Thursday Reads: Trump Publicly Admits Guilt Once Again

Among Lupine, Jeffrey T. Larson

Good Morning!!

Trump just can’t stop confessing his guilt. Yesterday, Trump stripped away John Brennan’s security clearance, claiming it was because of Brennan’s “erratic behavior” and “wild outbursts on the internet and television.” Then he proceeded to tell the Wall Street Journal that he did it because of the Russia investigation.

President Trump drew a direct connection between the special counsel investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election and his decision to revoke the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan and review the clearances of several other former officials.

In an interview Wednesday, Mr. Trump cited Mr. Brennan as among those he held responsible for the investigation, which also is looking into whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Mr. Trump has denied collusion, and Russia has denied interfering.

Mr. Brennan was director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the Democratic administration of former President Obama and one of those who presented evidence to Mr. Trump shortly before his inauguration that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.

“I call it the rigged witch hunt, [it] is a sham,” Mr. Trump said in an interview. “And these people led it!”

He added: “So I think it’s something that had to be done.”

Trump has quite an enemies list now, and everyone on it is involved in some way with the investigation.

Reading Girl. Ármin Glatter (Hungarian, 1861-1916). Oil on canvas.

Earlier in the day, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the administration was also reviewing the clearances of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI Director James Comey, and former National Security Agency and CIA chief Michael Hayden.

“I don’t trust many of those people on that list,” Mr. Trump said in the interview. “I think that they’re very duplicitous. I think they’re not good people.”

Most of the individuals left government service months or years ago under varied circumstances, including being fired by the president and his aides. Some, including Mr. Comey, have said they no longer have or use their clearances.

Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: Trump blurts out another Lester Holt moment.

You could be forgiven for having flashbacks to Trump’s interview with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt in the aftermath of his firing last year of James B. Comey as FBI director. Then, as now, the White House offered a series of motivations for the crackdown on a person who was a liability in the Russia probe. Then, as now, it seemed clear what the actual motivation was. And then, as now, Trump appeared to go out and just admit the actual motivation….

In the case of the Holt interview, Trump never actually directly said that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation; instead, he merely said that Russia was on his mind when he did it. “And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story; it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,” Trump said back in May 2017.

In this case, Trump refers directly to the role of Brennan and others in leading the investigation, and then says, “So I think it’s something that had to be done” — suggesting that this was an action taken in direct response to their participation in the probe. He is saying he is punishing people who were involved in that, which at the very least would seem to create a chilling effect for other would-be critics.

John Brennan responded in an op-ed in today’s New York Times:

The artist’s wife reading – Fyffe Christie

Having worked closely with the F.B.I. over many years on counterintelligence investigations, I was well aware of Russia’s ability to work surreptitiously within the United States, cultivating relationships with individuals who wield actual or potential power. Like Mr. Bortnikov, these Russian operatives and agents are well trained in the art of deception. They troll political, business and cultural waters in search of gullible or unprincipled individuals who become pliant in the hands of their Russian puppet masters. Too often, those puppets are found.

In my many conversations with James Comey, the F.B.I. director, in the summer of 2016, we talked about the potential for American citizens, involved in partisan politics or not, to be pawns in Russian hands. We knew that Russian intelligence services would do all they could to achieve their objectives, which the United States intelligence community publicly assessed a few short months later were to undermine public faith in the American democratic process, harm the electability of the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, and show preference for Mr. Trump. We also publicly assessed that Mr. Putin’s intelligence services were following his orders. Director Comey and I, along with the director of the National Security Agency, Adm. Michael Rogers, pledged that our agencies would share, as appropriate, whatever information was collected, especially considering the proven ability of Russian intelligence services to suborn United States citizens.

The already challenging work of the American intelligence and law enforcement communities was made more difficult in late July 2016, however, when Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, publicly called upon Russia to find the missing emails of Mrs. Clinton. By issuing such a statement, Mr. Trump was not only encouraging a foreign nation to collect intelligence against a United States citizen, but also openly authorizing his followers to work with our primary global adversary against his political opponent.

Albert Gustaf Aristides Edelfelt (1854-1905)

Such a public clarion call certainly makes one wonder what Mr. Trump privately encouraged his advisers to do — and what they actually did — to win the election. While I had deep insight into Russian activities during the 2016 election, I now am aware — thanks to the reporting of an open and free press — of many more of the highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services.

Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash.

Today hundreds of newspapers published editorials condemning Trumps war on press freedom. CNN has publish a list of many of of these papers with links to their editorials. The list is broken down by state, so you can find your own newspaper. I’d love to read the one in my hometown newspaper The Boston Globe, but they only allow me to read two free articles per month and I can’t afford to subscribe. The free press isn’t accessible to all readers!

The jury in the Paul Manafort trial began deliberations this morning. CBS News reports:

After over an hour and a half of instructions from Judge T.S. Ellis, a jury, comprised of 6 men and 6 women, now begin deliberations on Thursday in the fraud trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. It’s unclear how long it will take for them to consider and vote on the 18 charges against Manafort. CBS News’ Paula Reid reports that at a minimum, it will take the jury a few hours just to sort through the procedural paperwork and weigh their vote.

The government has recommended to the court anywhere between 8 to 10 years in prison for falsifying tax returns, bank fraud conspiracy and failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial records. The maximum sentence for the 18 counts, however, is 305 years.

Emmanuel Garant

During Wednesday’s closing arguments, prosecutors told jurors Manafort lied to keep himself flush with cash for his luxurious lifestyle and lied some more to procure millions in bank loans when his income dropped off. In his defense, Manafort’s attorneys told jurors to question the entirety of the prosecution’s case as they sought to tarnish the credibility of Manafort’s longtime protege — and government witness — Rick Gates….

In the closing arguments, prosecutor Greg Andres said the government’s case boils down to “Mr. Manafort and his lies.”

“When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money, it is littered with lies,” Andres said as he made his final argument that the jury should find Manafort guilty of 18 felony counts.

Attorneys for Manafort, who is accused of tax evasion and bank fraud, spoke next, arguing against his guilt by saying he left the particulars of his finances to other people, including Gates.

Defense attorney Richard Westling noted that Manafort employed a team of accountants, bookkeepers and tax preparers, a fact he said showed his client wasn’t trying to hide anything. Westling also painted the prosecutions’ case as consisting of cherry-picked evidence that doesn’t show jurors the full picture.

The New York Times has a list of questions the jury will have to consider, including “Rick Gates’s credibility,” “the judge’s behavior,” “Manafort’s lifestyle.” Read all the details at the link.

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

Advertisements

Tuesday Reads: The Tabloid “President”

Henri Matisse, Sleeping cat

Good Afternoon!!

With each passing day, our country sinks deeper into the muck and mire of Trumpism. This evil man was foisted on us by a minority of voters and by a media that focused on preventing an experienced and accomplished woman from becoming president. The institutions we hoped would protect us are mostly failing to do so. It’s incredibly depressing, and I have to admit, I’m getting beaten down by it. It feels like Trump is winning and democracy is losing.

Trump’s corruption is spreading throughout the government. As of yesterday, he has managed to purge all of his political enemies from the FBI. Bradley P. Moss at Politico:

The announcement Monday morning that former FBI Special Agent Peter Strzok had been fired likely brings to a conclusion the personnel debate within the bureau regarding the behaviors of certain high-profile officials during the 2016 campaign cycle. Agent Strzok—a counterintelligence expert with particular expertise on Russia—played a significant role not only in parts of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email server but also—in his role as deputy assistant director of the Counterintelligence Division—in the initiation of the still-ongoing probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. He also committed the serious political sin of exchanging private text messages (at least some on a government phone) with Lisa Page, an FBI attorney with whom he was having an affair, in which the two officials expressed their severe distaste for President Trump personally (as well as other candidates). Like former Director James Comey and former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe before him, Agent Strzok was terminated in the midst of a highly politicized environment in which the president of the United States has repeatedly attacked FBI officials by name and denounced the probe of his campaign as a “witch hunt.”

