Wednesday Reads: Bloody Discounts

For your consideration today:

On the gun control fight….

Who is Dana Loesch? The NRA’s defender after the Florida shooting | US news | The Guardian

 

But as students who survived the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida last week continue to speak out publicly against the NRA’s “blood money,” the gun-rights group has announced that it will send spokeswoman Dana Loesch to participate in Wednesday’s CNN town hall conversation with Parkland shooting survivors.

The move comes as the NRA appears to be attempting to dial down attention to the speech that longtime leader Wayne LaPierre is scheduled to give at CPAC later this week. Instead it is putting Loesch in the spotlight.

 

Florida school shooting: Survivors confront lawmakers, other students march in solidarity – CNN

Just one week after surviving a massacre that killed 17 people, grieving students confronted Florida lawmakers Wednesday to demand a ban on assault weapons.

As they took up their fight in Tallahassee, students from Palm Beach to Washington walked out in solidarity — disgusted by yet another school massacre with no change in gun laws.
Here are the latest developments:

Go to the link to read the latest…

 

 

Here is something of interest, it is the National Rifle Association – Member Discount List   this links to the state of Georgia…however, if you go to the page you can search for your own state’s discount list. Funny…one of the lawyers I used to work for is on the Georgia list. He used to tell me all the time, he was a “Christian” first. Hypocrisy at it’s finest.

 

Security Clearance: 02/18/2018 Cartoon by Rob Rogers

Cartoon by Rob Rogers - Security Clearance

American: 02/16/2018 Cartoon by Rob Rogers

Cartoon by Rob Rogers - American

Politicizing Parkland: 02/20/2018 Cartoon by Adam Zyglis

Cartoon by Adam Zyglis - Politicizing Parkland

Business As Usual: 02/21/2018 Cartoon by Paul Fell

Cartoon by Paul Fell - Business As Usual

Watching The Door: 02/20/2018 Cartoon by Paul Fell

Cartoon by Paul Fell - Watching The Door

Hand Puppets: 02/19/2018 Cartoon by Paul Fell

Cartoon by Paul Fell - Hand Puppets

School of Glock: 02/21/2018 Cartoon by Jen Sorensen

Cartoon by Jen Sorensen - School of Glock

02/20/2018 Cartoon by Joel Pett

Cartoon by Joel Pett -

 

 

 

 

You may remember this cartoon from last week…

 

 

02/20/2018 Cartoon by MStreeter

Cartoon by MStreeter -

This is an open thread.

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Lazy Saturday Reads: “Bob Mueller Isn’t Playing Around”

Painting by Michael Steirnagle

Good Afternoon!!

There is so much news today that it’s difficult to believe it’s Saturday–much less that it’s a three-day weekend. But that’s the way we live now, moving from crisis to crisis. At least we got some good news yesterday–at least for those of us who still support American democracy.

The new indictments from Special Counsel Bob Mueller prove once and for all to Trump and his Republican supporters that Russia actively intervened in the 2016 election in order to get Trump elected.

At the same time, we must stay focused on the nightmare of mass shootings and the refusal of Republicans to face up to their complicity in the mounting number of deaths caused by their support for the NRA.

And in spite of all the breaking news, we can’t forget the ongoing security clearance scandal in the White House.

I can’t even begin to link to all the important articles today, so I’ll just post a few on the Russia story and then you can join me in adding more on other topics in the comment thread.

Lawfare: Russian Influence Campaign: What’s in the Latest Mueller Indictment.

None of the defendants indicted Friday for their alleged influence operation against the U.S. political system is likely to ever see the inside of an American courtroom. None is in custody. None is likely to surrender to U.S. authorities. And Vladimir Putin will probably not race to extradite them.

Lady Reading Newspaper – R Train, Street by Michele Riche

Nevertheless, the grand jury’s charges against the 13 Russians and three organizations mark a significant moment in the investigation of L’Affaire Russe. President Trump has spent the year since his victory casting doubt on the very premise that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Yet here is the Justice Department on the record declaring that the Russia investigation isn’t, in fact, a witch hunt. It isn’t a hoax. It isn’t just a “phony Democrat excuse for losing the election,” as the president has . There really was, the Justice Department is saying, a Russian influence operation to interfere in the U.S. political system during the 2016 presidential election, and it really was at the expense of Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump.

The U.S. intelligence community, of course, already knew this. It has already shouted it from the rooftops about as loudly as the intelligence community announces its conclusions. The intelligence community, after all,  in January 2017 that it had “high confidence” that “President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016” targeting the U.S. presidential election. Before that, it had  in October 2016 that the Russian government was behind the hacking and distribution of emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta. None of these public conclusions stopped Trump from publicly casting doubt on Russian interference.

But the indictments on Friday reflect a different level of certainty, confidence and evidence. Here the special counsel is stating not merely that he has “high confidence” that the interference happened. He is stating that he can prove the existence of the Russian operation in court beyond a reasonable doubt, using only admissible evidence, and that the operation violated U.S. federal criminal law. And he is laying out an astonishingly specific set of forensic conclusions that reflect an impressive intelligence operation against the very operation on which the indictment reports. Even if the special counsel never gets the chance to prove his allegations in court by bringing any of the indictees before a federal judge, the formal statement that he is prepared and able to do so represents a remarkable rebuke of the president’s claims.

Much more at Lawfare.

Des Moines Register: Russians claimed fraud in Iowa caucuses, Mueller indictment alleges.

Russian operatives trying to sow discord and distrust during the 2016 presidential campaign bought social media advertisements alleging fraud in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

That’s one of the allegations in a blockbuster indictment made public today by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who’s investigating Russian meddling in the election and possible collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign.

Charles Verbrugghe – Impressionist portrait of a woman reading the newspaper

The indictment alleges that an organized group of Russian operatives began promoting a range of allegations of voter fraud by the Democratic Party in the summer of 2016 as the general election race between Trump and Hillary Clinton was heating up.

Among those was an allegation about the caucuses, the first presidential contest of the 2016 nominating process, which Clinton won by a tiny margin over Democratic challenger Bernie Sanders.

“On or about August 4, 2016,” the indictment says, “Defendants and their co-conspirators began purchasing advertisements that promoted a post on the ORGANIZATION-controlled Facebook account ‘Stop A.I.’ The post alleged that ‘Hillary Clinton has already committed voter fraud during the Democrat Iowa Caucus.’”

I guess that was part of Russia’s support for Bernie Sanders. I think Bernie need to acknowledge this publicly, but I think that’s unlikely.

Molly McKew at Wired: Did Russia Affect the 2016 Election? It’s Now Undeniable.

FOR SOME TIME, there has been a conflation of issues—the hacking and leaking of illegally obtained information versus propaganda and disinformation; cyber-security issues and the hacking of elections systems versus information operations and information warfare; paid advertising versus coercive messaging or psychological operations—when discussing “Russian meddling” in the 2016 US elections. The refrain has become: “There is no evidence that Russian efforts changed any votes.”

But the bombshell 37-page indictment issued Friday by Robert Mueller against Russia’s Internet Research Agency and its leadership and affiliates provides considerable detail on the Russian information warfare targeting the American public during the elections. And this information makes it increasingly difficult to say that the Kremlin’s effort to impact the American mind did not succeed.

The indictment pulls the curtain back on four big questions that have swirled around the Russian influence operation, which, it turns out, began in 2014: What was the scope of the Russian effort? What kind of content did it rely on? Who or what was it targeting, and what did it aim to achieve? And finally, what impact did it have?

