Surreal Caturday Reads: Insane Conspiracy Theories and Cats

Topiary Cat at home evening, created by Richard Saunders

Good Morning!!

Our so-called “president” is a malignant narcissist with rapidly advancing dementia and we’re in a losing battle with a pandemic that the “president” has decided not to deal with at all. Instead he has been trying gin up outrage among his cult followers by claiming a vast conspiracy against him led by former president Obama. He began his morning by rage-tweeting about another supposed conspiracy against him by multiple social media sites–based on claims by right wing nut Michelle Malkin.

I highly recommend exploring The Atlantic magazine’s “Shadowland” project, which explores current and past conspiracy theories and their impact on American and world history. I’ve posted a couple their articles recently. We are going to need to understand this kind of conspiracy thinking as we get closer to the 2020 presidential election. Some background: “Shadowland”: A New Project From The Atlantic on the Power and Danger of Conspiracy.

Conspiracy thinking has shaped the world for centuries, destroying great institutions, eradicating knowledge, endangering democracies, and ending lives. These theories threaten not just individual facts, but the idea that empirical truth exists at all. And now, with a president of the United States who advances conspiracy thinking about a pandemic that has led to 82,000 reported deaths in America, it becomes an existential threat.

In an effort to better understand how we got here, and how we might find a way out, The Atlantic today launches “Shadowland,” an exploration of how conspiracy theories have shaped America, and why they are more powerful, and dangerous, now than ever.

Leonora Carrington’s Self Portrait (1938)

Shadowland takes you down the rabbit hole through an interactive project portal, built with the mobile reader in mind; the product and visuals are central to the storytelling. It represents some of the most ambitious work of the year, even as The Atlantic continues to apply the full weight of its newsroom to cover the biggest stories of our age: the global pandemic, the Trump presidency, and the spread of illiberalism across the planet.

The project debuts with “The Prophecies of Q,” executive editor Adrienne LaFrance’s cover story on QAnon for The Atlantic’s June issue. With its legions of followers, fabrications about the coronavirus, and dark predictions about the “deep state,” QAnon’s power—and the rejection of reality it represents—only grows. LaFrance warns that QAnon “is a movement united in mass rejection of reason, objectivity, and other Enlightenment values. And we are likely closer to the beginning of its story than the end … To look at QAnon is to see not just a conspiracy theory but the birth of a new religion.”

Read the rest at The Atlantic link.

Susan Glasser on “Obamagate”: “Obamagate” Is Niche Programming for Trump Superfans.

Donald Trump will not shut up about Barack Obama—not now, not ever. On Thursday morning, amid the gravest economic crisis in a century and a deadly pandemic that will have killed more than a hundred thousand Americans by the end of this month, Trump yet again accused his predecessor of culpability in “the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA.” Obama, he said, should be hauled before the Senate to testify. “He knew EVERYTHING,” Trump added in his tweet, one of dozens of attacks in the past few days in which he has targeted “Obamagate.” What crime, exactly, was Trump accusing Obama of? What should he testify about? Trump never said, and it’s a safe bet that he never will.

Field of Dreams – Heidi Taillefer #Surreal #Cat

On Monday afternoon, at a press conference on the White House lawn, Trump made that clear, in a memorable exchange with Phil Rucker, of the Washington Post, that echoed the paranoid fulminations of Trump’s hero Joseph McCarthy at his worst. “What crime, exactly, are you accusing President Obama of committing?” Rucker asked. “Obamagate,” Trump replied. “It’s been going on for a long time,” he added, without offering specifics. “What is the crime, exactly, that you’re accusing him of?” Rucker asked again. “You know what the crime is,” Trump answered. “The crime is very obvious to everybody.” Days later, that is still where we are: Trump is accusing Obama of a grave crime but refusing even to say what Obama allegedly did, while repeating over and over that the former President is guilty of something, a technique of political agitprop that recalls not only McCarthy but every wannabe dictator for whom the rule of law has little or nothing to do with accusations of illegality.

Perhaps, to Trump and his defenders, “Obamagate” really is such a known commodity that defining it is superfluous, even if it is not at all obvious to those who don’t populate Trump’s alternate reality of conspiracy theories and outright lies, a world in which Obama figures as a regular and sinister presence. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that the gap between partisan truths in Washington is so wide it’s practically a vortex. In many ways, the “Obamagate” exchange on Monday reminded me of the first day of the public impeachment hearings last fall in the House Intelligence Committee, in which Democrats spent hours outlining what they knew of the Trump Ukraine-shakedown scheme that had triggered the impeachment proceedings, while Devin Nunes, the Republican ranking member, offered up an array of little-known intrigues that seemed entirely unrelated to the matter at hand, including an alleged plot to “obtain nude pictures of Trump,” which, he said, was part of a “three-year-long operation” by Democrats, “the corrupt media,” and “partisan bureaucrats to overturn the results of the 2016 election.” I remember thinking: Naked pictures? What was he even talking about? It appeared to have something to do with a 2017 phone call to Representative Adam Schiff from two Russian pranksters claiming to represent the Ukrainian government and offering nude pictures of Trump with a Russian celebrity. Or something. If you had been following along with Fox News and the darker corners of the right, you knew exactly what Nunes was talking about.

Read the rest at The New Yorker

Andre Ferez, Russian artist

The New York Times on Trump’s latest crazy obsessions: A Sitting President, Riling the Nation During a Crisis.

