous shell corporations Trump uses to mask assets.

Since that filing Trump’s assets have not been sold with the proceeds placed into a “blind trust,” and there is no public record of his having otherwise sold the stock. Not only that, but Trump is able to draw cash from his “trust” at any time. He could literally have pocketed cash from his gains from attacking Syria.

Read the rest at the link.

But tRump is not only profiting on the attack in Syria. He is making money on his time off, away from, the White House:

 

Again, I can’t believe that nothing has been done to move forward with impeachment.

 

Just a few other links to make you cringe:

 

Trump and Ryan are planning to gut Social Security | Suburban Guerrilla. Susie Madrak

 

Federal Judge Rules That Texas Intentionally Discriminated Against Minority Voters | Mother Jones

The Sessions’ Justice Department had tried to stop the ruling.

Read This: The Handmaid’s Tale author on how Trump is too unbelievable for fiction · Great Job, Internet! · The A.V. Club

Margaret Atwood—author of The Handmaid’s Tale and dozens of other novels, short-story collections, children’s books, works of poetry and criticism, and the new comic-book series Angel Catbird—is the subject of a lengthy and insightful profile in The New Yorker. She speaks briefly on Donald Trump’s presidency, telling New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead, “If the election of Donald Trump were fiction… it would be too implausible to satisfy readers.” It’s an insightful viewpoint from the writer of speculative fiction (her preferred term over “science fiction”), who’s penned arguably the most influential speculation through the lens of patriarchy. Atwood goes on to say:

Fiction has to be something that people would actually believe. If you had published it last June, everybody would have said, “That is never going to happen.”

No shit. (See, I’m using that word “shit” for everything!)

This study looks like an interesting read….

No democracy without women’s rights | EurekAlert! Science News

Why did the Arab spring fail? Despite a number of revolutions in the Arab world, in the end only Tunisia emerged as a functioning democracy. Results from an interdisciplinary research project at the University of Gothenburg indicate that the problem might be traced partially to the lack of women’s civil rights in the region.

A new study published in the European Journal of Political Research discusses the importance of women’s rights for countries to become democratic. The researchers used a dataset developed by V-Dem, a research institution cohosted by the University of Gothenburg (Sweden) and the University of Notre Dame (USA). The dataset includes the state of democracy in 177 countries over the years 1900 to 2012.

The study demonstrates that countries do not become fully democratic without political and social rights for women. This is particularly true for the Arab Spring countries, where the failure to foster women’s rights compromised any attempt at democratic governance in the area.

According to Professor Staffan Lindberg, director of the V-Dem Institute, the result is important because it shows that democratic development is not gender blind: societies transitioning from authoritarian regimes strongly need women in order to develop functioning democratic governments.

This next link is for Dak, another grave for you.

 

The desert bloom from space….is something to see.

 

And I will end it on that note.

This is an open thread. I hope BB starts to feel better, and that y’all have a good afternoon.

 

 


Lazy Saturday Reads: Wag The Dog

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday Lawrence O’Donnell tweeted about what many of us have been thinking:

O’Donnell devoted his show last night discussing the fact that we cannot possibly be sure that Trump didn’t unleash his ineffectual missile strike on a Syrian air base in coordination with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Here is O’Donnell’s epic rant:

 

Are we really supposed to believe that this classic narcissist, who clearly care not a whit for anyone but himself, has suddenly developed a conscience because he saw suffering Syrian children on TV? These are the same Syrian children whom he refuses to let into the U.S. because he fears they will grow up to be terrorists. Come on.

Of course plenty of young white male “journalists” swallowed the charade whole. Even Fareed Zacharia, who is usually quite prescient, plagiarized Van Jones’s pronouncement after Trump’s embarrassing exploitation of the wife of the Navy Seal who died in Trump’s first botched military action in Yemen.

What did Trump’s strike on Syria accomplish? Planes were taking off from the deliberately undamaged runways the next day, and The Washington Post reports today that: Warplanes return to Syrian town devastated by chemical attack.

Residents of the Syrian town devastated by a chemical-weapons attack earlier this week said that warplanes had returned to bomb them Saturday as Turkey described a retaliatory U.S. assault as “cosmetic” unless President Bashar al-Assad is removed from power.

At least 86 people died in Tuesday’s attack on the northwestern town of Khan Sheikhoun, which left hundreds choking, fidgeting or foaming at the mouth.