Strzok’s firing is problematic, and I assume he will file a lawsuit over it.

Henri Matisse, Goldfish

Just like in any other FBI disciplinary proceeding, Strzok was initially afforded the right to appeal the proposed termination of his employment to Candace M. Will, the head of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility. I have appeared before Will several times on behalf of FBI clients and I can state from personal experience that she is well-credentialed and compassionate, but ultimately very strict. She is a firm believer in the notion that the FBI has to hold itself to the highest ethical and moral standards and that is often reflected in her determinations. In 11 years of practice, I cannot think of a single time I have ever managed to persuade Will to reverse a proposed termination of an FBI official’s employment.

Nonetheless, according to a statement from Strzok’s attorney, Will chose not to uphold the proposed termination of Strzok’s employment. Instead, she concluded that it was appropriate to instead demote Strzok and suspend him for 60 days. She apparently also concluded that Strzok would be afforded what is known as a “last chance agreement,” which is effectively a written understanding between the agency and the employee that even the slightest instance of misconduct going forward can and will likely result in immediate termination. That Will reached this conclusion is very surprising and, in my professional opinion, speaks to just how thin the case for firing Strzok likely was.

But Deputy FBI Director David Bodich chose to intervene and reverse Will’s decision.

That Deputy Director Bowdich chose to overrule Will is what takes this matter so far outside the ordinary practice of the FBI disciplinary process. I have never seen senior FBI leadership unilaterally and directly intervene in such a manner, whether in my client’s favor or otherwise. If Strzok had not been satisfied with Will’s determination, appealing to Deputy Director Bowdich would not even have been a formal option. His final stage of administrative appeal would have been before the Disciplinary Review Board, which is comprised of three senior FBI officials but to my knowledge does not typically (if ever) include the deputy director.

Obviously this was done to pacify Trump. He has successfully intervened in an investigation of his own corrupt behavior.

Henri Matisse, Bouquet con dalie e libro bianco, 1923

And Trump’s behavior is getting worse. This morning he called a black woman a “dog.” Here’s what he wrote on Twitter:

“When you give a crazed lying lowlife a job at the White House, I guess it just didn’t work out. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog!”

Kali Joy Gray at True Blue Media:

And why is the former reality TV star whom he has repeatedly praised now a “dog”? Because she has said that he is unhinged, which he clearly is and which no one needed her to tell us. We can see it for ourselves every day that Trump takes to his Twitter during his “executive time.”

And what particular detail has Trump and his White House so upset he is obsessing about his former aide for the second day in a row, instead of doing his job and talking about, say, the 1,427 Americans who died in Puerto Rico and whose deaths he is plainly ignoring?

The long-rumored existence of a tape in which Trump says the “N-word.” It’s a rumor that predates the latest Omarosa bombshell interviews, but apparently, it particularly bothers Trump that she is saying it too.

After all, as he admitted Monday, the whole reason he hired her in the first place and wanted to keep her around the White House is because she said “GREAT things” about him. And as the only black adviser in his painfully white (supremacist) inner circle, he especially appreciated having an African American around to praise him.

Trump destroys everyone who makes the mistake of getting involved with him. After working for Trump, John Kelly’s reputation is now permanently blackened.

The Washington Post: Corruption wafts into the Situation Room. Why on earth did Kelly use the White House situation room to fire Omarosa? And why was she permitted to take her personal cell phone with her?

In a familiar Washington syndrome that the Trump administration has taken to new heights, we are rushing past the obvious. There is no reason to believe that the Kelly-Manigault Newman discussion contained any classified information and therefore deserved the extreme security precautions taxpayers fund for the Situation Room.

Henri Matisse, Still life with apples on a pink tablecloth

There is no indication of classified matters on the illicitly recorded tape that Manigault Newman brazenly played Sunday on “Meet the Press” to publicize her new tell-some memoir, “Unhinged,” where she reportedly portrays the president as a narcissistic bigot and charlatan losing control of his mental faculties (thereby proving the adage that even blind squirrels can find acorns)….

Begin with the obvious fact that she pulled off the taping in the Situation Room when Kelly clearly expected the venue to prevent that result. His failure speaks volumes about the effectiveness of Trump’s chief of staff and of this White House.

Kelly came to the White House as a Marine commander deeply respected by his troops, whose lives frequently depend on the judgments they make about people. To hear Kelly (on a tape that the White House has confirmed is authentic) try to cajole and bully a woman into silence is heartbreaking for those of us who respect the Marine Corps — and its leaders. (Full disclosure: My father was a Marine in World War II.)

It is not classified information that is at risk in Kelly’s threats that Manigault Newman’s “reputation” may suffer if her departure from the White House isn’t “friendly.” There is no indication in anything Kelly said then or that the White House has said since that Manigault Newman had access to classified information, or that defense information would have been threatened in any way had this conversation been held elsewhere. Kelly used the Situation Room to isolate and intimidate a troublemaker and loudmouth whom Trump had created in his own image and then placed in the upper ranks of his White House staff.

There’s more well-deserved Kelly bashing at the link.

Henri Matisse, Still life with oranges

I can’t resist sharing a couple more Omarosa stories. I’m glad the media is publishing these excerpts so I don’t have to read her book.

The New York Daily News: President Trump called Donald Jr. ‘a f–kup’ after he released emails about controversial meet with Russian lawyer, book says.

President Trump blasted his firstborn son as a “f–kup” after learning he had released emails about a controversial Trump Tower meeting attended by a Kremlin-connected lawyer who had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, according to Omarosa Manigault Newman’s forthcoming book.

Manigault Newman, who was unceremoniously fired from the White House last December, says the President erupted in anger after she met with him in July 2017 and told him she was “sorry to hear” Donald Trump Jr. had posted screen grabs on Twitter of his email exchanges with British publicist Rob Goldstone.

“He is such a f–kup,” Trump said of his son, according to Manigault Newman’s tell-all book, a copy of which was obtained by the Daily News. “He screwed up again, but this time, he’s screwing us all, big-time!”

Newsweek: Melania Can’t Wait to Divorce Trump and Punishes Him with her Fashion Choices, Omarosa claims.

First lady Melania Trump is eager for her husband, President Donald Trump, to leave office so that she can divorce him, and until then, deliberately chooses to “punish” the president with certain fashion choices, according to former White House aide to the president Omarosa Manigault Newman.

Manigault Newman made the claim in her new book, Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House, a damning tome that accuses the president of using racial slurs and having impaired mental acuity, among other salacious claims.

Henri Matisse, Cat with red fish

“In my opinion, Melania is counting every minute until he is out of office and she can divorce him,” Manigault Newman wrote….

Manigault Newman also suggested that the first lady had weaponized her style choices. She pointed to the “Gucci ‘pussy bow’ pink blouse” the first lady wore to one of the presidential debates in 2016 after an infamous Access Hollywood tape came out in which the president bragged about sexually assaulting women. She also cited the “I Really Don’t Really Care. Do U?” jacket the first lady donned during her trip to a Texas border facility in June after the administration had faced blowback for its “zero-tolerance” immigration policy.

“Taken as a whole, all of her style rebellions have served the same purpose,” Manigault Newman wrote, “and not only misdirection and distraction—strategies her husband knows all too well. I believe Melania uses style to punish her husband.”