Even by President Trump’s standards, it was a rampage: He attacked a government whistle-blower who was telling Congress that the coronavirus pandemic had been mismanaged. He criticized the governor of Pennsylvania, who has resisted reopening businesses. He railed against former President Barack Obama, linking him to a conspiracy theory and demanding he answer questions before the Senate about the federal investigation of Michael T. Flynn.

And Mr. Trump lashed out at Joseph R. Biden Jr., his Democratic challenger. In an interview with a sympathetic columnist, Mr. Trump smeared him as a doddering candidate who “doesn’t know he’s alive.” The caustic attack coincided with a barrage of digital ads from Mr. Trump’s campaign mocking Mr. Biden for verbal miscues and implying that he is in mental decline.

That was all on Thursday.

Far from a one-day onslaught, it was a climactic moment in a weeklong lurch by Mr. Tru​mp back to ​​the darkest tactics that defined his rise to political power​. Even those who have grown used to Mr. Trump’s conduct in office may have found themselves newly alarmed by the grim spectacle of a sitting president deliberately stoking the country’s divisions and pursuing personal vendettas in the midst of a crisis that has Americans fearing for their lives and livelihoods.

A bit more:

Since well before he became president, Mr. Trump’s appetite for conflict has defined him as a public figure. But in recent days he has practiced that approach with new intensity, signaling both the depths of his election-year distress and his determination to blast open a path to a second term, even at the cost of further riling a country in deep anguish.

Rene Magritte, Cat in a Hat

His electoral path has narrowed rapidly since the onset of the pandemic, as the growth-and-prosperity theme of his campaign disintegrated. In private, Mr. Trump has been plainly aggrieved at the loss of his central argument for re-election. “They wiped out my economy!” he has said to aides, according to people briefed on the remarks.

It is unclear whether he has been referring to China, where the virus originated, or health experts who have urged widespread lockdowns, but his frustration and determination to place blame elsewhere have been emphatic.

Ken Goldstein, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco, said that Mr. Trump and his campaign were going on the offensive in nasty ways in an attempt to shift the attention of the public away from him and onto other targets, and ultimately onto Mr. Biden.

“If this election is about Trump, he probably loses,” Mr. Goldstein said. “Trump’s only hope is to make the election about Biden.”

Jack Shafer argues at Politico that we should ignore the idiot “president”: How Not to Listen to Donald Trump.

It turns out President Donald Trump’s status as the most accessible person to ever hold the office is more a curse than a blessing. Day after day, he fills the air with the ack-ack of disinformation and misdirection, needlessly alarming the public and sending reporters on wild goose chases to either confirm or disprove his allegations. On Thursday, in an interview with Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo, Trump repeated his newest figment that Joe Biden and Barack Obama are guilty of some unnamed crimes for which they are deserving of “50-year sentences.”

Strong meat! The heinous crimes—to which he has applied the “Obamagate” moniker and calls “the biggest political crime and scandal in the history of the USA, by FAR”—is a relatively new creation of the Trump Disinformation Laboratory. He only started talking about it on May 10 and has yet to specify exactly what Obamagate is aside from telling reporters in a press conference that it’s “obvious” and that he wants Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to investigate it.

By Daniel Merriam

Despite a lack of interest from his minions in Congress (Graham has said he has no plans to grill Obama), Trump’s foggy demagoguery has mobilized the entire press corps to determine what the hell Trump is talking about. Explainers from Reuters, the Washington Post, the Guardian, CNN, and elsewhere struggle to decipher Trump’s vague but strident accusations with little success. We can say this much with certainty. It appears linked to the counterintelligence operation against Gen. Michael Flynn in late 2016, and the requests from Obama administration officials that his identity be “unmasked” from intelligence reports so they could understand who, exactly, was talking to the Russian ambassador. Flynn lied to the FBI about speaking to the ambassador about sanctions and later pled guilty to lying to the FBI about those conversations. (Unmasking, by the way, is a routine, not nefarious thing, which the Trump administration has requested thousands of times.) But until Trump uses his words to make his charges about Obama more specific, we can only guess at what the actual crime might be.

Why must we fetch every bone that Trump hurls into the high, prickly brush? Well, he’s the president, and he wouldn’t make such an extreme charge if it weren’t true, would he? But he does, and he does all the time. This tidy list from Business Insider demonstrates his historic capacity for making baseless but grotesque claims of criminality and deception: implicating Ted Cruz’s father in the Kennedy assassination; claiming that Obama wasn’t born in the United States; surmising that Justice Antonin Scalia did not die of natural causes; accusing Joe Scarborough of complicity in the death of an intern; asserting massive voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election; saying windmills cause cancer; connecting the Clintons to Jeffrey Epstein’s death; and the Bidens-in-Ukraine baloney.

I’m not sure ignoring Trump’s insanity will work as long as he has rabid support from around 40 percent of the electorate (who knew there were so many idiots in the U.S.?). I tend to agree with The Atlantic’s point of view–we need to become more aware of the programming these Americans are receiving from Trump and his friends in the media and on-line forums.

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


Thursday Reads: Horror Show on the Hill

Good Morning!!

Today beginning at 10AM, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a brief hearing in which one of the women who has accused SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford, will tell her story and Kavanaugh will respond by lying and obfuscating.