Eyewitnesses said Saturday that fresh airstrikes on the area — now a virtual ghost town — had killed one woman and wounded several others. Photographs from the site showed a pair of green slippers, abandoned by a blood-spattered doorway.

The U.S. military launched 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield early Friday in the first direct American assault on Assad’s government since that country’s six-year civil war began. Although American officials have predicted that the strikes would result in a major shift of Assad’s calculus, they appear to be symbolic in practice.

Within 24 hours of the American strikes, monitoring groups reported that jets were once again taking off from the bombed Shayrat air base.

The strikes also gave Putin an excuse to cancel a previous deal with the U.S. that the two countries won’t directly engage each others’ forces–recall that Trump has already sent U.S. ground troops into Syria.

From the Associated Press: AP Explains: What is the US/Russia “deconfliction line?”

A U.S.-led coalition has been bombing Islamic State-held territory across Syria, launching 24 strikes on Thursday alone, according to the U.S. military’s Central Command. The coalition includes some 60 countries, with some launching their own strikes into Syria. Russia is waging its own bombing campaign in support of President Bashar Assad’s forces, while the Syrian government has its own air force and air defense systems. That means a lot of aircraft are flying in a small airspace, which raises the danger for pilots. In November 2015, for instance, NATO member Turkey shot down a Russian jet fighter, nearly sparking an international conflagration….

To protect pilots, Moscow and Washington opened a so-called “deconfliction line” after Russia began its bombing campaign in September 2015. On the U.S. side, it is run out of the Combined Air and Space Operations Center at the vast al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which hosts the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command. There, air traffic controllers and senior military officers are in contact with their Russian counterparts in Syria. They share coordinates and other data to avoid midair collisions or confrontations. One U.S. pilot flying missions over Syria credited his safety to it in a recent Associated Press interview….

On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on the Shayrat air base, southeast of Homs, over a chemical weapons attack he blamed on Syria’s government. The U.S. used the “deconfliction line” to warn Russia ahead of time that the strike was coming. In the aftermath of the attack, which Syria said killed at least seven people, Russia announced it would suspend its cooperation in the information-sharing campaign, the first time the line has been severed. Russia still has several dozen warplanes and batteries of air defense missiles at its base near Latakia, Syria.

The article goes on the explain that the U.S. will try to keep negotiating with Russia on this issue. And guess what’s happening next week? The AP, via The Denver Post: Tillerson to visit Moscow as US, Russia face fresh tensions.

Tillerson will make the first visit to Russia by a Trump administration official just days after the U.S. launched cruise missiles against an air base in Syria, where Russia’s military is on the ground propping up its ally, President Bashar Assad. Until Thursday, the U.S. had avoided striking Assad’s forces, largely out of concern about being pulled into a military conflict with Russia.

Tillerson receives the Russian Order of Friendship

Yes, Tillerson, who was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship after inking an oil deal in 2012 with the Russian oil company Rosneft. Yes, the company that was mentioned in the famous Christopher Steele dossier. From Foreign Policy in February:

The dossier claims that a representative from Trump’s presidential campaign, Carter Page, met last July with Igor Sechin, head of the Russian oil monopoly Rosneft and a senior Kremlin official. Sechin reportedly offered brokerage on a 19 percent stake in Rosneft in exchange for lifting sanctions, and Page was “non-committal in response.”

As CEO of Exxon, Tillerson represented a giant corporation that is desperate for the U.S. Sanctions on Russia to be lifted. Of course Tillerson and Trump can’t immediately lift the sanctions. That would be too obvious and would not be accepted by most members of Congress. But perhaps there is a plan.

Remember that meeting in the Seychelles between Betsy DeVos’s brother and huge Trump supporter Erik Prince with a close Putin confidant? From the Washington Post:

The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.

The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.

Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian.

Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December.

U.S. officials said the FBI has been scrutinizing the Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump. The FBI declined to comment.

But . . . . according to the Post,

The Seychelles meeting came after separate private discussions in New York involving high-ranking representatives of Trump with both Moscow and the Emirates…

Flynn and Kushner were joined by Bannon for a separate meeting with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who made an undisclosed visit to New York later in December, according to the U.S., European and Arab officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters….

In an unusual breach of protocol, the UAE did not notify the Obama administration in advance of the visit, though officials found out because Zayed’s name appeared on a flight manifest.