Most of the discussion of this to date has focused on ideas of political advertising and the reach of a handful of ads—and this discussion has been completely missed the point.

Read the details at Wired.

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: It’s Going to Be Much, Much Harder for Trump to Fire Rod Rosenstein Now.

On Friday, the Department of Justice detonated a legal bombshell, announcing the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election. It was just as fascinating to watch who was doing the detonating. Standing at the podium was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Donald Trump’s much-reviled “Democrat from Baltimore,” who is widely believed to be just barely hanging on to his day job as special counsel Robert Mueller’s minder and whose deputy has just lurched off the national stage for a gig at Walmart.

Frederick Serger, Woman Reading in Bed

This was a fairly impressive piece of political maneuvering. On the one hand, it makes any attempt by Trump to remove Rosenstein an even more explicit obstruction of justice. Rosenstein has, after all, just publicly linked himself to indictments of Russians (foreigners!) who tried to throw the election to Trump. He’s also linked himself even more tightly with Mueller and the special counsel’s investigation, which turned up the evidence presented in Friday’s indictment. Rosenstein now indisputably stands for the proposition that Russia interfered in the election and that anyone who denies this is lying. Earlier this week, incidentally, CNN reported that “Trump still isn’t buying that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.”

Perhaps most importantly, Rosenstein—merely by standing at that podium—presented a unified front, backing up the proposition that the DOJ as a whole (with the possible exception of attorney general Jeff Sessions) takes Russian interference seriously. And in stating up front that nothing in this indictment alleges that “any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity,” he cleared the Trump campaign of knowing collusion. For now.

Obviously, things can change, but for today Rosenstein has allowed the president himself and Sean Hannity types to scream “no collusion” even when the door hasn’t been shut on that possibility. Effective Friday afternoon, Rosenstein looks to be on the side of protecting us from Russian meddling. He’s also given some cover to the president, a fact that might protect him from Trump’s morning rage tweets, at least for a week or two. And hovering silently over Friday’s telenovela was “Bobby Three Sticks” Mueller. He says nothing. Nothing is leaked. That silence is powerful, as theater goes.

Go over to Slate to read why Rosenstein actually is still in danger.

Noah Bookbinder and Norman Eisen at Politico: Bob Mueller Is Not Playing Around.

Federal investigators and prosecutors, and a grand jury, have now found probable cause to believe that a complex web of Russian organizations and agents executed a years-long scheme to undermine our elections—first to sow chaos, conflict and doubt into our electoral system and then specifically to support Donald Trump and oppose Hillary Clinton. These are not vague allegations; over 37 pages, the indictment lays out in careful detail a step-by-step scheme involving identity theft, fake accounts, carefully orchestrated trips and outreach, a concerted social media strategy and even real live rallies across the United States secretly planned from Russia. That is not to say that the president and his supporters will necessarily accept the allegations in the indictment, but this serious and thorough document does not leave them much of a leg to stand on if they continue to deny meaningful Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Beyond providing detailed support for Russian interference and starting the process of holding accountable those who perpetrated this exceedingly serious crime, special counsel Robert Mueller is, with this indictment, doing his part to prevent it from happening again.

The scheme he has uncovered threatened the very fabric of our democracy—and intelligence officials warned this week that Russia will do it again. If Russia repeatedly gets away with this kind of interference in U.S. elections, it will erode public confidence in our electoral system. By publicly spelling out the tactics used and acting swiftly and decisively to bring consequences, Mueller is making it easier for state and federal authorities to spot this conduct in the future and is providing a strong deterrent against Russian agents engaging in this kind of treachery.

The Washington Post: The rise of ‘Putin’s chef,’ the Russian oligarch accused of manipulating the U.S. election.

Have great weekend, Sky Dancers! There’s hope for our democracy yet. See you in the comment thread.


Thursday Reads: Another Mass Shooting Followed by Nothing but “Thoughts and Prayers”

Students evacuate Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Wednesday.

Good Afternoon, Sky Dancers.

It’s another heartbreaking day in Trump world, in the GOP-controlled USA, where the ability to buy semi-automatic rifles is more important than the health and safety of our children. Why is that? Because the Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the NRA. And Russia: let’s not forget that Russia is in bed with the NRA too.

CNBC: NRA, Russia and Trump: How ‘dark money’ is poisoning American democracy.

It was recently revealed that the FBI is investigating the National Rifle Association to determine whether a Russian central banker, and Putin ally, illegally funneled money through the organization to help the Trump campaign.

These allegations have now prompted a complaint to the Federal Election Commission and an effort by Sen. Ron Wyden to obtain documents from the Treasury Department and the NRA. As shocking as other Russia-related revelations have been — attempts to hack voting machines, vast Internet propaganda, leaking of stolen campaign information — this allegation illustrates a problem of even broader scope.

Although much of the reporting on Russia has focused on whether there was “collusion” with the Trump campaign — a genuine concern — the investigation is also revealing another disquieting reality: that American democracy has a money laundering problem.

Both in their personal finances and in their campaign support, politicians are relying on money hidden to the public, money which threatens to make them answerable to interests beyond those of the citizens they represent. The only way to combat this problem is to start shining a light on the dark corners of our politics….

Moreover, in the case of the NRA, the FBI is now investigating whether illicit funds were spent in support of Trump’s political campaign. Wehave long warned that our broken system of campaign finance disclosure creates opportunities for foreign governments to illegally influence American elections, undetected.

The NRA is among the largest “dark money” organizations, reporting the greatest amount of campaign spending without revealing the source of the funds — over $35 million in the 2016 election cycle alone. Still, this amount was just a fraction of the over $175 million in reportedcampaign-related spending that came from unknown sources.

Could this explain why some Republicans who have spoken out against Trump (e.g., Lindsey Graham and Bob Corker) have suddenly switched to sucking up? Are they being blackmailed by Trump, the NRA, or Russia?

Here’s another article on the NRA and Russia by Tim Dickinson at Rolling Stone: The Trump-Russia-NRA Connection: Here’s What You Need to Know.

The National Rifle Association spent tens of millions of dollars backing Trump’s presidential bid in 2016. The NRA endorsed Trump in May 2016. And the NRA disclosed it spent at least $30 million on Trump’s behalf and attacking Hillary Clinton. That level of support is unprecedented – more than twice what the NRA disclosed it spent on Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential run.

The true sum the NRA spent to install Trump in the White House may be far higher. Campaign finance disclosures do not cover spending on unregulated Internet advertising or voter mobilization; citing two sources close to the gun group, McClatchy suggests the NRA may have spent upwards of $70 million on Trump’s presidential bid.

President Trump is clearly indebted: “You came through for me, and I am going to come through for you,” Trump promised the NRA at its 2017 convention. “I will never, ever let you down.” [….]

In the age of Citizens United and unlimited campaign donations, the NRA has emerged as an important “dark money” hub in Republican politics. Under its tax code designation, the NRA is a “social welfare” organization, largely exempt from disclosing its donors. To skirt disclosure, other big-dollar political players – including a SuperPAC linked to Karl Rove and a “chamber of commerce” controlled by the Koch Brothers – have routinely steered money into the NRA, confident that the gun group’s spending will advance the GOP cause.

It is illegal, however, for foreign money to be used to influence U.S. elections. According to McClatchy, the heart of the FBI investigation is whether the NRA became a conduit for Russian cash, linked to the Kremlin, that bolstered Trump.