I can’t imagine anything useful could come out of the hearing, since each questioner will have only 5 minutes to address complex issues. At best, the spectacle of 11 white men hiding behind a woman prosecutor might lead to more public outrage against the GOP and their deeply flawed nominee. It’s not clear what how Democrats will handle the questioning; they’ve kept their plans close to the vest.

I wanted to get this post up early so we can follow the hearing and aftermath together. I hope people will join in. Here are some reads to check out today.

The Daily Beast: ‘Disaster’: Trumpworld Starting to Sweat Over Brett Kavanaugh’s Mounting Sexual Assault Allegations. Excerpt:

Going into this past weekend, the Trump White House was sounding self-assured about Kavanaugh’s prospects, with senior aides saying they felt he could weather the allegations and horrifically bad press. Since then, two other female accusers have come forward, and the swagger from Team Trump has been replaced with, at best, a shaken confidence.

Officials inside the White House, as well as outside advisers, told the The Daily Beast that mood has become less bullish. Senior aides fear delivering Trump a major failure and humiliation that he can—and likely will—pin on those around him and squeamish Republican lawmakers. There is palpable fear that the party’s base will turn on Republicans should the Kavanaugh nomination fail.

Top donors, meanwhile, have said that they will continue writing checks out of a growing fear that the party could lose the Senate in addition to the House this coming fall. But one major contributor warned that lawmakers had to show them that they had put up a sufficient fight to get Kavanaugh on to the Court or else the checks wouldn’t come….

At this point, Trump’s team and Kavanaugh’s camp are publicly maintaining calm and privately encouraging allies to do the same. On a Monday conference call with White House surrogates, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump, had insisted that the “president and this White House continue to stand strongly behind Judge Kavanaugh,” according to a person on the line. By Wednesday, a senior West Wing official said that the president’s posture remained unchanged.

But aides also acknowledge that Kavanaugh’s prospects were growing more endangered. “Thursday could be a disaster or it could be…a victory, we don’t know,” one aide said, referencing the planned testimony Kavanaugh and his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford plan to give to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Yesterday during his deranged press conference, Trump seemed to suggest that he could decide to dump Kavanaugh. But he was all over the map in his embarrassing, manic performance. Todd Purdum summarizes Trump’s 81-minute rant at The Atlantic: President Trump’s Surreal News Conference Didn’t Do Kavanaugh Any Favors.

In more than 80 surreal minutes of what seemed less like a news conference than a public free-association session on a therapist’s couch, the president of the United States dismissed accusations of sexual misconduct against Judge Brett Kavanaugh as “all false to me,” then insisted he wanted to hear Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony because “I can be convinced of anything. Maybe she will say something.”

He portrayed Kavanaugh’s Democratic Senate opponents as the organizers of a “big, fat con job,” then acknowledged without missing a beat that he would withdraw Kavanaugh’s nomination “if I thought he was guilty of something like this, sure.” He praised Kavanaugh as “one of the highest-quality people that I have ever met,” then suggested that the judge’s life was not so spotless, allowing that even George Washington may have had “a couple of things in his past.” [….]

Who can say whether Trump’s apparently unbridled, even unhinged, display of id amounted to just that? Or to a free-form, last-ditch effort to defend the nomination on the eve of crucial testimony from Ford and Kavanaugh before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday? Or to a calculated trial balloon for withdrawing it (“I could pick a woman, and she could have charges made from many years ago also,” he said at one point)? Or to some combination of all of the above? The assessment of Nicolle Wallace, the former George W. Bush and John McCain aide, was succinct, and indisputable.

“I suspect,” she tweeted, “that the 25th Amendment might be discussed more widely if there were daily press conferences.”

Yesterday, Morning Consult released a news poll on the Kavanaugh nomination: Republican Women Lose Faith in Kavanaugh — and Trump — After Week of Accusations.

Public support for Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat has dropped to its lowest point since President Donald Trump nominated him in July, driven in large part by a sector of the president’s base: Republican women.

new Morning Consult/Politico poll, conducted Sept. 20-23, found support for Kavanaugh’s confirmation is underwater among registered voters for the first time since his nomination, with 37 percent opposing the Senate confirming him and 34 percent supporting it.

The new finding marks a 5-percentage-point drop in net support since a poll conducted last week, after Christine Blasey Ford detailed her allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while the two were in high school, a charge he has repeatedly denied.

Read more at the link above.

Important reads from women writers:

Lili Loofbourow at Slate: Brett Kavanaugh and the Cruelty of Male Bonding.

For what it’s worth, and absent evidence or allegations to the contrary, I believe Brett Kavanaugh’s claim that he was a virgin through his teens. I believe it in part because it squares with some of the oddities I’ve had a hard time understanding about his alleged behavior: namely, that both allegations are strikingly different from other high-profile stories the past year, most of which feature a man and a woman alone. And yet both the Kavanaugh accusations share certain features: There is no penetrative sex, there are always male onlookers, and, most importantly, there’s laughter. In each case the other men—not the woman—seem to be Kavanaugh’s true intended audience. In each story, the cruel and bizarre act the woman describes—restraining Christine Blasey Ford and attempting to remove her clothes in her allegation, and in Deborah Ramirez’s, putting his penis in front of her face—seems to have been done in the clumsy and even manic pursuit of male approval. Even Kavanaugh’s now-notorious yearbook page, with its references to the “100 kegs or bust” and the like, seems less like an honest reflection of a fun guy than a representation of a try-hard willing to say or do anything as long as his bros think he’s cool. In other words: The awful things Kavanaugh allegedly did only imperfectly correlate to the familiar frame of sexual desire run amok; they appear to more easily fit into a different category—a toxic homosociality—that involves males wooing other males over the comedy of being cruel to women.