This is what we’ve come to. We have a tabloid “president” who is wallowing in crime and corruption without the slightest interest in living up to his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.”

What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Russia News

The Athenaeum – Thérèse Reading in the Park at Meric (Jean Frederic Bazille)

Good Afternoon!!

Remember Peter Smith, the guy who was trying to help the Trump campaign get Hillary Clinton’s emails? He ended up supposedly committing suicide in a Minnesota hotel room in July, 2017, shortly after he was interviewed by Shane Harris of The Wall Street Journal. After the story broke, Matt Tait published an article at Lawfare about his involvement in the story. Today Buzzfeed News reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier have a new story on Smith: GOP Operative Made “Suspicious” Cash Withdrawals During Pursuit Of Clinton Emails.

In one of the most intriguing episodes of the 2016 presidential campaign, Republican activist Peter W. Smith launched an independent effort to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails to help defeat her and elect Donald Trump. His quest, which reportedly brought him into contact with at least two sets of hackers that he himself believed were Russian, remains a key focus of investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

Now, BuzzFeed News has reviewed documents showing that FBI agents and congressional investigators have zeroed in on transactions Smith made right as his effort to procure Clinton’s emails heated up. Just a day after he finished a report suggesting he was working with Trump campaign officials, for example, he transferred $9,500 from an account he had set up to fund the email project to his personal account, later taking out more than $4,900 in cash. According to a person with direct knowledge of Smith’s project, the Republican operative stated that he was prepared to pay hackers “many thousands of dollars” for Clinton’s emails — and ultimately did so….

Maxwell Doig

The money trail, made public here for the first time, sheds new light on Smith’s effort, in which he told people he was in touch with both Russians on the dark web and Trump campaign officials — particularly Michael Flynn, who was then a top adviser to the Trump campaign and later served as national security adviser before having to resign after misleading White House officials about his meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Intelligence agencies have given the FBI information that Russian hackers talked about passing Clinton’s emails to Flynn through a cutout, according to two law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the matter. It is not known if that cutout was in any way connected to Smith.

Smith claimed that the Russians had hacked Hillary’s private server and he was determined to get his hands on the emails.

Smith assembled a group of people including experts in technology, lawyers, and even a Russian-speaking investigator to figure out how to obtain Clinton’s emails, according to the Journal. On the Friday before the Labor Day weekend, Smith incorporated a company called KLS Research. In a proposal Smith put together describing the effort to obtain the emails, he named the company as the “preferred vehicle” for the research into Clinton’s email, and Smith would tell Tait that KLS Research would also help “avoid campaign reporting.”

Smith and his longtime business partner, John Szobocsan, were the two signers for a bank account linked to KLS Research….

Soon after Labor Day, Smith appears to have finished an operational plan, which included the names of top Trump campaign officials, some of whom have denied speaking with Smith anytime during the campaign. Smith’s report is dated Sept. 7.

Girl in Green by Sara Hayden (1862–1939), American

The next day, Smith withdrew $9,500 from the KLS Research account and deposited it into his personal bank account, both held at Northern Trust. From there, Smith took out a little more than $4,900 in cash and sent checks to an accountant and an LLC controlled by a private real estate company. Later in September, Smith made withdrawals of $500 and $700 from KLS Research.

These transactions came to light after Northern Trust received a subpoena from the FBI for Smith’s records last December. The subpoena specifically sought information about the $9,500 withdrawal from KLS Research’s account.

After scouring nine accounts that Smith controlled, Northern Trust turned over documents showing 88 suspicious cash withdrawals totaling about $140,000 between January 2016 and April 2017, including a $3,000 withdrawal six days after the election. Northern Trust found these transactions suspicious because officials could not determine the purpose of the withdrawals and because some of them took place over the time Smith was engaged in his project to obtain Clinton’s emails. Many of the cash transactions, the bank noted, were less than $10,000, small enough not to trigger an automatic alert to the government. After receiving the subpoena, the bank sent a report to Treasury’s financial crimes unit, which shared its findings with the FBI, special counsel Robert Mueller, and Senate Intelligence Committee investigators.

The story reports that “three US law enforcement officials” confirmed that Smith is still “an important figure” in the investigation and that Mueller’s investigators have interviewed people involved with Smith. I wonder if Mike Flynn is helping out with this aspect of the investigation?

Head over to Buzzfeed News to read the rest of the story.

Lawfare has a lengthy post up about the Buzzfeed story: Peter Smith’s Search for Hillary Clinton’s Emails: The Subplot Thickens. Here’s just a taste:

On its own, the Buzzfeed story might not be a groundbreaking development. But the article doesn’t stand alone. It comes in the wake of Mueller’s indictments of Russians involved in the Kremlin’s social media manipulation operation and, more importantly for present purposes, the hacking and leaking of Democratic Party materials during the 2016 campaign. In that context, it is highly significant that Buzzfeed reports that Smith’s efforts are actively being investigated by the special counsel’s team. Not only has Mueller’s team interviewed “people who Smith tried to recruit and others who worked on his operation to obtain Clinton’s emails,” it has also “tried to determine if [former national security adviser Michael] Flynn assisted Smith in his operation”—a question that Smith’s possible payments to hackers are “key” to answering, Buzzfeed writes.

Louis Buisseret (1888-1956, Belgian) Contemplation 1938

So how do the facts reported in the Peter Smith stories, particularly Buzzfeed’s latest, line up with Mueller’s indictments? Mueller’s allegations describe, in detail, a complex Russian conspiracy to shape the 2016 U.S. elections—a conspiracy that involved an influence operation conducted on social media, the publication of hacked information, and outreach to a person in contact with the Trump campaign, reportedly Roger Stone.

The Peter Smith stories—between the Journal’s reporting, Tait’s Lawfare account and the latest report from Buzzfeed—describe another plot, one that took shape on this side of the Atlantic. Whether this second plot amounts to a conspiracy is a legal question beyond the scope of this post, but it appears to have involved, at a minimum, an agreement among a number of actors to obtain illegally hacked emails, perhaps by buying them. Tait wrote that he specifically warned Smith that the person purporting to have Clinton’s emails was likely part of Russia’s campaign against the United States and that Smith didn’t care about the source, as long as he got the emails. So it’s certainly plausible that the Smith operation also involved a conspiracy of some sort.

Meanwhile, Russian state TV is getting more and more blatant about Putin’s influence on Trump. Raw Story: Russian state TV warns Trump to ‘do what we say’ if you want ‘support in the elections.’

Julia Davis, who runs the Russian Media Monitor website, reports via Twitter that news show “60 Minutes” this week held a panel discussion about actions Russia should take to retaliate against the latest round of American sanctions.

Vitaly Tretyakov, the dean of the Moscow State University’s School of Television, argued that the Russian government should use whatever leverage it had over Trump to bend the president to its will.

“Let’s turn this into a headache for Trump,” he said, according to Davis’ translation. “If you want us to support you in the elections, do what we say.”

At The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum asks if American institutions are really strong enough to stop Trump: Are you still sure there’s no need to worry?

William Moore Davis (1829 – 1920, American)

“Don’t worry, the institutions will stop him.” Or: “Don’t worry, he hasn’t done any real damage yet, the institutions have stopped him.” How many times have you heard some version of this analysis since the election of President Trump? Sometimes, the speaker is an optimist, someone with faith in the U.S. Constitution. Sometimes, the speaker is a skeptic, someone who dislikes the alleged “hysteria” of those who think Trump’s corrupt habits, autocratic language and authoritarian behavior are doing lasting damage. Either way, they are reassured, and reassuring: Congress will stop him. The judiciary will stop him. The FBI, the Republican Party, the Constitution will stop him. Don’t worry.