Trump was the perfect candidate for Russia and the NRA, because he has no moral values whatsoever. He’s the culmination of the GOP sellout that began with the Southern strategy, grew with the acceptance of evangelical “christian” “values,” and reached peak evil by bowing down to Russia in 2016. There’s no hope for our country as long as Republicans remain in control of the government. We will continue to see mass shootings on an almost daily basis until we can get turn these NRA/Russia-controlled automatons out of office.

How many more times will we have to see scenes of children running for their lives and sobbing in their parents’ arms on our TV and computer screens? Writing about yesterday’s disaster in Parkland, Florida feels nearly unbearable; but I guess I at least have to post some articles about it. So here we go.

The New York Times: Death Toll Is at 17 and Could Rise in Shooting.

PARKLAND, Fla. — A heavily armed young man barged into his former high school about an hour northwest of Miami on Wednesday, opening fire on terrified students and teachers and leaving a death toll of 17 that could rise even higher, the authorities said.

Students huddled in horror in their classrooms, with some of them training their cellphones on the carnage, capturing sprawled bodies, screams and gunfire that began with a few shots and then continued with more and more. The dead included students and adults, some of whom were shot outside the school and others inside the sprawling three-story building.

A father embraced his daughter after being reunited outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday. Credit Saul Martinez for The New York Times

The gunman, armed with a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, was identified as Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old who had been expelled from the school, the authorities said. He began his shooting rampage outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in this suburban neighborhood shortly before dismissal time around 2:40 p.m. He then made his way inside and proceeded down hallways he knew well, firing at students and teachers who were scurrying for cover, the authorities said.

By the end of the rampage, Mr. Cruz had killed 12 people inside the school and three outside it, including someone standing on a street corner, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said. Two more victims died of their injuries in local hospitals. The aftermath at the school was an eerie shrine, with chairs upended, a computer screen shattered with bullet holes and floors stained with blood.

On Thursday, the authorities charged Mr. Cruz with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

“This is catastrophic,” said Sheriff Israel, who has three children who graduated from the high school. “There really are no words.”

Here are some words: let’s clean house of the blood-soaked Republicans who care more about their blood money than about democracy or our children’s lives. Then let’s pass some intelligent gun control laws so we don’t have to have any more bloody massacres in our children’s schools.

John Cassidy at The New Yorker: America’s Failure to Protect Its Children from School Shootings Is a National Disgrace. Following a summary of the events of the mass shooting, Cassidy writes:

On Twitter, President Donald Trump offered his “prayers and condolences to the families of the victims,” adding that “no child, teacher, or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.” Fox News interviewed Marco Rubio, Florida’s junior senator, who has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. “I hope people reserve judgment…. The facts of this are important,” Rubio said. As soon as the facts are clear, Rubio went on, “we can have a deeper conversation about why these things happen.” The forty-six-year-old Republican added, “It’s a terrible situation. It’s amazing the amount of carnage that one individual can carry out in such a short period of time.”

Getty Images

Yet some pertinent facts are already known. According to local police, Cruz was armed with an AR-15 assault-style rifle—the same type of gun that Adam Lanza used to kill twenty-six pupils and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in December, 2012. Evidently, Rubio still isn’t aware of the power of such weapons, which fire bullets that can penetrate a steel helmet from a distance of five hundred yards. When fired from close range at civilians who aren’t wearing body armor, the bullets from an AR-15 don’t merely penetrate the human body—they tear it apart. It “looks like a grenade went off in there,” Peter Rhee, a trauma surgeon at the University of Arizona, told Wired.

To spare the families of the victims—and the public at large—additional anguish, these sorts of details are often glossed over in the aftermath of mass shootings. But it’s surely long past time that we acknowledged these facts, and that we begin to more fully discuss the complicity of N.R.A.-backed politicians like Rubio, and Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, in maintaining the environment that allows these tragedies to happen again and again and again.

One of the first duties of any government is to protect its citizens, through collective action, from violent threats they’d otherwise have to fend off themselves. Even most libertarians accept this principle. But when it comes to mass shootings, the Republican Party falls back on constitutional arguments that have no proper basis in history, and it refuses to budge from this stance. Nothing can shift it—not Sandy Hook, not the Orlando night-club shooting, not the Las Vegas massacre, not weekly shootings in schools. (According to the Guardian, Wednesday’s attack in Parkland was the eighth school shooting this year that has resulted in death or injury.) Nothing.

That’s right. And nothing will happen this time. Absolutely nothing.

More reads, links only

The New York Times: After Sandy Hook, More Than 400 People Have Been Shot in Over 200 School Shootings.

The Miami Herald: Amid massacre, a story of courage: Football coach stepped in front of bullets, reports say.

The Miami Herald: Florida school shooting suspect was ex-student who was flagged as threat.

Buzz Feed: The FBI Was Warned About A School Shooting Threat From A YouTube User Named Nikolas Cruz In September.

The Daily Beast: Florida Shooter Made Sick Use of School’s Active-Shooter Drill.

NBC News: Who is Nikolas Cruz? Florida school shooter joked about guns and worried classmates.

Business Insider: A student shared chilling photos trapped inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the shooting.

That’s all I have for today. Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.


Tuesday Reads: Intel Chiefs Testify, The Rape Culture Presidency, and Trump’s Horrifying Budget Proposal

Cezanne’s Cats

Good Afternoon!!

The illustrations in this post are Deborah Julian’s parodies of famous art works.

The U.S. Intelligence chiefs are testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee today. They are warning that Russia will attack the 2018 midterm elections. NBC: U.S. intel agencies expect Russia to escalate election meddling efforts.

The nation’s intelligence chiefs are presenting their view of the top threats confronting the nation before the Senate intelligence committee, where they are likely to face tough questioning about whether the Trump administration is responding adequately to the Russian efforts.

U.S. intelligence analysts believe that Russia will conduct “bolder and more disruptive cyber operations during the next year,” targeting Ukraine, NATO and the United States, the assessment says.

“We assess that the Russian intelligence services will continue their efforts to disseminate false information via Russian state-controlled media and covert online personas about U.S. activities to encourage anti-U.S. political views,” the statement says.

Van Gogh’s Bedroom with Cats

“Moscow seeks to create wedges that reduce trust and confidence in democratic processes, degrade democratization efforts, weaken U.S. partnerships with European allies, undermine Western sanctions, encourage anti-U.S. political views, and counter efforts to bring Ukraine and other former Soviet states into European institutions.”

The assessment says that Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom President Donald Trump has repeatedly praised, “is likely to increase his use of repression and intimidation to contend with domestic discontent over corruption, poor social services, and a sluggish economy with structural deficiencies”

It adds that Putin will “continue to manipulate the media, distribute perks to maintain elite support, and elevate younger officials to convey an image of renewal. He is also likely to expand the government’s legal basis for repression and to enhance his capacity to intimidate and monitor political threats, perhaps using the threat of ‘extremism’ or the 2018 World Cup to justify his actions.”

Bloomberg: Russia Sees U.S. Midterms as ‘Potential Target,’ Spy Chief Says.

This year’s midterm elections are a “potential target” for Russian influence operations, with Moscow likely to exploit social media and other platforms to fuel divisions, according to the top U.S. spy.

Russia is probably the most capable and aggressive of all the countries capable of such operations, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in prepared remarks for a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday. In a review of the intelligence community’s annual assessment of global threats, he was to appear alongside officials, including Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Of course no matter what the Intel chiefs say, the “president” is working to help Putin and Russia and Republicans in Congress are working to protect the “president,” so we’re probably going to continue to be vulnerable to the Russian attacks.