In both these accounts, Kavanaugh is laughing as he does something to a woman that disturbs or traumatizes her. Ford wrote in her letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, “Kavanaugh was on top of me while laughing with [Mark] Judge, who periodically jumped onto Kavanaugh. They both laughed as Kavanaugh tried to disrobe me in their highly inebriated state. With Kavanaugh’s hand over my mouth, I feared he may inadvertently kill me.”

“Brett was laughing,” Ramirez says in her account to the New Yorker. “I can still see his face, and his hips coming forward, like when you pull up your pants.” She recalled another male student shouting about the incident. “Somebody yelled down the hall, ‘Brett Kavanaugh just put his penis in Debbie’s face,’ ” she said.

If these allegations are true, one of the more shocking things about them is the extent to which the woman being mistreated exists in a room where the men are performing for each other—using the woman to firm up their own bond.

Please read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

Alexandra Lescaze, also at Slate: We Didn’t Call It Rape. Lescase writes that the allegations against Kavanaugh are very familiar to her as a graduate of a DC-area private school.

I wish I were surprised. A week ago Sunday when Ford first shed her anonymity, detailing her sexual assault allegation against Kavanaugh to the Washington Post, I wrote a note in the Facebook alumni group of my high school, National Cathedral School. I told my 1988 classmates that Ford’s story was bringing back disturbing high school memories. Apparently, I was not alone. A lot of women now in their 40s and 50s, who went to these single-sex D.C. prep schools in the 1980s, have been reaching out to each other in fraught emails and chats over the past week. Not only did the Holton-Arms alumnae start a petition in support of Ford, their fellow alum; there’s also one for anyone to sign who survived that toxic time and place.

I don’t personally know Ford now, and I didn’t know her in high school. But as the Holton women wrote, what Ford is alleging is “all too consistent with what we heard and lived while attending Holton. Many of us are survivors ourselves.” And what Elizabeth Rasor alleges Mark Judge told her is not foreign to me, either. Whether and how the nation comes to hear more about these specific stories, they have evoked a collective scream.

A large part of my high school experience were the parties at cavernous houses with multiple bedrooms, huge dark basements with enormous sofas and yards, and lots and lots of beer. No parents—thinking back on it now, as a parent myself—were ever around. We traveled in groups and knew never to leave a friend alone at a party, but there was so much drinking that we sometimes lost track of each other. It could be difficult to know where your friends were and—if they were in a room with a boy—what was going on in there.

Every June, we had Beach Week—a tradition also described in a Washington Post piece about Ford—in which teenagers actually rent houses to party at the beach, something I still don’t quite comprehend. I distinctly remember being at a Beach Week party with my then-boyfriend when it dawned on us that there was a drunk girl in a room down the hall, and boys were “lining up” to go in there and, presumably, have their way with her. We didn’t know for sure, but my boyfriend and my friend’s boyfriend went to interrupt it and sent her on her way down the stairs. All I remember about her is that she was in the class above us and had dark hair. My friend has told me she remembers boys saying, “I’m next,” which was why our boyfriends went to stop it.

More to check out, links only:

Emily Jane Fox at The Atlantic: “I Was Ashamed”: After Ford’s Accusation, Holton-Arms Alumnae Wrestle With Their Own Truths—Together.

Jessica Valenti: How Very Bad Men Get Away With Rape. “It takes one person to commit a rape, but a village to let them get away with it over and over.”

Kate Manne at The New York Times: Brett Kavanaugh and America’s ‘Himpathy’ Reckoning.

Amanda Marcotte: GOP will still confirm Brett Kavanaugh — because of allegations, not in spite of them.

If you watch the hearing, I hope you’ll share your reactions in the comment thread below.


Thursday Reads: Stupidity, Insane Conspiracy Theories . . . And Baby Animals

Baby penguins

Good Afternoon!!

It’s hard to believe things could get any crazier, but I think maybe Trump is going to find ways to make it happen. It’s so exhausting, that I spent some time this morning looking at photos of baby animals. As always, it calmed me down somewhat. I hope these pictures will do the same for you.

The big news last night was the latest Devin Nunes insanity, but this morning that has been eclipsed by threats exchanged between Pence and North Korea. So for now, the planned summit between Trump and Kim John Un is cancelled. Politico reports:

President Donald Trump on Thursday canceled his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that was scheduled for next month, saying Kim’s “tremendous anger and open hostility” made the historic meeting untenable.

“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote to Kim in a letter released by the White House.

Baby Camel

In the letter, the U.S. leader thanked Kim for the “wonderful dialogue” that had developed in recent weeks between the two nations while leaving the door open to a rescheduled summit in the future.

“If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write,” the president said. “The world, and North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth.”

I still do a double take every time I see the words “President Donald Trump.” This can’t be happening, but it is. You can read the letter at the Politico link.

North Korea had threatened to cancel the meeting because of remarks made by Mike Pence on Fox News. CNN:

US Vice President Mike Pence warned North Korea that it could end up like Libya if it fails to make a nuclear deal with Washington.

“There was some talk about the Libyan model last week, and you know, as the President made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal,” Pence said Monday.