But America’s federal institutions are not the only ones designed to prevent someone like Trump from undermining the Constitution. We have other kinds of institutions, too — legal organs, regulatory bodies, banks — that are supposed to prevent men like Trump from staying in business, let alone acquiring political power. The truth is that many of these equally important American institutions failed a long time ago. Trump is not the cause of their failure. He is the result.

One example: Paul Manafort.

Here is a man who is alleged to have declared income as “loans,” concealed foreign bank accounts and lied about money that Ukrainian oligarchs were paying him via shell companies in Cyprus. For decades, in other words, U.S. law enforcement institutions were unable to spot the money-laundering, tax evasion and fraud that his partner Rick Gates spent several hours describing, even when carried out by a prominent person. As long ago as 1985, Manafort’s name featured in Jacob Weisberg’s still-famous New Republic cover story about Roger Stone, then his consulting partner. The headline: “The State-of-the-Art Washington Sleazeball.”

Summer (c.1958). Donald Moodie (British, 1892-1963)

For decades, Manafort’s “political consultancy” has helped crooks and autocrats retain power. But even leaving aside the question of morality: Why wasn’t Manafort put out of business for suspected fraud years ago? Did the police not have the resources? The motivation? Whatever the reason, here, for the optimists and skeptics, is a clear institutional failure: A society allegedly obsessed with “law and order,” so much so that it has the highest incarceration rates in the world, couldn’t be bothered to investigate a famously sleazy man who was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on antique rugs and men’s suits in Northern Virginia.

And what about Trump’s career?

Nearly 40 years ago, in 1980, Trump employed 200 illegal Polish workers to destroy the Bonwit Teller department store, a historic building on Fifth Avenue, to make way for what would become Trump Tower. The men earned half the union wage and worked 12-hour shifts without hard hats; at one point, their contractor stopped paying them. Eventually they sued. In 1998, Trump paid $1.375 million to settle the case.

Trump broke immigration law and employment law, and he violated union rules, too. Yet neither immigration authorities nor employment regulators nor union bosses put him out of business. Why not? Why were the terms of that settlement kept confidential? Why, with his track record, was he allowed to get a casino license? Building permits? Wall Street banks did, it is true, stop lending to him. But when he began looking abroad for cash — doing extremely dodgy deals in Georgia and Azerbaijan, for example — no one stopped him.

Read the whole thing at the Post.

What else is happening? What stories are you following?


Thursday Reads: Trump and His Swamp Creatures

La lectura al borde del pantano. Dennis Perrin

Good Morning!!

One of Trump’s biggest lies was his promise to “drain the swamp.” Instead, he and his cronies have turned Washington, D.C. into a playground for swamp creatures from all over the country and the world.

And that tweet leaves out the asbestos story! Alexandra Petri at The Washington Post: Make America Asbestos Again.

One of them wants to come to your country legally, work a job, contribute and eventually become a citizen. The other… is asbestos.

Guess which one President Trump has, historically, been vocally in favor of, and which one Trump’s administration is about to emit guidelines to discourage as much as it can? No, you do not need to guess. It is the Trump administration, and obviously its attitude is “LEGAL IMMIGRANTS are the real danger here. Give us more asbestos, please.”

That’s right. Not only have we not gotten around to banning asbestos, as nearly 60 other countries have, but also a Significant New Use Rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in June (open for comment until Aug. 10!) would allow the case-by-case approval of certain uses of asbestos! Hooray! We have too many people coming here to try to build better lives! We have too little asbestos! You’re welcome!

Femme Lisant Pres de la Fenetre. Delphin Enjolras

One of them wants to come to your country legally, work a job, contribute and eventually become a citizen. The other… is asbestos.

Guess which one President Trump has, historically, been vocally in favor of, and which one Trump’s administration is about to emit guidelines to discourage as much as it can? No, you do not need to guess. It is the Trump administration, and obviously its attitude is “LEGAL IMMIGRANTS are the real danger here. Give us more asbestos, please.”

That’s right. Not only have we not gotten around to banning asbestos, as nearly 60 other countries have, but also a Significant New Use Rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency in June (open for comment until Aug. 10!) would allow the case-by-case approval of certain uses of asbestos! Hooray! We have too many people coming here to try to build better lives! We have too little asbestos! You’re welcome! [….]

All of the things we had hoped to leave in the ’80s are here right now with a big TRUMP seal attached.

We could have had Hillary. We could have had the first woman president. Instead we got Trump and his pack of grifters.

Jonathan Chait: The Whole Republican Party Seems to Be Going to Jail Now.

The entire Trump era has been a festering pit of barely disguised ongoing corruption. But the whole sordid era has not had a 24-hour period quite like the orgy of criminality which we have just experienced. The events of the last day alone include:

(1) The trial of Paul Manafort, which has featured the accusation that President Trump’s campaign manager had embezzled funds, failed to report income, and falsified documents. His partner and fellow Trump campaign aide, Rick Gates, confessed to participating in all these crimes, as well as to stealing from Manafort.

Albert Anker

(2) Yesterday, Forbes reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross may have stolen $120 million from his partners and customers. Meanwhile Ross has maintained foreign holdings in his investment portfolio that present a major conflict of interest with his public office. (The “Don’t worry, Wilbur Ross would never do anything unethical just to pad his bottom line” defense is likely to be, uh, unconvincing to the many people filing suit against Ross for allegedly doing exactly that.)

(3) Also yesterday, ProPublica reported that the Department of Veterans Affairs is being effectively run by three Trump cronies, none of whom have any official government title or public accountability. The three, reports the story, have “used their influence in ways that could benefit their private interests.”

(4) And then, this morning, Representative Chris Collins was arrestedfor insider trading. Collins had been known to openly boast about making millions of dollars for his colleagues with his insider knowledge. He is charged with learning of an adverse FDA trial, and immediately calling his son — from the White House! — urging him to sell his holdings.

Yes, yesterday was “quite a day.”

Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien on mega swamp creature Wilbur Ross. It’s hard to believe anyone could top Scott Pruitt’s corruption, but Ross has done it.

Wilbur Ross, like his former White House colleague, Scott Pruitt, is an interesting and unevolved version of Homo Paludosus: mired in myriad and ongoing ethical conflicts, subjected to tawdry revelations about his finances and business practices, and yet apparently impervious to extinction.

Brian Kershisnik (b. 1962, USA)

Ross, to be sure, hasn’t trafficked in all of the deeply swampy acts that made Pruitt so scandalicious. As far as we know, Ross hasn’t enlisted his security detail and staff to go shopping for him, he hasn’t hit up lobbyists for bargain condo rentals, and he hasn’t asked a big corporation to give his wife a business.

On the other hand, Ross, a veteran Wall Street dealmaker and investor, joined President Donald Trump’s cabinet as secretary of commerce already saddled with ongoing investments in companies and industries that would be directly affected – and possibly helped – by his policy decisions.

Ross is 80 and his biography on the Commerce Department website suggests how hard it would have been for him from his very first day in office to chart an unconflicted course…

Read the rest at Bloomberg News.

CNN follows up on ProPublica’s scoop on the Mar-a-Lago-gang who are running the VA from outside the government:

This group of three, led by Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter, was very open about the fact that they had been “anointed by the President and had his full support to influence policy at the VA” despite never being appointed or installed as formal advisers, the source said.

Bruce Moskowitz, a Palm Beach doctor, and lawyer Marc Sherman were the other two individuals who worked to influence the VA from the outside, the source confirmed.