“Moscow seeks to create wedges that reduce trust and confidence in democratic processes,” Coats said. “We assess that the Russian intelligence services will continue their efforts to disseminate false information via Russian state-controlled media and covert online personas about U.S. activities to encourage anti-U.S. political views.”

The testimony underscores continued unanimity among American intelligence agencies that Russia conducted an extensive campaign to meddle in the 2016 presidential campaign. President Donald Trump has dismissed the continuing investigation into Russian interference as a “witch hunt,” especially the suggestion that anyone close to him colluded in the effort.

One bit of news that has come out of the hearing so far is that the FBI’s timeline on the Rob Porter abuse scandal is very different from what is being claimed by the White House.

I haven’t seen any news articles about this yet, but they’ll be coming and the White house will continue to be overwhelmed by this growing scandal. Some interesting reads on the abuse story and its aftereffects:

Laura Chapin at U.S. News: The Rape-Culture Presidency.

In the words of “The West Wing’s” C.J. Cregg, I’m not shocked Trump is defending former White House aide Rob Porter against claims of domestic violence. I’m barely surprised.

In 2016, The New York Times posted an uncensored account of Trump crowds at his campaign events. Among the frequent epithets were shouts of “Kill Her!” and “Trump that Bitch,” referring to Hillary Clinton. As local reporter Saja Hindi posted, a Trump rally in Loveland, Colorado, featured 12-year-old boys wearing T-shirts that read, “Hillary Sucks But Not Like Monica” on the front and “Trump that Bitch” on the back.

Matisse Goldfish with Cats

Just as many reporters and pundits were reluctant to accept the core of Trump’s appeal was racism – we kept hearing economic anxiety as an excuse – here’s another ugly truth they don’t want to accept: Trump’s appeal to his base is partly rape culture and the abuse of women. Rewire writer Imani Gandy said that Trump is the walking, talking embodiment of rape culture. That’s who he is. That’s why his hardcore supporters like him.

It’s quite a good rant. I hope you’ll read the rest.

Peter Baker at The New York Times: A Whirlwind Envelops the White House, and the Revolving Door Spins.

The doors at the White House have been swinging a lot lately. A deputy chief of staff moved on. A speechwriter resigned. The associate attorney general stepped down. The chief of staff offered to quit. And that was just Friday.

All of that came after the departure of Rob Porter, the White House staff secretary who cleared out his office last week amid accusations of spousal abuse. The White House had overlooked reported problems with his security clearance last year in part, officials said, because of a reluctance to lose yet another senior aide, particularly one seen as so professional and reliable.

More than a year into his administration, President Trump is presiding over a staff in turmoil, one with a 34 percent turnover rate, higher than any White House in decades. He has struggled to fill openings, unwilling to hire Republicans he considers disloyal and unable to entice Republicans who consider him unstable. Those who do come to work for him often do not last long, burning out from a volatile, sometimes cutthroat environment exacerbated by tweets and subpoenas.

To visit the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the granite, slate and cast iron edifice across West Executive Avenue from the White House where most of the president’s staff works, at times feels like walking through a ghost town. The hallways do not bustle as much as in past administrations. The budget director is doing double duty as the acting head of the consumer protection agency. The personnel director is doing triple duty, also overseeing the offices of political affairs and public liaison.

“We have vacancies on top of vacancies,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied White House turnover over the last six administrations. “You have initial vacancies, you have people who left in the first year and now you have people who are leaving in the second year.”

Eliana Johnson at Politico: Kelly increasingly isolated as Porter scandal rages on.

Turbulence in this West Wing is typically generated by President Donald Trump, but for the past week, it’s been chief of staff John Kelly—the man brought in to be a steadying hand—who’s inspiring what one White House official described as a crisis of confidence.

Ballet Class Visitor, inspired by Degas

While the president often makes a hash of the truth, aides took Kelly’s word at face value until they were confronted with zigzagging accounts of the events leading up to former staff secretary Rob Porter’s resignation—and Kelly’s role in them.

In the hours immediately after the Daily Mail published a photograph of Porter’s first ex-wife with a black eye, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders hastily arranged an off-the-record meeting in the West Wing with Porter and four reporters: the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman, the Washington Post’s Josh Dawsey, Axios’ Jonathan Swan, and the Wall Street Journal’s Michael Bender. In that meeting, which hasn’t previously been reported, Porter relayed his version of events and fielded questions from the group.

Kelly told staff two days later that once he’d been briefed on allegations of abuse against Porter by his two ex-wives, “he was gone 40 minutes later.”

The White House declined to comment on Porter’s meeting with reporters, including whether or not Kelly was aware it took place. But two White House officials said the mixed messages are symptomatic of the extent to which the White House has left Kelly to shoulder the blame for the Porter mess.

Read all the details at Politico.

The New York Times: Accusations Against Aide Renew Attention on White House Security Clearances.

One week after the 2016 election, President-elect Donald J. Trump tweeted that he was “not trying to get ‘top level security clearance’ for my children,” calling such claims “a typically false news story.” But he said nothing at the time about his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Nearly 15 months later, Mr. Kushner, now a senior White House adviser with a broad foreign policy portfolio that requires access to some of the intelligence community’s most closely guarded secrets, still has not succeeded in securing a permanent security clearance. The delay has left him operating on an interim status that allows him access to classified material while the F.B.I. continues working on his full background investigation.

After lunch with Pierre Bonnard

Mr. Kushner’s status was similar to the status of others in the White House, including Rob Porter, the staff secretary who resigned last week after his two former wives alleged that he physically and emotionally abused them during their marriages.

People familiar with the security clearance process in Mr. Trump’s White House said it was widely acknowledged among senior aides that raising questions about unresolved vetting issues in a staff member’s background would implicitly reflect on Mr. Kushner’s status, as well — a situation made more awkward because Mr. Kushner is married to the president’s daughter Ivanka.

Click on the link to read more about Kushner’s troubles.

I’ll end with two stories on the horrifying Trump budget proposal:

The Washington Post: Trump’s budget hits poor Americans the hardest.

President Trump proposed a budget Monday that hits the poorest Americans the hardest, slashing billions of dollars in food stamps, health insurance and federal housing subsidies while pushing legislation to institute broad work requirements for families receiving housing vouchers, expanding on moves by some states to require recipients of Medicaid and food stamps to work.

The Trump budget proposal would gut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, by $17.2 billion in 2019 — equivalent to 22 percent of the program’s total cost last year. It calls for cuts of more than $213.5 billion over the next decade, a reduction of nearly 30 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In addition, Trump is proposing a full-scale redesign of SNAP, which provides an average of $125 per month to 42.2 million Americans. For the last 40 years, the program has allowed beneficiaries to use SNAP benefits at grocery stores as if they were cash. Under the budget proposal, the Department of Agriculture would use a portion of those benefits to buy and deliver a package of U.S.-grown commodities to SNAP households that receive $90 or more in assistance each month, using the government’s buying power to obtain common foods at lower costs.

“This budget proposes taking away food assistance from millions of low-income Americans — and on the heels of a tax cut that favored the wealthy and corporations,” said Stacy Dean, president for food assistance policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It doesn’t reflect the right values.”

Because Trump doesn’t have values.

Russell Berman at The Atlantic: All the Trump Budget Cuts Congress Will Ignore.

Picasso’s Cat with Mirror

Within the thousands of pages the White House transmitted to Congress on Monday morning as part of President Trump’s second annual budget request, there is a line that pretty much sums up the whole ritual.