Baby DonkeyWhen it was noted that the comparison could be interpreted as a threat, Pence told Fox News: “Well, I think it’s more of a fact.”

Previous comments, by President Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton, that the administration was looking at Libya as a potential example for North Korea to follow, provoked alarm in Pyongyang.

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi agreed to abandon his nuclear ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief in the early 2000s. Within years, Gadhafi was overthrown and killed by rebels backed by Washington.

A North Korean official responded by calling Pence “stupid” and a “political dummy.”

A North Korean official has lashed out at US Vice President Mike Pence and said Pyongyang is ready for a nuclear showdown if dialogue with the United States fails.

Choe Son Hui, a vice-minister in the North Korean Foreign Ministry, said if the US continued on its current path, she would suggest to North Korea‘s leadership that they reconsider the planned summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Baby Skunk

“Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States,” Choe said in comments carried by North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency Thursday.Choe was responding to comments by Pence made Monday during a Fox News interview that she deemed “unbridled and impudent.

So, as Trump says repeatedly, “we’ll see what happens.”

Some Twitter reactions:

The art of deal folks! Trump just gave a little speech about the cancellation with Pence looking on adoringly.

So we’re still not sure what’s going on with Devin Nunes’ phony meeting to supposedly get classified information about an FBI informant who was asked to look into concerning contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign. First it was going to be a meeting with just Intel officials, Nunes, and Trey Gowdy, no Democrats allowed. Then after Democrats and some Republicans objected, the White House agreed to have two meetings–the Nunes/Gowdy meeting followed by a briefing the Gang of Eight. Now apparently Adam Schiff will be included in the first meeting.

MSNBC is reporting that Schiff was seen going into the DOJ for the 12PM meeting. Vox is reporting that Paul Ryan will also be in the noon meeting, but I haven’t seen reports of him entering the DOJ.

We don’t yet know if John Kelly was included in the meeting, which would be completely inappropriate. Still Kelly doesn’t need to be there, because Nunes will report everything to Trump anyway. I haven’t heard anything about who will be in 2PM meeting yet. Paul Ryan has said he won’t be there.

Baby Flamingo

If you didn’t see Rachel Maddow’s show on Tuesday, I’m sure you’ve heard about her interview with James Clapper, in which the former Intel chief said that Russian interference in the 2016 election clearly swung the result to Trump. PBS News Hour also interview Clapper: Here’s their report: Russia ‘turned’ election for Trump, Clapper believes.

Russians not only affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election — they decided it, says James Clapper, who served as the director of national intelligence in the Obama administration, and during the 2016 vote.

“To me, it just exceeds logic and credulity that they didn’t affect the election, and it’s my belief they actually turned it,” he told the PBS NewsHour anchor Judy Woodruff on Wednesday.

Clapper, who chronicles his life and career in his new book, “Facts and Fears: Hard Truths From a Life in Intelligence,” said Russians are “are bent on undermining our fundamental system here. And when a foreign nation, particularly an adversary nation, gets involved as much as they did in our political process, that’s a real danger to this country.”

Clapper also responded to Trump’s idiotic conspiracy theory about “spies” in his campaign.

Clapper called those accusations “distorted.” He said there is a “a big gulf between a spy in the traditional sense — employing spycraft or tradecraft — and an informant who is open about … who he was and what the questions he was asking.”

Baby Porcupine

“The important thing was not to spy on the campaign but rather to determine what the Russians were up to. Were they trying to penetrate to campaign, gain access, gain leverage, gain influence, and that was the concern that the FBI had? … I think they were just doing their job and trying to protect our political system.”

Even Carter Page says he didn’t have any problems with the FBI source who spoke with him. CNN: Carter Page: I ‘never found anything unusual’ in conversations with FBI source.

Former Trump campaign aide Carter Page on Tuesday discussed his encounters with an FBI confidential source during the 2016 campaign, saying he “never found anything unusual.”

Page said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” that he first met the individual while attending an academic conference at Cambridge University in July 2016, a week after his visit to Russia.

“I never found anything unusual, whatsoever,” Page told Cooper about their conversations. Page said he and the source stayed in contact for more than a year, including meeting up back in the United States.

Baby Llama

“We would talk about various things that are happening. And, you know, he’s someone who is, you know, long term, someone who had been in, part of the establishment in Republican politics. So typically around the convention time and halfway through a presidential year you keep bringing on more people in terms of potential supporters from the party, etc., and it just seemed like something like that,” he said.

In other news, the NFL released a new rule to prevent players from exercising their their free speech rights. The Daily Beast: The NFL’s New Anthem Policy Is Madness—But the Players Can Stop It.

In its own, typically blinkered and inimitable fashion, the NFL decided to dig in its heels on Wednesday, wrapping itself in the flag, and requiring players who are on the field to stand during the national anthem or face a series of penalties.

It’s a course of action that will fail, and spectacularly so. Ever since Colin Kaepernick—who has since been banished and is currently suing the NFL for collusion—began taking a knee, the league has wrung its hands, hemming and hawing as they tried to devise a means to stanch the tide of largely bad-faith criticism. In the end, they chose to silence its labor force….

Here’s the NFL’s newest solution to the grave and pressing matter of NFL players speaking out against systemic racism and the state-sanctioned violence perpetrated by law enforcement: Previously, all personnel were required to be on the field while someone belted out “The Star-Spangled Banner,” with no further specifications regarding their behavior. That is, if someone wanted to take a knee, the NFL couldn’t do squat.