Mathis Miles Williams

The trio, known within the VA as “the Mar-a-Lago crowd,” have used their influence with Trump and within the VA for personal gain, badgering career staff, pushing certain policies and products and ignoring government rules and processes, ProPublica said.

It cited hundreds of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act in the article, which says the three exercised their influence without “transparency, accountability or oversight,” and that officials traveled to Mar-a-Lago at taxpayer expense to hear their views….

Virginia Democratic Rep. Don Beyer reacted to ProPublica’s report on Twitter, calling the revelation “a huge corruption scandal.”

“Trump gave power to make decisions at the VA – affecting every US veteran – to three men who are neither government officials nor vets. Their only qualification: membership at Mar-A-Lago, for which they pay Trump,” Beyer said.

Membership to the exclusive 20-acre club in Palm Beach, Florida — now dubbed by Trump the “Winter White House” — reportedly costs $200,000, with annual dues of $14,000.

The ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs wrote to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Wednesday, demanding any and all communications between VA officials and Perlmutter, Moskowitz and Sherman.

“The situation reeks of corruption and cronyism,” said Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota in a statement.

It reeks alright. Everything about Trump’s “administration” smells to high heaven!

Oma Koti, March 1934. Martha Wendelin (Finnish. 1893-1986).

When Trump told his MAGA cultists that “I know the best people,” he apparently meant the best cheaters, liars, and crooks–even worse than any normal person could imagine. One of those crooks is on trial in Virginia right now, good old Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager.

All the experts say that the case against Manafort is rock solid, but I can’t help worrying about the crazy judge who’s in charge of the case. The New York Times has a profile of him today: Judge in Manafort Trial Is a ‘Caesar’ in His Own Rome.

Judge T. S. Ellis III had dismissed the jury for the day, but he was not quite finished opining about what he saw as irrelevant and repetitive questioning of a witness in the financial fraud trial of Paul Manafort.

Standing up so as to loom even larger over the courtroom, he angrily confronted Greg D. Andres, the lead prosecutor.

“Look at me,” the judge demanded, slamming his hand on the wooden ledge. “When you look down, it’s as if to say, you know, that’s B.S., I don’t want to listen to any more from you.”

“Don’t look down. Don’t roll your eyes,” he told Mr. Andres.

And so for the second time that afternoon, the prosecutor had to try to convince the judge that he only looked down because otherwise, he said, he would “be yelled at again by the Court” for his facial expression when “I’m not doing anything wrong, but trying my case.”

The Judge keeps riding the prosecution and trying to control how they present their case.

Leon Viorescu

Judge Ellis, 78, is the formidable ringmaster of the greatest show in the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., demanding both precise questioning and a breakneck pace in the trial of Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman.

He has routinely broken in on questioning, limited admission of evidence and exhorted lawyers to “expedite” — all the while entertaining spectators with humorous asides about his age, his wife, his Navy past, his lack of an email address, the jury’s lunch menu, split infinitives and the noise produced by a machine intended to keep bench conferences from being overheard (like “the sound of waves crashing”).

An appointee of President Ronald Reagan, he has pushed the customary limits of judicial intervention so far that Mr. Andres at one point seemed to suggest the prosecution had grounds to appeal. After the prosecutor complained Monday about the number of times “your honor stops us and asks us to move on,” the judge declared that he would stand by the record.

“I will stand by the record, as well,” Mr. Andres responded.

“Then you will lose,” Judge Ellis said.

But this morning, the judge apologized. The Washington Post reports:

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III has raked prosecutors from the special counsel’s office over the coals for the past week and a half. But on Thursday, he backed down, telling jurors to ignore one piece of criticism.

“I was critical of counsel for … allowing an expert to remain in the courtroom,” he said before testimony began. “You may put that aside… I may well have been wrong.”

On Wednesday, Ellis scolded prosecutors for calling an IRS expert who has sat through the trial in the gallery. Prosecutors filed a motion Thursday morning pointing out that the transcript backed up their understanding that Ellis had explicitly allowed the expert to do so.

I’m just hoping the jury will pay more attention to the reams of documentary evidence the prosecution is producing than to the judge’s tantrums.

So . . . what stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads

Great white shark swims beneath paddleboarding man on Cape Cod last week.

Good Morning!!

We’re having an incredible heat wave in Boston, and I know we’re not alone. It’s hot just about everywhere. Today it’s supposed to hit 100 degrees here. Anyone who believes the climate isn’t changing is delusional.

Maybe the sharks are affected too, because we’ve had some Great White close encounters here in Massachusetts lately. The Boston Globe: Shark sightings force swimmers out of the water in Plymouth, Cape Cod.

Swimmers at Plymouth and Wellfleet beaches looking to catch a break from the oppressive heat were forced out of the water Monday afternoon after sharks were spotted lurking nearby.

Plymouth beaches were closed after a great white shark was seen off Manomet Point. Red flags were flying at the beaches as crews investigated, the Plymouth harbormaster tweeted shortly after 2:30 p.m.

Researchers with the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy were about a quarter-mile from Marconi Beach in Wellfleet when they saw a great white shark at around 1:45 p.m. They reported it to beach officials, and lifeguards promptly pulled everyone out of the water, Leslie Reynolds, chief ranger at the Cape Cod National Seashore, said. The beach was closed for an hour as a standard precautionary measure.

Also from the Globe: ‘It came right up, and opened its mouth’: Great white shark breaches water below boat.

State biologist Greg Skomal got an up-close look at a great white shark during a recent excursion off Cape Cod when one of the apex predators that researchers had been observing breached the water right beneath him, exposing its large teeth.

“Did you see that?! Did you see that?!” Skomal can be heard saying in a video posted by the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy Monday morning. “It came right up, and opened its mouth right at my feet!”

In the video, Skomal can be seen standing on the research boat’s pulpit, as the captain closes in on a shark. Skomal was using a long pole with a GoPro camera attached at the end so he could dip it into the water and capture footage of the shark. That’s when it suddenly breached the ocean’s surface.

“Oh!,” the boat’s captain, John J. King II, can be heard saying. “Holy crap! It dove right out of the water.”

Here’s the video. Be sure to put it on full screen and wait for the close-up.

Holy crap!

Seriously though, have we already lost the fight to reverse climate change? That’s the argument put forth by Nathaniel Rich in last week’s New York Times Magazine: Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change.

The world has warmed more than one degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The Paris climate agreement — the nonbinding, unenforceable and already unheeded treaty signed on Earth Day in 2016 — hoped to restrict warming to two degrees. The odds of succeeding, according to a recent study based on current emissions trends, are one in 20. If by some miracle we are able to limit warming to two degrees, we will only have to negotiate the extinction of the world’s tropical reefs, sea-level rise of several meters and the abandonment of the Persian Gulf. The climate scientist James Hansen has called two-degree warming “a prescription for long-term disaster.” Long-term disaster is now the best-case scenario. Three-degree warming is a prescription for short-term disaster: forests in the Arctic and the loss of most coastal cities. Robert Watson, a former director of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has argued that three-degree warming is the realistic minimum. Four degrees: Europe in permanent drought; vast areas of China, India and Bangladesh claimed by desert; Polynesia swallowed by the sea; the Colorado River thinned to a trickle; the American Southwest largely uninhabitable. The prospect of a five-degree warming has prompted some of the world’s leading climate scientists to warn of the end of human civilization.

Is it a comfort or a curse, the knowledge that we could have avoided all this?

Because in the decade that ran from 1979 to 1989, we had an excellent opportunity to solve the climate crisis. The world’s major powers came within several signatures of endorsing a binding, global framework to reduce carbon emissions — far closer than we’ve come since. During those years, the conditions for success could not have been more favorable. The obstacles we blame for our current inaction had yet to emerge. Almost nothing stood in our way — nothing except ourselves.