Officials said Zayed and his brother, the UAE’s national security adviser, coordinated the Seychelles meeting with Russian government officials with the goal of establishing an unofficial back channel between Trump and Putin.

Could they have been discussing plans for coordination in the Syrian conflict? Could Trump and Putin be planning and escalation of conflicts between U.S. and Russian forces that later could be “resolved” by loosening the U.S. sanctions?

Of course no one is talking about all these “coincidences” anymore, because Trump impressed so many male pundits with his “beautiful” missile display.

The media needs to stop the macho swaggering and get back to the Russia investigation immediately. I don’t know for sure what’s going on here, but there’s enough smoke emanating from the Trump gang to be signaling an eight-alarm fire.

I’m going to wrap this up, because this post is so late, but I want to share one more story. Alex Morris of Rolling Stone weighed in on Trump’s narcissism a few days ago: Trump and the Pathology of Narcissism. Here’s the intro:

At 6:35 a.m. on the morning of March 4th, President Donald Trump did what no U.S. president has ever done: He accused his predecessor of spying on him. He did so over Twitter, providing no evidence and – lest anyone miss the point – doubling down on his accusation in tweets at 6:49, 6:52 and 7:02, the last of which referred to Obama as a “Bad (or sick) guy!” Six weeks into his presidency, these unsubstantiated tweets were just one of many times the sitting president had rashly made claims that were (as we soon learned) categorically untrue, but it was the first time since his inauguration that he had so starkly drawn America’s integrity into the fray. And he had done it not behind closed doors with a swift call to the Department of Justice, but instead over social media in a frenzy of ire and grammatical errors. If one hadn’t been asking the question before, it was hard not to wonder: Is the president mentally ill?

It’s now abundantly clear that Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail was not just a “persona” he used to get elected – that he would not, in fact, turn out to be, as he put it, “the most presidential person ever, other than possibly the great Abe Lincoln, all right?” It took all of 24 hours to show us that the Trump we elected was the Trump we would get when, despite the fact that he was president, that he had won, he spent that first full day in office focused not on the problems facing our country but on the problems facing him: his lackluster inauguration attendance and his inability to win the popular vote.

Since Trump first announced his candidacy, his extreme disagreeableness, his loose relationship with the truth and his trigger-happy attacks on those who threatened his dominance were the worrisome qualities that launched a thousand op-eds calling him “unfit for office,” and led to ubiquitous armchair diagnoses of “crazy.” We had never seen a presidential candidate behave in such a way, and his behavior was so abnormal that one couldn’t help but try to fit it into some sort of rubric that would help us understand. “Crazy” kind of did the trick.

The article summarizes the psychological assessments that have gradually emerged from professionals who were initially hesitant to discuss Trump’s personality because of the so-called “Goldwater Rule.” It’s a long, fascinating read.

What stories are you following today? Please share in the comment thread and have a great weekend!


Thursday Reads: The “President” is Mentally Incompetent

Good Morning!!

Breaking stories this morning:’

— First, Rep. Deven Nunes is “temporarily stepping aside” from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to the AP. Details to come. According to MSNBC, Trump himself wanted this to happen because he’s “concerned about his dropping poll numbers.” We’ll learn more as the day goes on, but it seems more likely that this decision probably comes from Prince Jared.

Nunes released a statement saying that left-wing groups had made baseless charges against him to the ethics committee, and he’s made this decision even though the complaints are politically-motivated. Democratic ranking member gave a brief statement in which he said he appreciates Nunes’ decision and looks forward to working with Rep. Conaway (R-Texas) who will now lead the investigation.

— Second, Paul Ryan held a press conference this morning to pretend that Trump-Ryancare is still alive. Supposedly the House is reaching consensus around a high risk pool–something that would never work to lower premiums for everyone. They’re all going home for Easter break soon, so we’ll see what happens when they come back. IMHO, this is just a face-saving effort by Ryan.

The Dallas News has a “developing” story on Conaway taking over: Texas’ Conaway takes over Russia meddling probe, as embattled Intel chairman steps down.

WASHINGTON — Texas Rep. Mike Conaway is taking the helm of the House-led probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, after embattled Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes agreed to step aside Thursday.

Conaway, a Midland Republican, is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and a member of the Intelligence Committee. He chaired the Ethics Committee several years ago — considered one of the more thankless tasks in Congress, given its role in policing and occasionally punishing colleagues.

He’s one of the few CPAs in Congress. Before his election in 2004, one of his clients was the oil firm owned by future president George W. Bush.