Baby Gray Parrots

Now the game operations manual has been adjusted, after two days of meetings between NFL owners and the league in Atlanta. Anyone who prefers not to place a hand on his heart during the anthem can remain in the locker room, but if they step on the field, they are required to “stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.”

Read the rest at the link.

Trump was thrilled with the NFL’s stupid decision, and yesterday he suggested that any players who didn’t want to stand and salute the flag should be kicked out of the country. The Washington Post: Trump: NFL players unwilling to stand for anthem maybe ‘shouldn’t be in the country’

NFL players unwilling to stand for the national anthem should be barred from playing and maybe “shouldn’t be in the country,” President Trump said in a television interview that aired Thursday.

The president was reacting to the adoption Wednesday of a new NFL policy that could bring disciplinary action for players who kneel or make other protests during the national anthem.

Trump said he objected to a provision in the new policy that will allow players to stay in the locker room while the song is played, but added: “Still, I think it’s good.”

“You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there, maybe they shouldn’t be in the country,” Trump said in an interview that aired Thursday morning on “Fox & Friends” on Fox News.

I can’t wait until this fascist numbskull is impeached, forced to resign, or preferably sent to prison.

What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads: Yeah, But Her Emails . . .

Good Afternoon!!

I’m having another one of those days when having a corrupt, moronic, megalomaniacal monster as “president” is just too much to bear. Why is the universe torturing us like this? Is there any hope for the future?

One positive sign is that people of conscience in the government continue to leak information that Trump would prefer to hush up. Vanity Fair summarizes reporting from The NYT and The Guardian: Damning Federal Climate Report Leaked Before Trump Can Suppress It.

According to a government report that was leaked to The New York Times, average temperature in the U.S. have risen rapidly since 1980, and recent decades have been the hottest in the past 1,500 years. “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” reads the congressionally mandated report, which was drafted by scientists spanning 13 federal agencies. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the paper, and it is now awaiting approval from the Trump administration.

According to the Times, scientists fear that the Trump administration could either alter or suppress the findings, and for good reason. The notion of the president’s team signing off on such a report seems about as plausible as the president having read the pope’s manifesto. Its assertion that “many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change” jar inconveniently with Trump’s instinctive assumption that global warming is actually a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.

And The Guardian obtained some internal administration emails that demonstrate Trump’s efforts to censor scientific research and results

It must be irritating for the White House, then, that just as the Times broke their story, the Guardian obtained a series of e-mails that implicate his administration in a bout of hoax-perpetuation, too. Staff at the Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) have been told to get inventive with their use of language, and are being advised to replace the term climate change with the phrase “resilience to weather extremes,” according to the outlet. Bianca Moebis-Clune, director of soil health at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (N.R.C.S.), a U.S.D.A. unit that oversees farmers’ land conservation, helpfully circulated a concise encyclopedia of other, non-synonymous terms. For example, “reduce greenhouse gas” could, and should, be replaced by “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency.” “Sequester carbon” is no longer wholly appropriate, so staff should now refer to “build soil organic matter.”

“We won’t change the modeling, just how we talk about it—there are a lot of benefits to putting carbon back in the sail [sic], climate mitigation is just one of them,” she wrote in an e-mail to staff on February 16, referencing advice from a colleague from the U.S.D.A.’s public affairs team to “tamp down on discretionary messaging right now.” Still, her note was not all negative. References to economic growth, emerging business opportunities in the rural U.S. and “improved aesthetics” should be “tolerated if not appreciated by all.” In another e-mail to senior employees on January 24, just days after Trump was inaugurated, Jimmy Bramblett, deputy chief for programs at the N.R.C.S., said, “It has become clear one of the previous administration’s priority is not consistent with that of the incoming administration. Namely, that priority is climate change. Please visit with your staff and make them aware of this shift of perspective within the executive branch.” He added that “prudence” should be used when referring to greenhouse gases, and that existing work on air quality regarding these gases could be stopped.

More from The Washington Post: White House reviewing new report that finds strong link between climate change, human activity.

The draft report, which has undergone extensive review, estimates that human impact was responsible for an increase in global temperatures of 1.1 to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1951 to 2010.

“Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate changes,” the report notes. “There are no alternative explanations, and no natural cycles are found in the observational record that can explain the observed changes in climate.”

That counters what Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry have said.

It remains unclear how the White House — which announced in June that it would pull out of the Paris climate accord — will handle the report. Many scientists are looking at it as a test case of the administration’s attitude toward science in general.

“The current situation will provide an acid test of whether the Trump administration is open to hearing the scientific truth about climate change or is so much in the thrall of fossil fuel interests that they are fixated on hiding the reality from the public,” Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, said Monday night.

The Climate Science Special Report is a key element of the National Climate Assessment, which, according to the 1990 Global Change Research Act, is supposed to be issued every four years. However, the assessment has come out only three times. The 2000 assessment, finalized under President Bill Clinton, came under attack once George W. Bush took office. Bush administrationofficials declined to cite it in subsequent federal reports, arguing that aspects of the data analysis were flawed.

According to the WaPo, the White House has had a copy of the report for “several weeks.”