Check out the full story at the NYT.

Today there are some interesting primary elections and one special election to watch. Will we see portents of a blue wave in November?

Vox: Every August 7 primary election you should know about, briefly explained.

Voters head to the polls in five states Tuesday to test whether Democrats will get their “blue wave” on Election Day this fall.

Danny O’Connor

The most heated race to watch is a special election in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, where a Democrat hasn’t won since the 1980s. Despite big spending by Republicans, a huge ground push, and even campaign appearances by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, polls show the Democrat, Danny O’Connor, might actually beat Republican Troy Balderson.

Washington state’s top-two primary will be a similar test of how Democrats might perform in historically conservative districts.

In a governor’s race in Michigan and a House race in Kansas, meanwhile, Democrats will test whether the future of the party is rooted in its progressive wing.

To win back a House majority in November, Democrats will have to triumph in historically red districts, as they did in Pennsylvania earlier this year when Conor Lamb pulled off a surprise victory. Some big wins on Tuesday night could be another sign that a wave year is possible.

Read the details at Vox.

On Sunday, we watched Trump incriminate himself and throw his own son under the bus on Twitter. Will Don Jr. be indicted? Charles Savage at The New York Times: Donald Trump Jr.’s Potential Legal Troubles, Explained.

“I did not collude with any foreign government and did not know anyone who did,” Donald Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2017. But his participation in the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians, as well as another meeting, has put that claim under scrutiny.

Ahead of the meeting with Russians, an intermediary promised Donald Trump Jr. that a “Russian government attorney” would provide “very high level” dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” He wrote back, “If it’s what you say I love it.”

In a meeting three months before the election, Donald Trump Jr. met with another small group offering to help his father win the election. It included an emissary for two wealthy Arab princes who run Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation. The younger Mr. Trump responded approvingly, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The New York Times.

Of course we all know by now that “collusion” is just another word for “conspiracy,” which can be a crime.

….lawyers instead talk about conspiracy: an agreement by two or more people to commit a crime — whether or not they end up doing so. A powerful tool for prosecutors, conspiracy charges allow them to hold each conspirator responsible for illegal acts committed by others in the circle as part of the arrangement. To convict someone of such a conspiracy, prosecutors would need to obtain evidence of an agreement to commit a specific crime….

A provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act, Section 30121 of Title 52, broadly outlaws donations or other contributions of a “thing of value” by any foreigner in connection with an American election — or even an express or implied promise to take such action, directly or indirectly.

Depending on how a grand jury interprets the facts the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has gathered about the two Trump Tower meetings, it could find that the foreigners violated that law — and that Donald Trump Jr. conspired in that offense.

Another provision of the same statute makes it illegal for an American to solicit a foreigner for such illicit campaign help — again, even indirectly. If a grand jury were to interpret the evidence about Donald Trump Jr.’s words and actions as a solicitation, he could also be vulnerable to direct charges under that law, experts said.

Notably, the statute can be violated even if the promised or requested help is never provided.

Read the rest at the NYT.

At The Washington Post, William Ruckleshaus, who served as deputy attorney general under Nixon writes about Trump’s behavior: Only one other president has ever acted this desperate.

President Trump is acting with a desperation I’ve seen only once before in Washington: 45 years ago when President Richard M. Nixon ordered the firing of special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. Nixon was fixated on ending the Watergate investigation, just as Trump wants to shut down the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

A lesson for the president from history: It turned out badly for Nixon. Not only could he not derail the investigation, but also, 10 months later, he was forced to resign the presidency.

In fact, in some ways, Trump is conducting himself more frantically than Nixon, all the while protesting his innocence. Nixon fought to the end because he knew that what was on the tape recordings that the prosecutor wanted would incriminate him. We don’t know what Trump is hiding, if anything. But if he is innocent of any wrongdoing, why not let Robert S. Mueller III do his job and prove it?

On the way Trump and his minions are attacking the investigation:

…the cynical conduct of this president, his lawyers and a handful of congressional Republicans is frightening to me and should be to every citizen of this country. We are not playing just another Washington political game; there is much more at stake.

The vehemence and irresponsibility of the rhetoric attacking the Mueller investigation tear at the very structure of our governance. Men who have sworn to use and protect our institutions of justice are steadily weakening them. Should the president finally decide to fire Mueller and put in place someone who will do his bidding, the country could be thrown into a political crisis that would scar our democracy and further erode the trust of our people in our governmental institutions.

We need leaders who tell the truth. This is not now happening. Mueller is living up to his superior reputation as a model public servant. His is a search for the truth; we should not complicate his job. Support him, and when he has finished his work, listen to what he has found.

Read the whole thing at the WaPo.

There are a lot more interesting reads out there today. Some to check out:

Forbes: New Details About Wilbur Ross’ Business Point To Pattern Of Grifting.

Rolling Stone: Rick Wilson: Trump’s Tweets May Actually Be His Undoing.

NBC News: Now the Trump administration wants to limit citizenship for legal immigrants.

Politico: Manafort prosecution’s frustration with judge leads to fiery clashes.

The Washington Post: Trump’s political base is weaker than it seems, our new study finds.

Think Progress: Here’s what a new trove of Russian Twitter accounts tell us about Moscow’s support for Jill Stein.

Buzzfeed News: Accused Russian Agent’s Journey To Washington Began In South Dakota.

Franklin Foer at The Atlantic: How Trump Radicalized ICE.

What stories are you following today?


Sunday Reads: It’s a tRump Ass World….

 

I’ve guess you all have seen the latest paintings from the tRumptonian artist Jon McNaughton?

Bizarre Right-Wing Trump Portrait Gets Mercilessly Mocked On Twitter | HuffPost

A right-wing artist’s latest “heroic” image of President Donald Trump received some pretty savage reviews from people on social media.

Jon McNaughton painted a take on George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, except in this version Trump is commanding a boat filled with members of his administration.

“Trump endeavors to cross the ‘swamp’ of Washington D.C. as he carries the light of truth, hope and prosperity,” McNaughton wrote. “The murky water of the deep state is laced with dangerous vermin, perfectly willing to destroy American prosperity for their personal ideologies and financial gain.”

Take a peek at the link to see the various jokes, I’ve posted one of the funnier ones below, which conveniently also shows what the original painting looks like….

 

You can also see another new “work of art” (excuse me while I vomit) below…I don’t know what the name of that piece of shit is…but it must have Strangling the Mueller somewhere in the title.

 

 

Nah, see? It is called Expose the Truth. God it is fucking disgusting.

 

 

So, now that I have posted some of the visual images for the thread, I suppose I should get around to throwing some links in the pie as well.

 

I don’t know what to make at that tweet above… I know whatever is being done with the attacks on the press is dangerous. Just like the paintings of tRump strangling Mueller with a tie…it crosses the line.

Pastor at Trump rally prays to shield Trump from ‘jungle journalism’ | TheHill

From enemy of the people to jungle journalism….

The pastor delivering the invocation at President Trump’s rally in Ohio on Saturday called for God to shield Trump from “jungle journalism.”

CNN reported that Gary Click, a pastor and member of the Ohio GOP’s State Central Committee, delivered the prayer ahead of Trump’s remarks, asking for God to “protect our President and his family with a shield of faith, Lord.”

“That shield of faith against the fiery darts of the wicked one, Lord, against that jungle journalism that extorts the truth and distorts honesty and integrity every single day, gets in his face with lies and mistruths and innuendos,” Click continued.

I doubt they hired that preacher from craigslist.