“Many of the eliminations and reductions in this volume reflect a continuation of policies proposed in the 2018 President’s Budget that have not yet been enacted
by the Congress,” the sentence reads. It’s included in the introduction of a 222-page document titled “Major Savings and Reforms.”

Those are all the cuts the Trump administration is proposing, and they’re going nowhere.

Trump again wants to take a meat cleaver to the Environmental Protection Agency, chopping its budget by one-third. He’s asking Congress to scrap entirely community-development block grants and heating assistance for low-income housing. And he wants to eliminate funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the national endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, and a slew of other independent agencies.

The proposals prompted an outcry from Democrats, advocacy groups, and activists. But there wasn’t much cause for alarm: Congress ignored most of them last year, and lawmakers are even more likely to ignore them again this year.

For good measure, Trump is proposing hundreds of billions in new cuts to Medicare, a program he vowed as a candidate to leave alone and which he generally laid off a year ago. But those reductions, too, aren’t going to happen.

Much more at the link.

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


Lazy Saturday Reads: Shameless Trump Stands With The Abusers

The Getaway, by Canadian artist David Rheaume

Happy Weekend Sky Dancers!!

My plan for today and every day that the monster currently defiling the American people’s House continues to perpetrate his foul corruption is to resist the urge to give up on justice and human decency. We need to remember every day that Hillary got nearly 3 million more votes than the current “president.” But for Russian interference, James Comey, and media misogyny, she would be in the White House now. There are many more in the Resistance than those who support Trump’s authoritarian behavior. We must and will defeat him in the end.

Meanwhile, the woman-hating “president” tweeted his sympathy for abusive men this morning. Doesn’t he need to get to the golf course?

Like his life was “shattered” by becoming “president?” Fuck you, you fucking asshole! Some twitter responses:

The moronic “president” also tweeted about the Democratic memo produced in response to the fake Nunes memo. Last night he announced he will refuse to release it. Gee, I wonder why?

Why didn’t you redact the Nunes memo after the FBI and DOJ said it would cause “grave” damage to national security, you fucking hypocrite?

Recommended Reads

The Daily Beast: In Private, Donald Trump Voices Doubt About Rob Porter’s Accusers.

As his White House has become engulfed in controversy over its handling ofallegations of spousal abuse leveled against former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, President Donald Trump has privately questioned the credibility of the accusers. In fact, the president has gone as far as to express doubts to aides and friends about the assault allegations, and has asked repeatedly if there are any reasons Porter’s two ex-wives could have to make up such claims, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the conversations.

Trump’s skepticism has been apparent in discussions with confidants and officials, who tell The Daily Beast that, at least in their conversations, he has not expressed sympathy for the ex-wives, Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby, who have gone on the record to allege physical violence.

Coco’s Paradise Inn by Tuomas Korpi

“[It is] 100% not what’s on his mind,” one source close to Trump who has spoken with the president in recent days told The Daily Beast, referring to the well-being of alleged victims.

The Washington Post: Second White House official departs amid abuse allegations, which he denies.

A White House speechwriter resigned Friday after his former wife claimed that he was violent and emotionally abusive during their turbulent 2½ -year marriage — allegations that he vehemently denied, saying she was the one who victimized him.

The abrupt departure of David Sorensen, a speechwriter who worked under senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, came as The Washington Post was reporting on a story about abuse claims by his ex-wife, Jessica Corbett. Corbett told The Post that she described his behavior to the FBI last fall as the bureau was conducting a background check of Sorensen….

Corbett first contacted The Post a week before Porter’s case became public. She said that during her marriage to Sorensen, he ran a car over her foot, put out a cigarette on her hand, threw her into a wall and grasped her menacingly by her hair while they were alone on their boat in remote waters off Maine’s coast, an incident she said left her fearing for her life. During part of their marriage, he was a top policy adviser to Republican Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

Beach Getaway, by Joni DiPirro

She said she did not report her abuse allegations to police because of Sorensen’s connections to law enforcement officials.

Corbett said several of the incidents involved alcohol and acknowledged that she slapped Sorensen a number of times after he called her a vulgar term.

The Washington Post: Hope Hicks: The quiet one in Trump’s White House suddenly feels the glare.

Hope Hicks, the discreet aide always at President Trump’s side whose desk is just outside the Oval Office, is his right-hand woman. Improbably, the former model, at only 29, has worked with Trump longer than anyone he is not related to at the White House.

But now Hicks is suddenly frying under the spotlight of scandal, a central figure in two White House controversies — the Russian investigation and the departure of a senior White House aide accused of physically abusing two ex-wives.

Hicks has been dating Rob Porter, 40, who left his job Wednesday, and was involved in crafting the widely condemned initial White House defense of him. Chief of Staff John F. Kelly called him “a man of true integrity.”

After Porter began dating Hicks, an ex-girlfriend brought accusations to the White House about Porter’s abuse of his ex-wives.

By Colin Ross Jack

In recent days, Trump has complained about Hicks — a rare occurrence for a president who rages about others but rarely about her. Her colleagues have quietly accused her of looking out for Porter and not the White House, and she has been visibly upset in recent days as her personal life becomes a national news story. West Wing aides say she has glanced at the TV screens, seen her face and quickly looked away.

More details at the WaPo.

CNN: Dozens of Trump officials still lack full security clearance.

Thirty to 40 White House officials and administration political appointees are still operating without full security clearances, including senior adviser to President Donald Trump Jared Kushner and — until recently — White House staffer Rob Porter, according to a US official and a source familiar with the situation.

The White House claims that the backlog of interim security clearances is a procedural consequence of the review process carried out by the FBI and White House Office of Security, which can take time to complete.

But several sources, including intelligence officials who have served previous Democratic and GOP administrations, describe the backlog as very unusual and make clear that the process should have been completed after a year in office….

One current and one former US official said the backlog could indicate that there are remaining questions or obstacles from the intelligence community and law enforcement conducting the review.

CNN: Bannon: ‘Anti-patriarchy movement’ will ‘undo ten thousand years of recorded history.’

Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, is quoted in a new edition of the book “Devil’s Bargain” as sharply criticizing what he terms the “anti-patriarchy movement” — that is, the movement against sexual harassment and assault — saying he believes it will “undo ten thousand years of recorded history.”

Island Getaway, by Julie Veenstar

In a preface to an updated paperback version of his New York Times bestselling book, set for release on Tuesday, author and Bloomberg journalist Josh Green writes that he visited Bannon at his Washington, D.C., home while he watched the Golden Globes.

Green says Bannon, who was recently ousted from his position as executive chairman of the far-right website Breitbart, took particular notice of the Times’s Up campaign, founded by Hollywood celebrities inspired by the #MeToo movement and the post-Harvey Weinstein reckoning.

“It’s a Cromwell moment!” Bannon is quoted as nearly shouting, referring to the 17th century political leader often characterized as a fanatical dictator. “It’s even more powerful than populism. It’s deeper. It’s primal. It’s elemental. The long black dresses and all that — this is the Puritans! It’s anti-patriarchy.”

No doubt Trump would agree if he could read and understand words longer than four letters.

The Washington Post: ‘Very turbulent’: Trump and White House consumed with turmoil amid abuse allegations.

The White House was engulfed in chaos Friday as officials scrambled to contain the fallout from its management of domestic violence allegations against staff secretary Rob Porter, even as President Trump lavished praise on the now-departed senior aide and suggested he may be innocent.