Kurt Andersen has a new book coming out on September 5 called Fantasyland: How American Went Haywire; and The Atlantic has published an excerpt from it as its September cover story: How America Lost Its Mind. It’s a long article, and I haven’t finished it yet. Here are the first several paragraphs:

When did america become untethered from reality?

I first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books—they’re all fact, no heart … Face it, folks, we are a divided nation … divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart … Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.”

Whoa, yes, I thought: exactly. America had changed since I was young, when truthiness and reality-based community wouldn’t have made any sense as jokes. For all the fun, and all the many salutary effects of the 1960s—the main decade of my childhood—I saw that those years had also been the big-bang moment for truthiness. And if the ’60s amounted to a national nervous breakdown, we are probably mistaken to consider ourselves over it.

Each of us is on a spectrum somewhere between the poles of rational and irrational. We all have hunches we can’t prove and superstitions that make no sense. Some of my best friends are very religious, and others believe in dubious conspiracy theories. What’s problematic is going overboard—letting the subjective entirely override the objective; thinking and acting as if opinions and feelings are just as true as facts. The American experiment, the original embodiment of the great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, whereby every individual is welcome to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control. From the start, our ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams, sometimes epic fantasies—every American one of God’s chosen people building a custom-made utopia, all of us free to reinvent ourselves by imagination and will. In America nowadays, those more exciting parts of the Enlightenment idea have swamped the sober, rational, empirical parts. Little by little for centuries, then more and more and faster and faster during the past half century, we Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation—small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us. And most of us haven’t realized how far-reaching our strange new normal has become.

Continue reading at The Atlantic link.

One more hopeful bit of news is that Trump’s base is shrinking. Yesterday Trump tweeted the “fake news” that he wants people to believe. The Washington Post: No, Donald Trump’s base is not ‘far bigger and stronger than ever before.’

President Trump is clearly rankled by the notion that his political support is slipping, pushing back against the idea during a barrage of tweets Monday from his Bedminster, N.J., golf club, where aides said he is having a “working vacation.” [….]

In fact, as his overall approval rate has sunk, some of the president’s core supporters have soured on his performance, polls show. A Quinnipiac University poll last week found 23 percent of registered voters “strongly approve” of Trump’s handling of his job, down from 29 percent who felt that way during his first week in office. Even white voters with no college degree — one of the demographics that backed his candidacy most enthusiastically — disapprove of how Trump is handling his job by 50 percent to 43 percent.

His support among Republicans is still around 75%, but the trend is downward. You can read the Trump tweets at the WaPo link, if you wish.

I know there’s much more happening, but I’m burned out at the moment. I’m hoping the return of Rachel Maddow tonight will give me something to hang onto.

What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Children of the Corn and Some Serious Journalism

CrZU0GXW8AAIZJX

Good Morning!!

I spent most of yesterday in a state of extreme anger. As I’ve been writing for a long time now, I’m fed up with the media attacking Hillary and ignoring real questions about Donald Trump’s dishonesty and corruption. I’m hoping when I drive back to Massachusetts next week, I’ll find some peace and quiet all alone in my car. It usually works that way.

Late last night, lots of people on Twitter were having fun photoshopping a new Trump ad that showed three of his children (Where is Tiffany?). For the first time all day I was able to laugh. I’m going to use the best ones to illustrate this post. Here’s the original tweet from Donald Trump Jr. that started it all.

The corporate media spent the last day before Labor Day reveling in the release of the FBI’s notes from their interview with Hillary Clinton. Sadly for the New York Times and the rest of the national media circus, there was once again nothing to support their ravening desire to prove Hillary is a corrupt liar. Too bad, so sad. Oh, they tried their best to make her look bad, but with very little success.

It’s been a very bad couple of weeks for the corporate media. Now that we have twitter and blogs, they can’t escape criticism when they screw up, and they’ve screwed up royally. It must be very difficult for these “journalists” who like to think of themselves as so much smarter and more savvy than the rest of us to see their flawed stories and their own pompous attitudes mocked on Twitter. But why is it so hard for them to just admit when they’re wrong?

Crb3-dmWEAAk9-h

John Stoer at The Washington Monthly tries to understand Why Political Journalists Can’t Take Criticism. Stoer begins by discussing the AP’s claim last week that half of the people who met with Clinton as Secretary of State were Clinton Foundation Donors. It was simply ridiculous, but the AP still refuses to correct their false tweets about the horrible article. Then he offers a more recent example:

On NPR this morning, “Morning Edition” host Steve Inskeep asked Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake if he shares Clinton’s view on immigration. According to Trump, Inskeep said, his opponent favors “open borders” and “amnesty.”

This is an example of a statement that’s technically accurate, but entirely misleading. And dangerous. Yes, Trump has said, time and again, that Clinton wants “open borders” and “amnesty.” It’s also true that this claim exists only the realm of fantasy. Indeed, in an interview — just yesterday — NPR’s Mara Liasson told Inskeep those claims were false.

Journalists, I believe, are beholden to the truth. If they are unwilling to pay deference to the authority of the truth, even when that deference conflicts with the profession’s other guiding principles, there isn’t much point in being a journalist….

I got in touch with Inskeep on Twitter this morning to make him aware of his mistake. (I do not subscribe to the childish claim, as Glenn Greenwald does, that the American media is in the tank for one or the other candidate). It was an honest mistake. So I asked: Will you be offering a clarification?