Even Fox News is sensing the danger:

What The Heck Is Happening When Even Fox News Starts Making Sense? | Crooks and Liars

But tRump still threatens:

Trump: I ‘destroy’ careers of Republicans who say bad things about me | TheHill

President Trump bragged about his prowess in defeating the Republicans who oppose him, saying at an Ohio rally that he “destroys” the careers of GOP politicians who dare defy him.

“How do you get 100 percent of anything? We always have somebody who says ‘I don’t like Trump, I don’t like our president, he destroyed my career,’ ” Trump said.

“I only destroy their career because they said bad things about me and you fight back and they go down the tubes and that’s OK,” he added.

He is a fucking thug, and it looks like Sunday will only be used for more threats and blows toward Mueller.

Sunday shows preview: Trump’s attacks on Mueller probe ramp up | TheHill

Read more at that link.

Maybe something big is coming?

Trump voicing concerns about son being entangled in Mueller probe – CNNPolitics

 

I thought this was a true enough tweet below.

 

Yeah, that is gross:

Justice Clarence Thomas Is Having an Outsize Influence on the Trump Administration – Mother Jones

Twenty percent of the quiet justice’s former clerks owe their current jobs to President Trump.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is by far the court’s quietest and most conservative justice. He went 10 years without asking a single question from the bench, a streak broken in 2016, not long after the death of his friend Justice Antonin Scalia. Since then, Thomas hasn’t uttered a word in court. His opinions are so quirky and radically conservative that his colleagues on the bench often seem reluctant to sign on to them, making him perhaps one of the least influential justices in the court’s history.

But the court’s only African-American justice is having an outsize influence in one important sphere: the Trump administration. A new report by the AP’s Mark Sherman indicates that roughly 20 percent of the clerks—a total of 22—Thomas has hired since his confirmation in 1991 are either now working as political appointees in the administration or have been appointed by Trump to federal judgeships.

In other news, this headline got me thinking…what the fuck is she doing back? Hope Hicks Spotted Boarding Air Force One

Check it out, I wonder if this was agreed on at the summit:

Steven Seagal Named By Russia As Special Rep To US For Humanitarian Ties | Deadline

Russian President Vladimir Putin presented a Russian passport to the US actor in 2016, and now Seagal will expand his ties, serving as a goodwill ambassador. He will receive no salary, the Ministry said, adding, “It’s a case of people’s diplomacy intersecting with traditional diplomacy.”

Seagal’s new role was noted by Kremlin-backed TV station RT, who noted Seagal as welcoming the appointment.

“I’ve always had a very strong desire to do all I can to help improve Russian-American relations,” RT quoted Seagal. “I have worked tirelessly in this direction for many years unofficially and I am now very grateful for the opportunity to do the same thing officially.”

Don’t forget…

While Seagal is popular in Russia, he has been accused in the US of sexual misconduct.

In March of this year, two women who previously accused Steven Seagal of rape and sexual assault stepped forward to offer more detailed accounts of the actor’s alleged misconduct. Los Angeles attorney Lisa Bloom told reporters in a press conference that she will represent former Dutch model Faviola Dadis and one-time aspiring actress Regina Simons as they seek justice.

Actresses Juliana Margulies and Pamela Anderson have also complained about Seagal’s conduct during auditions.

Looks like DC is trying to make the relations between the Neo Nazis holding a rally and folks counterprotesting the racist KKK white nationalist fucks:

D.C. Metro Considers Separate Trains for ‘Unite the Right’ White Nationalist Rally – Truthdig

In an effort to head off violence between white nationalists and counterprotesters, the District of Columbia metro transit system is considering providing separate trains for those attending the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally Aug. 12. The use of separate trains for such a purpose would be unprecedented.

In response to criticism, Jack Evans, chairman of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, said in a Washington Post article:

“We’re not trying to give anyone special treatment. We’re just trying to avoid scuffles and things of that nature.”

 

It doesn’t look like special treatment helped the situation in Portland:

Portland protestor seriously wounded by flash-bang grenade fired by cops clearing way for alt-right marchers

Hundreds of far-right protesters from as far away as Florida gathered on the waterfront in Portland, Oregon for a “Freedom March” on Saturday. Dozens of those interviewed said they were there to utilize their “freedom of speech.” To do so, they came armed with bats, weighted fighting gloves, wooden poles, canisters of mace, knives, shields and body armor.

The police had declared a day earlier that all such weapons were illegal in Portland parks. But no effort was witnessed to confiscate the weapons or arrest the weapon-holders.

For hours, four lines of riot police kept the far right separated from a much larger crowd of anti-fascists. The Portland police seemingly wanted to avoid a replay of June 30, when they took a hands-off approach to another far-right rally that quickly degenerated into a violent brawl of about 100 people, resulting in five hospitalizations.

This time it was the police who sent protesters to the hospital. Later in the day, when the far right decided to march into the city, police decided to sweep the streets of counter-protesters. Neither side had permits, but police provided protection to the far right to march for two blocks.

To clear the way, police shot dozens of flash-bang grenades at more than 1,000 people who had gathered to oppose what they say are white supremacists.

 

There are exclusive pictures of the wounded at the Raw Story link.

About the latest tRump tariffs:

Here are a few links above various things….

There was a strange assassination attempt last night…WATCH: Speech By Venezuelan President Maduro Cut Off After Reported Explosion

Maduro was unharmed in the attempt, but many of the military members in attendance were seen reacting to the explosion.

Footage of the speech, circulated on social media, showed Maduro delivering a speech before the sound cuts out, and those on the stage duck. A camera then shows soldiers running from in a square, before the footage cuts completely.

According to Patricia Laya, Bloomberg News’s Venezuela Bureau Chief, the feed cut after an explosion was heard near the stage.

 

Orson Welles: actor, director… painter? | Film | The Guardian

Iam essentially a hack, a commercial person,” Orson Welles once said. “If I had a hobby, I would immediately make money on it or abandon it.” Self-deprecation aside, this most creatively ambitious and restless of US directors was hardly a hack. Welles did have a hobby, though – one he never abandoned or monetised, and one that is now shedding fresh light on a mighty career.

For in private, the great man worked quietly as an artist – yielding a vast, varied collection of paintings, drawings and doodles that has rarely been given serious scrutiny. That output is the subject of The Eyes of Orson Welles, a whimsical documentary by film critic, historian and lifelong Welles devotee Mark Cousins. An exhibition of the artworks, on which Cousins advised, is also now running at Edinburgh’s Summerhall galleries.

For those who think of Welles chiefly as the stern, booming talent behind such concrete American standards as Citizen Kane, Cousins’s film is revelatory, exposing a wry, playful, angry, often lovestruck man behind the Hollywood legend.

That is all I have today, hope everybody is doing well.

This is an open thread.


Lazy Saturday Reads: Some Positive News (Except for the Tornadoes)

Lady in Blue – Medard Verburgh

Good Afternoon!!

I woke up to tornado warnings this morning. We didn’t get hit here, but some towns had severe damage. I guess there were some warnings in New England last night too.

Nothing to see here, folks. Just tornadoes in Massachusetts as Trump fights to get rid of fuel efficiency regulations. The Washington Post:

The Trump administration announced plans Thursday to freeze fuel-efficiency requirements for the nation’s cars and trucks through 2026 — a massive regulatory rollback likely to spur a legal battle with California and other states, as well as create potential upheaval in the nation’s automotive market.

The proposal represents an abrupt reversal of the approach during the Obama administration, when regulators argued that requiring more-fuel-efficient vehicles would improve public health, combat climate change and save consumers money without compromising safety.