And amid the tumult, the man whose mission had been to enforce order in the West Wing, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, was focused instead on a more personal goal — to save his job — as Trump seriously sounded out confidants about possible replacements.

Helen and Lizzie – Woman walking on beach wih Yorkie dog, by Kay Crain

Trump and Kelly have had a series of conversations in recent days that two White House officials described as “very turbulent.” The president is upset with his top aide — as well as with White House Communications Director Hope Hicks — for not being more transparent with him about the allegations against Porter and for their botched public relations push to defend him, according to four officials.

Kelly and his loyal deputies have been “frantically trying to stop the bleeding,” according to one West Wing staffer, who, like the others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe the chaos. ­Kelly’s efforts at damage control included instructing senior aides at a Friday morning meeting to communicate that he had taken action to remove Porter within 40 minutes of learning that abuse allegations from both of Porter’s ex-wives were credible, according to two senior officials. That account contradicts the administration’s public statements and other private accounts.

Fuck Kelly! He needs to be gone yesterday.

Politico: White House lurches into crisis mode, again. An excerpt–lots more gossip at the link.

The Trump White House has careened from one crisis to another since January, with the furor around the publication of Michael Wolff’s best-selling tell-all “Fire and Fury” — which sparked a public break between Trump and his former top strategist Steve Bannon — replaced by outrage sparked by Trump’s description of African countries as “shitholes,” as well as a stand-off between Trump and the FBI over the ever-present Russia investigation. In the midst of all that, the government shut down – twice.

The relentless chaos has prompted some senior officials to leave the administration in recent weeks. The latest is Rachel Brand, the number three official at the Justice Department, who resigned on Friday to join Wal-Mart, telling friends that she was concerned that her association with the Trump administration could hurt her reputation.

Key West, by Thomas Kincaide

“She is very smart, accomplished, and talented, and wants to protect her career,” said one Brand associate.

Late Friday, the White House made a long-anticipated announcement about personnel moves in the West Wing. The list largely consisted of portfolio reassignments and title changes, doing little to allay concerns that Kelly has been unable to recruit fresh faces to replace senior officials who have left.

The relentless chaos has prompted some senior officials to leave the administration in recent weeks. The latest is Rachel Brand, the number three official at the Justice Department, who resigned on Friday to join Wal-Mart, telling friends that she was concerned that her association with the Trump administration could hurt her reputation.“She is very smart, accomplished, and talented, and wants to protect her career,” said one Brand associate.

Late Friday, the White House made a long-anticipated announcement about personnel moves in the West Wing. The list largely consisted of portfolio reassignments and title changes, doing little to allay concerns that Kelly has been unable to recruit fresh faces to replace senior officials who have left.

The changes included the nomination of Jim Carroll, who had been serving as Kelly’s de facto deputy, to serve as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, further thinning the top ranks of the White House. White House officials told POLITICO as recently as Wednesday that Kelly was pleased with Carroll’s performance in his office.

I hope everyone has a terrific weekend, in spite of the Trump horrors. Take care of yourselves in the best ways you know how. I love you guys!


Thursday Reads

Paula Modersohn-Becker with Elspeth c1903

Good Afternoon!!

Today’s Google doodle honors pioneering impressionist artist Paula Modersohn-Becker. I had never heard of her, so I decided to look at her work. I’m using some of her paintings to illustrate this post. Time Magazine has some background on her life and art.

The first woman to paint a naked self-portrait didn’t care much for the traditional expectations or institutions that constrained most European women at the turn of the 20th century. Paula Modersohn-Becker’s parents wanted her to become a teacher, and told her to abandon her “egotism” in order to carry out her wifely duties; instead, she became one of the era’s most prolific artists, and helped give rise to the modernist movement alongside Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse….

At the age of 18, she defied her parents to join an artist colony in Worpswede, in northern Germany. There, she met her future husband, the older, respected artist Otto Modersohn.

Eager to learn more about modern art, Modersohn-Becker soon after moved to Paris, and encouraged Modersohn to join her. The two got engaged, at which point Modersohn-Becker ‘s family intervened and sent her to a cooking school in preparation for her coming marriage.

Self Portrait

But she refused to put aside her ambitions and paint brushes, and boldly declared she “was going to become somebody“. Her works often featured regular women, frequently painted nude, as they slept, breastfed and gardened.

In 1906 alone, the prolific artist painted 80 pictures. She died later the following year of an embolism, 18 days after giving birth to her daughter at the age of 31.

She “declared she ‘was going to become somebody.” I just love that! Reading about this courageous woman took me out of the insanity of America’s present moment for a little while, and I’m grateful for that brief respite.

Today’s news is as crazy as ever. I wrote in a comment on JJ’s post that maybe Trump’s “success” in business was partially a result of the chaos he constantly creates. He frequently had to be bailed out of his massive mistakes–first by his father and then by various banks and investors. He refused to pay contractors and employees until they simply gave up in disgust.

Many of the people who have tried to deal with Trump have ended up simply throwing up their hands. We see that happening in the White House and even in the media. The man is a walking, talking disaster area. Everything he touches turns to shit and everywhere he goes he leaves terrible damage in his wake. I wonder if American democracy will survive.

Trump also seems to attract other people with dark and ugly personalities. Take White House chief of staff John Kelly, for example. When he was first appointed to his current position, the media celebrated Kelly as the “adult in the room” who would tame Trump’s wild and dangerous authoritarian tendencies. Now we know Kelly and Trump are two peas in a pod. The only difference is that Kelly had a slightly more dignified facade. But that’s gone now; Kelly has shown us who he is: a bigoted, foul-mouthed, unapologetic authoritarian, just like Trump.

Gail Collins at The New York Times: Trump’s Worst Watcher.

Do you remember back when everybody thought John Kelly was going to calm down the Trump White House?

Stop laughing. Although it has been another wow of a week, hasn’t it? We had one top administration official, Rob Porter, resigning over claims of domestic abuse regarding two ex-wives. Kelly defended Porter as “a friend, a confidant and a trusted professional” shortly before a picture popped up of one former Mrs. Porter sporting a black eye.

This was a little bit after Kelly himself made headlines for suggesting that some young immigrants couldn’t qualify for federal help because they were just “too lazy to get off their asses” and file some paperwork. Meanwhile the president, apparently unsupervised, was calling for a government shutdown and lobbying enthusiastically for an expensive new military parade. Because he saw one in Paris and thought it was cool.

A good chief of staff advises the president against doing things that will make the administration look stupid or crazy. So, are we all in agreement that Kelly, retired general turned Trump chief of staff, appears to be … a failure? And sort of a jerk in the bargain?

For example:

The world began to notice that Kelly was perhaps not as cool, calm and collected as we’d bargained for when he was coordinating a condolence call by the president to Myeshia Johnson, whose husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, was killed while serving on a strange mission in Niger.

It did not go well. Ms. Johnson said the president seemed to forget her husband’s name. His idea of comfort, she said, was to tell her La David knew “what he was signing up for.” Trump naturally denied everything. Representative Frederica Wilson, a family friend, made the whole disaster public. Kelly then waded in with an emotional speech in which he assailed Wilson for taking credit for getting funding for a Florida building named after two slain F.B.I. agents. Its overall weirdness was matched only by its total inaccuracy.

The next step, in theory, would be an apologetic call from Kelly to the congresswoman. Or assigning someone to reach out to La David Johnson’s widow and try to smooth the whole awful situation over. Never happened.

Read the rest at the NYT.

Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair: Beyond Disbelief: John Kelly’s Defense of Rob Porter Roils The West Wing.

For weeks, Donald Trump has been souring on his Chief of Staff John Kelly because of his controlling ways and rising public profile. And now Kelly is in the midst of a bonafide crisis, one that exacerbates the president’s own #MeToo problems. On Tuesday, Kelly strongly defended White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter against disturbing allegations, first published in the Daily Mail, that he abused his ex-wives. Kelly’s decision to back Porter has left many people inside the White House angry, two sources with knowledge of the matter said. On Wednesday afternoon, Porter resigned. Axios reported Kelly wanted Porter to “stay and fight.”

Girl in a red dress with a sunflower

Yesterday, Porter’s second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, told the Mail that Porter called her a “fucking bitch” on their honeymoon, and once pulled her naked out of the shower. In response, Kelly put out a statement calling Porter “a man of true integrity and honor” and a “trusted professional.” But shortly after Kelly rallied behind his colleague, Porter’s first wife came forward with additional harrowing allegations. Colbie Holderness, who married Porter in 2009, told the Daily Mail that Porter punched her in the face and choked her, among other alleged abuses. The article included a photo of her with a black eye. “It was not hard enough for me to pass out, but it was scary, humiliating, and dehumanizing,” she said. Porter told the Daily Mail that the allegations were “slanderous and simply false.”

Kelly’s decision to go to bat for Porter deeply frustrated White House staffers, sources told me. He was supposed to be the West Wing’s resident grown-up, but staffers are increasingly questioning Kelly’s judgment, four Republicans close to the White House told me. “It’s beyond disbelief. Everyone is trying to figure out why Kelly is leading the charge to save him,” one former West Wing official said. Another Republican said: “How many times has Kelly put out a statement defending Trump?”

Sources said Kelly was so quick to defend Porter because the two have grown very close since Trump appointed Kelly chief of staff last summer. Porter, a Rhodes scholar, has helped Kelly instill discipline in the West Wing. Kelly has told people that Porter has a “calming effect” on White House operations. For instance, it’s Porter who screens all the information that gets to Trump’s desk. Porter also helped Kelly conduct a West Wing organizational study that provided Kelly with a cudgel to sideline Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, two former West Wing officials told me. The officials also said Kelly supported Porter even after the F.B.I. delayed granting Porter’s security clearance because they uncovered his alleged history of spousal abuse.

Kelly needs to go. Now. Late last night, he finally claimed (probably after urging from WH staff members who still have consciences) that he was “shocked” by the allegations of abuse that he previously didn’t give a shit about.

There’s plenty of news on the Russia investigation.

Last night NBC News published new details on Russia’s hacking of state voting systems: Russians penetrated U.S. voter systems, top U.S. official says.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said she couldn’t talk about classified information publicly, but in 2016, “We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.”

A boy in front of apple trees, 1901

Jeh Johnson, who was DHS secretary during the Russian intrusions, said, “2016 was a wake-up call and now it’s incumbent upon states and the Feds to do something about it before our democracy is attacked again.”

“We were able to determine that the scanning and probing of voter registration databases was coming from the Russian government.”

NBC News reported in Sept. 2016 that more than 20 states had been targeted by the Russians.

There is no evidence that any of the registration rolls were altered in any fashion, according to U.S. officials.

Read more details at the link above.

Meduza (“The Real Russia, Today”): An escort girl may be the latest ‘Russia Gate’ link.

Alexey Navalny has published new corruption allegations against Deputy Prime Minister Sergey Prikhodko and oligarch Oleg Deripaska, alleging that the two met aboard Deripaska’s yacht in August 2016 off the coast of Norway, possibly to discuss the oligarch’s relationship with Paul Manafort and his role in Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Navalny says he learned about the meeting thanks to an escort who posted photos from the excursion on Instagram. Navalny says the trip amounts to a bribe, insofar as Deripaska apparently flew Prikhodko in on his private jet and then provided him with the services of an “escort girl.”

Navalny also alleges that Prikhodko owns a home valued at 300 million rubles ($5.2 million) in a luxurious area outside Moscow, as well as two apartments in the city worth almost 500 million rubles ($8.7 million) — real estate that the oppositionist says Prikhodko could only afford because of bribes.

We’ll have wait and see if this story gets filled out in U.S. or British media.

USA Today: George W. Bush: ‘Clear evidence Russians meddled’ in election.

Former president George W. Bush appeared to take aim at President Trump on Thursday when he said at an economic summit that there was “pretty clear evidence that the Russians meddled” in the 2016 U.S. election.

Bush did not directly name Trump during his talk in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. He appeared there as part of a conference by the Milken Institute, a think tank based in Santa Monica, Calif.

“Whether (Russia) affected the outcome is another question,” Bush said. “It’s problematic that a foreign nation is involved in our election system. Our democracy is only as good as people trust the results.”

The Washington Post: Justice Dept. official who helped oversee Clinton, Russia probes steps down.

David Laufman, an experienced federal prosecutor who in 2014 became chief of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, said farewell to colleagues Wednesday. He cited personal reasons.

His departure from the high-pressure job comes as President Trump and his Republican allies have stepped up attacks on the Justice Department, the FBI and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III for their handling of the Russia probe.

“It’s tough to leave a mission this compelling and an institution as exceptional as the Department of Justice,” said Laufman, 59. “But I know that prosecutors and agents will continue to bring to their work precisely what the American people should expect: a fierce and relentless commitment to protect the national security of the United States.”

 “David’s departure is a great loss for the department,’’ said Mary McCord, a former acting head of the National Security Division who resigned in May. “He has the integrity and attention to detail that is critical to investigating and prosecuting the types of sensitive matters handled by the department’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.”

I hadn’t heard of Laufman before, but the story says he was a target of right wing attacks.

Laufman became a target of the far-right blogosphere, with conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich accusing him last year of being the source of “national security leaks.” Cernovich’s claim, which Laufman’s colleagues have called baseless, surfaced after media reports detailed then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s discussion of U.S. sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

The online attacks persisted for months. After Comey’s firing in May, Cernovich posted a piece titled “Will DOJ leaker David Laufman be next to leave after #Comey?”

Critics noted that Laufman had donated to Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, referring to him as a “holdover.” But he is a career attorney who has served as a political appointee in Republican administrations as well, notably as chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003.

One more interesting read is this long piece at Politico Magazine by Luke Harding: Why Carter Page Was Worth Watching. There’s plenty of evidence that the former Trump campaign adviser, for all his quirks, was on suspiciously good terms with Russia.

The article is an excerpt from Harding’s book Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win.

What stories are you following today?

 


Tuesday Reads: Trump Delusions Vs. Reality

by Pavel Chudnovsky

Good Morning!!

Can I just spend the day looking at art work on Pinterest and browsing books on Amazon? The real world has become unreal. Is anyone ever going to stop this insanity? Yesterday Trump actually claimed Democrats committed treason because they didn’t cheer enthusiastically for his idiotic SOTU speech. NBC News reports:

President Donald Trump on Monday called Democrats’ stone-faced reaction to his State of the Union address last week “treasonous” and “un-American” during a visit to a manufacturing plant in Cincinnati.

Trump described Republicans as “going totally crazy wild” during his remarks last Tuesday, while expression-less Democrats remained seated for the majority of the speech. “They were like death,” Trump lamented. “And un-American. Un-American.”

But their reaction, he said, was also something much worse.