I didn’t expect Inskeep to reply. When he did, it was not a good faith exchange between journalists about the concrete facts of the matter. He offered instead a series of bewildering deflections, obfuscations, and, to be frank, playing dumb.

Go over to The Washington Monthly to read the exchange.

CrZS5KJUAAABbqJ

Of course there are some journalists who are doing important investigative work. One is David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post who has spent the past year trying to find evidence of Trump’s charitable giving. He wrote the story that Dakinikat referenced yesterday about Trump’s illegal gift (essentially a bribe) to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi while she was considering joining a lawsuit against Trump University.

Trump pays IRS a penalty for his foundation violating rules with gift to aid Florida attorney general.

Donald Trump paid the IRS a $2,500 penalty this year, an official at Trump’s company said, after it was revealed that Trump’s charitable foundation had violated tax laws by giving a political contribution to a campaign group connected to Florida’s attorney general.

The improper donation, a $25,000 gift from the Donald J. Trump Foundation, was made in 2013. At the time, Attorney General Pam Bondi was considering whether to investigate fraud allegations against Trump University. She decided not to pursue the case.

Earlier this year, The Washington Post and a liberal watchdog group raised new questions about the three-year-old gift. The watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, filed a complaint with the IRS — noting that, as a registered nonprofit, the Trump Foundation was not allowed to make political donations.

The Post reported another error, which had the effect of obscuring the political gift from the IRS.

In that year’s tax filings, The Post reported, the Trump Foundation did not notify the IRS of this political donation. Instead, Trump’s foundation listed a donation — also for $25,000 — to a Kansas charity with a name similar to that of Bondi’s political group. In fact, Trump’s foundation had not given the Kansas group any money.

The prohibited gift was, in effect, replaced with an innocent-sounding but nonexistent donation.

Trump’s business said it was unaware of any of these mistakes until March, when it heard from the watchdog group and The Post.

Anyone who believes that this wasn’t a bribe that was deliberately hidden from the IRS is a hopeless fool. Twitter has been filled with comments on this story and questions about why no one else in the media is covering it, but I’ve seen no serious responses from corporate media reporters.

CrZR9jiWcAAzmyQ

Another investigative reporters who has been doing important work is Gabriel Sherman of New York Magazine. Sherman is the author of a book on Roger Ailes, and he has spent month investigating the story of Ailes’ sexual abuse of women at Fox News. Sherman’s stories ultimately led to Ailes leaving the right wing network and going to work for Donald Trump. Here’s the latest blockbuster story from Sherman: The Revenge of Roger’s Angels. How Fox News women took down the most powerful, and predatory, man in media.

It took 15 days to end the mighty 20-year reign of Roger Ailes at Fox News, one of the most storied runs in media and political history. Ailes built not just a conservative cable news channel but something like a fourth branch of government; a propaganda arm for the GOP; an organization that determined Republican presidential candidates, sold wars, and decided the issues of the day for 2 million viewers. That the place turned out to be rife with grotesque abuses of power has left even its liberal critics stunned. More than two dozen women have come forward to accuse Ailes of sexual harassment, and what they have exposed is both a culture of misogyny and one of corruption and surveillance, smear campaigns and hush money, with implications reaching far wider than one disturbed man at the top.

It began, of course, with a lawsuit. Of all the people who might have brought down Ailes, the former Fox & Friends anchor Gretchen Carlson was among the least likely. A 50-year-old former Miss America, she was the archetypal Fox anchor: blonde, right-wing, proudly anti-intellectual. A memorable Daily Show clip showed Carlson saying she needed to Google the words czar and ignoramus. But television is a deceptive medium. Off-camera, Carlson is a Stanford- and Oxford-educated feminist who chafed at the culture of Fox News. When Ailes made harassing comments to her about her legs and suggested she wear tight-fitting outfits after she joined the network in 2005, she tried to ignore him. But eventually he pushed her too far. When Carlson complained to her supervisor in 2009 about her co-host Steve Doocy, who she said condescended to her on and off the air, Ailes responded that she was “a man hater” and a “killer” who “needed to get along with the boys.” After this conversation, Carlson says, her role on the show diminished. In September 2013, Ailes demoted her from the morning show Fox & Friends to the lower-rated 2 p.m. time slot.

Carlson knew her situation was far from unique: It was common knowledge at Fox that Ailes frequently made inappropriate comments to women in private meetings and asked them to twirl around so he could examine their figures; and there were persistent rumors that Ailes propositioned female employees for sexual favors. The culture of fear at Fox was such that no one would dare come forward. Ailes was notoriously paranoid and secretive — he built a multiroom security bunker under his home and kept a gun in his Fox office, according to Vanity Fair — and he demanded absolute loyalty from those who worked for him. He was known for monitoring employee emails and phone conversations and hiring private investigators. “Watch out for the enemy within,” he told Fox’s staff during one companywide meeting.

Taking on Ailes was dangerous, but Carlson was determined to fight back. She settled on a simple strategy: She would turn the tables on his surveillance. Beginning in 2014, according to a person familiar with the lawsuit, Carlson brought her iPhone to meetings in Ailes’s office and secretly recorded him saying the kinds of things he’d been saying to her all along. “I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago, and then you’d be good and better and I’d be good and better. Sometimes problems are easier to solve” that way, he said in one conversation. “I’m sure you can do sweet nothings when you want to,” he said another time.

It’s a long, fascinating story. Read all the gory details at the New York Magazine link.

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?