President Trump’s plan also would attempt to revoke California’s long-standing legal ability to set its own, more stringent tailpipe standards and restrict the ability of other states to follow its lead.

During the Obama administration, the federal government worked with California and the auto industry to craft a uniform set of national fuel-economy standards. The White House’s latest proposal threatens to blow up that delicate compromise.

If California were to prevail in the likely legal clash to come, the state could set tougher standards than the federal government, leaving automakers with the prospect of manufacturing vehicles that meet different rules in different states — something the industry has said it does not want.

Good. I hope that happens, because Massachusetts also has strict emissions rules.

LeBron James interviewed by Don Lemon on CNN

In other news, late last night the fake “president” attacked LeBron James and Don Lemon, claiming they are unintelligent. CNN: Trump attacks LeBron James and Don Lemon over CNN interview; Lemon responds.

CNN’s Don Lemon has a question for everyone now that President Donald Trump has called him the “dumbest man on television” again.

Trump’s insult led Lemon to ask in a tweet Saturday morning: “Who’s the real dummy? A man who puts kids in classrooms or one who puts kids in cages?”

Lemon added the hashtag #BeBest, a reference to first lady Melania Trump’s initiative to support kindness and respect.

Trump insulted both Lemon and his guest, basketball star LeBron James, in a tweet on Friday night.

The interview focused on James’ contributions to his hometown of Akron, Ohio, including a new public school for at-risk third- and fourth-graders there. But the two men also discussed politics. James said Trump has used athletics and athletes to divide the country.

But here’s real reason Trump freaked out about the interview.

The reason for the interview was the school James has opened in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.

Time Magazine: Inside LeBron James’s New $8 Million Public School, Where Students Get Free Bikes, Meals, and College Tuition.

The unusual school is a public school formed in collaboration between James’ philanthropic foundation and Akron Public Schools. Its out-of-the-box offerings include a long school day (eight hours); a “support circle” for students after lunch; and GED courses and job placement for parents. All are driven by James’ mission to help kids overcome what he faced as a low-income student in Akron, he says….

The school selected area students from among those who trail their peers by a year or two in academic performance. “We did a random selection of all students who met that criteria, and got to make these awesome phone calls to parents and say, ‘How would you like to be part of something different, the I Promise School,’” Keith Liechty, the Akron Public Schools’ liaison to James’ foundation, told USA Today.

The school is launching with third- and fourth-graders, but plans to add grades each year until it houses first through eighth grade in 2022….

Forty-three staffers will help run the I Promise School — including not just teachers but also a principal, assistant principal, four intervention specialists, plus a tutor, English as a second language teacher, music instructor, and gym teacher, USA Today reports. Classrooms will hold 20 students per teacher….

the school is far from traditional. Its lengthy school day runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., along with an extended school year that runs from July through May. During a seven-week summer session, the school will provide STEM-based camps. Students will spend time each day on social-emotional learning, and participate in a “supportive circle” after lunch aimed at helping them refocus on work, Cleveland.com reports.

Nutrition is also central to the school’s mission. Every day students will receive free breakfast, lunch, snacks and drinks. They will have access to a fitness trainer. James says that, as a kid, he used his bicycle to explore different neighborhoods of Akron — so he gave one to every incoming student.

Since the school considers education to be not just for the pupil but for the whole family, it will offer GED classes and job placement assistance for parents and guardians. “It is about true wrap-around support, true family integration and true compassion,” Brandi Davis, I Promise principal and Akron native, told USA Today.

Students get one other notable benefit: If they successfully complete the school program and graduate from high school, James will cover their full tuition at the local public college, University of Akron.

That story brought tears to my eyes. Every underprivileged child in America should have access to school like that.

The Akron Beacon Journal: LeBron James puts on show for first day of I Promise School, makes first appearance since signing with Lakers.

Hard as administrators tried, 240 students had anything but a normal first day of school when doors to the I Promise School opened Monday.

By the afternoon, music blared from speakers outside the school’s windows. Professional athletes roamed the halls. A parade of people lined up outside and a horde of media surrounded the school. More than a dozen armed security guards and police officers covered the building grounds.

But when the doors opened at 8:45 a.m. that morning and students stepped into the building curated just for them, they had clues to expect something different — starting with the gray shirts they were given to wear instead of what they arrived dressed in as a first step to starting anew.

First day at the I Promise School

“It was magical,” said Angela Whorton, an intervention specialist, about the first day. “Just to see how genuinely excited they were to start a new chapter of their life with a clean slate was beyond great.” [….]

The curriculum aims to adopt the “We Are Family” philosophy of the LeBron James Family Foundation, infuse it with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and take into account the struggles and traumas in students’ lives to provide “social-emotional learning.” It implements a year-round education for kids to retain what they learn.

LeBron James, who made his first public appearance Monday since deciding to join the Los Angeles Lakers, spearheaded the effort more than a year ago as a way to consolidate his existing I Promise Network into one building to create a lasting impact on the community.

“I think one of my long-term goals is that every kid who walks through those doors, they feel empowered, they know they have a support system, they know there’s someone that cares about them,” James said in an exclusive interview with the Beacon Journal/Ohio.com. “I think that’s what it ultimately comes down to is that someone cares about their future. We want the next great police officer, the next great politician, the next great doctor, the next great nurse, the next great musician … Whatever the case may be, we hope it comes out of this school.”

Meanwhile the “president” started a fraudulent “university” and had to pay $25 million in damages to the people he cheated and conned.

Trump is facing more losses in the courts right now.

NBC News: Judge calls Trump administration family reunification efforts ‘unacceptable.’

LOS ANGELES — The federal judge overseeing the court-ordered reunification of the 2,551 migrant children separated from their parents at the border blasted the Trump administration Friday for lacking a plan to reunify the remaining 572 children in its custody with their parents and the slow pace of progress.

In a Thursday night status report filing, the Trump administration said only 13 of the parents had been located by the American Civil Liberties Union, which U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw of the Southern District of California called “unacceptable at this point.”

Judge Dana Sabraw

The parents of 410 children are currently outside of the United States, likely having been deported before reunification, according to the court filing.

The Trump administration had proposed the ACLU take the lead in locating and identifying what the judge had called “missing parents” of children still in government custody. Sabraw said that plan was not acceptable and placed that responsibility squarely on the government.

“Many of these parents were removed from the country without their child,” Sabraw said. “All of this is the result of the government’s separation and then inability and failure to track and reunite. And the reality is that for every parent who is not located there will be a permanently orphaned child. And that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration.”

Sabraw said the government must identify a person or team to oversee the remaining reunification process, potentially from the State Department or the Department of Health and Human Services, and produce a plan as to how reunification would be accomplished.

Read the rest at the link.

One more from Politico: Judge orders full restart of DACA program.

A D.C.-based federal judge on Friday ordered the Trump administration to restart in full the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Judge John Bates of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The decision is the latest legal blow against President Donald Trump’s decision to phase out the Obama-era program, which offers deportation relief to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

The restart won’t be immediate. U.S. District Judge John Bates said Friday that the order would be delayed until Aug. 23 to allow the government to appeal, but he denied a Justice Department motion to reconsider his earlier decision, saying there were still deficiencies in the administration’s rationale for rescinding DACA.

“The court has already once given DHS the opportunity to remedy these deficiencies — either by providing a coherent explanation of its legal opinion or by reissuing its decision for bona fide policy reasons that would preclude judicial review,” said Bates, “So it will not do so again.” [….]

He also threatened to vacate the memo ending DACA — and thereby restore the program in full — if Trump officials could not present an adequate reason for ending it.

Right now the courts are the only thing standing between us and a Trumpian authoritarian state.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?