Also happening today:

President Xi Jinping of China

NBC News: Trump and China President Xi Jinping to Meet, ‘Set a Framework’ for Relations.

As Donald Trump gets set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a tête-à-tête at the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Thursday, experts say it’s time for the U.S. leader to let his past hostile comments about the Asian powerhouse fade with the Florida sunset.

Trump must start building a solid personal relationship with his counterpart and open a starter dialogue on a number of sensitive issues between the two nations, analysts add.

“Well, it’s going to be very interesting, nobody really knows, we have not been treated fairly on trade, no presidents taken care of that the way they should have, and we have a big problem on North Korea, so we’re going to see what happens,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday about his upcoming meeting with Xi.

“I’ll tell you we’ll be in there pitching, and I think we’re going to do very well” Trump added.

While the Chinese are strategic and conservative in their policy and diplomacy maneuvers, Trump has earned his reputation as brash and somewhat unpredictable, often venting governing frustrations on Twitter in 140 characters or less.

“[The Chinese] know that you cannot conduct foreign policy by Twitter, by tweeting, and brashness,” former Ambassador to China Max Baucus told NBC News.

I’m sure the Chinese know that all they have to do is say nice things about Trump and he’ll give away the store. He’s going to get played. I just hope it won’t be too damaging.

Mitch McConnell is determined to get Neil Gorsuch through the Senate despite a Democratic filibuster, and it looks like  he will exercise the so-called “nuclear option.” The sad fact that Gorsuch is obviously guilty of plagiarism doesn’t seem to matter to Republicans.

Now I want to move on to what I  believe is the most important story for the U.S. and the world right now.

After yesterday, I’m convinced that nothing that happens in the news is more important than the fact that the man who is pretending to be “president” is not only completely unqualified but also mentally unfit. There is something seriously wrong with Trump’s cognitive processes, and whether it’s dementia, drugs, or simple stupidity, we’re all in deep trouble.

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman

Did you read the transcript of the interview Trump gave to The New York Times yesterday? I want to quote two sections of it here. During a discussion of the Gorsuch nomination, Trump claimed that Democrats have told him privately that they really don’t object that much to the pick, and here is his example:

TRUMP: Elijah Cummings [a Democratic representative from Maryland] was in my office and he said, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.”

HABERMAN: Really.

TRUMP: And then he went out and I watched him on television yesterday and I said, “Was that the same man?”

[Laughter.]

TRUMP: But I said, and I liked him, but I said that was really nice. He said, in a group of people, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.” And then I watched him on television and I said, “Is that the same man that said that to me?”

Did Trump somehow confuse Elijah Cummings with some other black man? WTF is he talking about, why don’t these reporters press him on it? This “interview” could easily pass as an evaluation of a mental patient by two psychiatrists. Here’s another section in which Trump claims that the story of Susan Rice’s unmasking of U.S. persons when she was Obama’s National Security Adviser is “a massive story.”

I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story. I think it’s a massive, massive story. All over the world, I mean other than The New York Times.

HABERMAN: We’ve written about it twice.

TRUMP: Huh?

HABERMAN: We’ve written about it twice.

TRUMP: Yeah, it’s a bigger story than you know. I think —

HABERMAN: You mean there’s more information that we’re not aware of?

TRUMP: I think that it’s going to be the biggest story.

New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush

THRUSH: Why? What do you think —

TRUMP: Take a look at what’s happening. I mean, first of all her performance was horrible yesterday on television even though she was interviewed by Hillary Clinton’s P.R. person, Andrea Mitchell [the NBC News journalist]. Course you’ve been accused of that also.

HABERMAN: Mostly by you, though.

TRUMP: No, no, no. Mostly by a lot of people. So you know, we’ll see what happens, but it looks like it’s breaking into a massive story.

THRUSH: What do you think are — what other shoes are there to drop on this?

HABERMAN: Yeah, what else could we learn on this?

TRUMP: I think you’re going to see a lot. I think you’ll see a lot.

HABERMAN: In terms of what she did and in terms of [unintelligible]?

TRUMP: I think in terms of what other people have done also.

HABERMAN: Really?

TRUMP: I think it’s one of the biggest stories. The Russia story is a total hoax. There has been absolutely nothing coming out of that. But what, you know, what various things led into it was the story that we’re talking about, the Susan Rice. What’s happened is terrible. I’ve never seen people so indignant, including many Democrats who are friends of mine. I’ve never seen them acting this way. Because that’s really an affront on them, you know, they are talking about civil liberties. It’s such an affront, what took place.

THRUSH: What other people do you think will get ensnared in this? Can you give us a sense? How far this might extend

HABERMAN: From the previous administration.

TRUMP: I think from the previous administration.

THRUSH: How far up do you think this goes? Chief of staff?

TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but —

THRUSH: President?

TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but you know who. You know what was going on. You probably know better than anybody. I mean, I frankly think The Times is missing a big thing by not writing it because you’re missing out on the biggest story there is.

Why are these NYT reporters (Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush) patronizing Trump like this? I guess they are drawing him out to demonstrate that he’s a simpleton, but shouldn’t this be treated as a national emergency? The “president” is not well. No wonder there are always multiple “minders” in the room when he’s speaks publicly. Why are so many people pretending that this is somehow normal? We are facing multiple foreign crises right now and we have an incompetent “president” whose 36-year-old son-in-law appears to be running the government.

Yesterday’s Trump press conference with King Abdullah of Jordan was just as embarrassing. Trump spouted a lot of stream-of-conscientious nonsense about how disturbed he was by the chemical attack in Syria and that he had changed his point of view, and reporters pretended he had actually said something meaningful. Here’s the NYT story, for example. Yet Trump said nothing to explain what his policy was previously or what he had changed it to. He even went through that song-and-dance about how he won’t tell anyone ahead of time about what he’ll do “militarily.” This man is nuts, and the press should start saying so.

As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night, Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is every bit as incompetent as the “president.” Tillerson made a statement a couple of days ago that basically gave Asad permission to do whatever he wanted to the Syrian people. Business Insider reports:

Tillerson told reporters while he was in Turkey last week that the “longer-term status of President [Bashar] Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

The remark signaled a shift in the US’s official position toward the Syrian strongman. Though they were criticized for failing to act against Assad, President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry had long called for Assad to step down in a monitored transition of power.

The US’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, took an even stronger position than Tillerson, telling reporters that the administration’s “priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”

Haley’s comments stood in stark contrast to those of the previous UN ambassador, Samantha Power, who directly confronted Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies during a UN Security Council meeting in December with a fierce address.

“Three member states of the UN contributing to a noose around civilians. It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you,” Power said at the time. “You are plotting your next assault. Are you truly incapable of shame?”

And of course there’s the growing threat from North Korea, which Tillerson also likely aggravated. The Week: Rex Tillerson says the U.S. has ‘spoken enough about North Korea,’ won’t comment on latest missile launch.

Not long after the news broke that North Korea launched a missile into the Sea of Japan, Tillerson released a brief statement Tuesday night confirming the launch of “yet another intermediate-range ballistic missile,” adding two very terse sentences: “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” If you seek words of comfort in these uncertain times or angry declarations and threats of retaliation, Tillerson made it clear you had better look elsewhere.

If this is the secretary of state’s way of hinting he wants out of the job, Tillerson should know by now that all he needs to do is tag Jared Kushner, say, “You’re it,” and call it a day. Catherine Garcia

Here’s Charles M. Blow: Creeping Toward Crisis.

I am racked with anxiety that our buffoonish “president” — who sounds so internationally unsophisticated and who is still operating under a cloud of illegitimacy — is beginning to face his first real foreign crises.

What worries me most is that he seems to have no coherent plan, at least not one that he is willing or able to communicate. “I don’t show my hand” isn’t a strategy to conceal a plan as much as one to conceal the absence of a plan.

His statements are all bluster and bungling and bosh. Our commander in chief is not in full command of his emotions or facts or geopolitics.

We may sometimes think that the absurdity of Trump’s endless stream of contradictions and lies ends at the nation’s borders, but it doesn’t. The world is watching, and the world is full of dangerous men who see killing as a means of maintaining and exerting power. They see in Trump a novice and know-nothing, and they will surely test his resolve.

Trump has exposed himself to the world as an imbecile and burned through American credibility with his incessant lying. Even many of our allies seem confused and worried about where we stand and how we plan to proceed.

Trump is full of pride, obsessed with strongman personas, and absent of historical and geopolitical perspective. This is the worst possible situation. The man who could bring us into military engagement is woefully deficient in intellectual engagement.

Please go read the rest at the NYT.

It will clearly be another busy and chaotic day in politics. What stories are you following?