Vaguely noting that “someone” called the Democrats’ reactions “‘treasonous,'” Trump said he agreed. “I mean, yeah, I guess. Why not? … Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”

Coffee And Cat, by Betty Pieper

In Trump’s mind, “our country” means *Trump.* This moron thinks he’s a dictator and he can’t understand why he doesn’t get robotic fealty like Kim Jong Un. If he could get away with it, would he murder his critics like Kim does? I don’t want to live in a tin-pot dictatorship, thank you very much.

While Trump was busy tearing down the First Amendment, the stock market that he constantly touts took a record nose dive. Oddly, he’s suddenly gone silent on that front.

The New York Times: How Deep Is the Hole the Stock Market Just Stepped In?

After the Dow Jones industrial average index shed 1,175 points on Monday, extending a rout that began in earnest last week, investors will be wondering what size hole the market has just fallen into.

Of course, it’s impossible to tell exactly where a bottom is, but there are ways to assess whether a sell-off will gather steam or burn out.

Nearly all the economic news has been good in recent weeks, but in the often-neurotic world of investing, the news has perhaps been too good. Two reports last week that wages are growing at a solid pace, for instance, helped prompt the latest selling.

Investors fear that an increase in wages, especially at a time of low unemployment, might lead to higher inflation, which in turn could prompt the Federal Reserve to increase interest rates more quickly than expected. The higher borrowing costs would then crimp companies’ investment plans, leading eventually to lower economic growth over all. There is no evidence that this chain reaction has begun, but when the stock market is in a skittish mood, it does not wait around for the next economic release.

The market is still fluctuating today. The New York Times: Wall Street Unsettled After a Global Rout.

The sometimes-panicky global market sell-off eased somewhat on Tuesday morning, as the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index bounced between positive and negative territory in early trading in the United States.

MARKET SNAPSHOT 

  • S.& P. 500–0.26%
  • DOW+0.12%
  • NASDAQ+0.04%

After steep drops in Asia and significant declines in Europe, investors assessed whether Wall Street’s violent decline on Monday — when the S.&P. lost more than 4 percent, its worst decline since August 2011 — reflected actual fundamentals or was merely a long-overdue outbreak of investor jitters

For months, markets seemed to sleepwalk ever higher, as measures of volatility — the ups and downs of stock prices — hit remarkably calm levels. Investors appeared to grow accustomed to an economic backdrop of lackluster growth and inflation, a state of affairs that ensured powerful global central banks would continue to support markets with a range of policies.

But the peaceful climb ended in recent days. Investors have become worried that the solid economy in the United States could be showing early signals of inflation pressure. Those concerns drove yields on long-term Treasury bonds sharply higher in recent weeks, as economic data — such as the Labor Department’s jobs report last Friday — showed wages growing at their fastest clip in years.

The Washington Post: Trump and Republicans discover the perils of touting the stock market.

President Trump and congressional Republicans have spent much of the past year trying to connect a giddy stock market rally with their economic agenda, but stocks’ precipitous plunge in the past five days has delivered a sobering reality: What goes up can come back down — quickly and with little warning.

With Monday’s steep fall, Trump has presided over the biggest stock market drop in U.S. history, when measured by points in the Dow Jones industrial average. The free fall began in earnest Jan. 30 and snowballed Friday and Monday, for a combined loss of almost 2,100 points, or 8 percent of the Dow’s value.

It is also unclear if the past week will amount to a small correction or the beginning of a painful slide that many investors said was overdue.

Trump’s economic team is largely untested in periods of economic uncertainty. Many investors and lawmakers are watching the actions of Trump’s newly sworn-in pick for Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome H. Powell, to see how quickly he is willing to raise interest rates in the face of rising inflation.

It’s already obvious that Trump and the GOP have no clue how to deal with the economy. Just look at the predictable results of their irresponsible tax cuts. The Washington Post: The U.S. government is set to borrow nearly $1 trillion this year, an 84 percent jump from last year.

Portrait of a Lady with a Cat, Yaroshenko Nicholas Aleksandrovich, Russian

It was another crazy news week, so it’s understandable if you missed a small but important announcement from the Treasury Department: The federal government is on track to borrow nearly $1 trillion this fiscal year — Trump’s first full year in charge of the budget.

That’s almost double what the government borrowed in fiscal 2017.

Here are the exact figures: The U.S. Treasury expects to borrow $955 billion this fiscal year, according to documents released Wednesday. It’s the highest amount of borrowing in six years, and a big jump from the $519 billion the federal government borrowed last year.

Treasury mainly attributed the increase to the “fiscal outlook.” The Congressional Budget Office was more blunt. In a report this week, the CBO said tax receipts are going to be lower because of the new tax law.

Surprise, surprise.

Oh, and remember that trade deficit that Trump is always complaining about? Bloomberg: U.S. Trade Deficit Is Wider Than Any Month or Year Since 2008.

The U.S. trade deficit widened to the biggest monthly and annual levels since the last recession, underscoring the inherent friction in President Donald Trump’s goal of narrowing the gap while enjoying faster economic growth.

The deficit increased 5.3 percent in December to a larger-than- expected $53.1 billion, the widest since October 2008, as imports outpaced exports, Commerce Department data showed Tuesday. For all of 2017, the goods-and-services gap grew 12 percent to $566 billion, the biggest since 2008.

The trend may extend into this year: Solid consumer spending and business investment — assuming they hold up amid the recent stock-market rout — will fuel demand for foreign-made merchandise. While improving overseas growth and a weaker dollar bode well for exports, Trump’s efforts to seek more favorable terms with U.S. trading partners remain a work in progress, and his tax-cut legislation may cause the deficit to widen further.

Meanwhile, as Republicans try to recover from Devin Nunes’ failed attempt to help Trump stop the Mueller investigation, we’re headed for another government shutdown. NBC News: Government shutdown deadline looms Thursday as lawmakers try for DACA deal.

The next short-term government funding bill is set to run out Thursday and Congress is poised to pass a fifth stop-gap funding bill to keep the lights on.

The latest deadline looms as a deal on DACA, which in part forced the last government shutdown, has yet to emerge that will get the support of the White House….

The House is expected to vote on their version Tuesday. It would extend government funding until March 23 but fund the Defense Department for the remainder of the fiscal year, which would appease the conservative Freedom Caucus and defense hawks.

It would also fund community health centers for two years, which is something the Democrats have been demanding. It’s unclear, however, if the Senate would support the House measure.

But House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was critical, calling Republicans “incompetent.”

“Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House but they have to rely on five stop-gap spending bills in a row to keep government running? Republicans must stop governing from manufactured crisis to crisis, and work with Democrats to pass the many urgent, long overdue priorities of the American people,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Sigh . . . remember those long-ago days when we didn’t have an insane “president” who triggered three or four major crises every day? Oh wait. That was only a little more than a year ago.

The Nunes memo was a joke, but the internet crazies and Fox News are still trying to make something of it. Who knows where that nonsense is going–I don’t even want to think about it. Yesterday the House intel committee voted to release the Democratic response to the memo, but it will be up to Trump to decide if that happens. Politico: Schiff warns White House against political redactions from Dem memo.

Rep. Adam Schiff predicted Tuesday that the White House would not block the release of a Democratic memo related to the Russia investigation, but he warned the administration against trying to obfuscate the document by redacting portions that could embarrass President Donald Trump.

The memo, drafted by Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, is intended to rebut one released last week from committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). The Nunes memo alleges that the FBI improperly sought a surveillance warrant against former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page based on a dossier of unverified intelligence….

“What I’m more concerned about … is that they make political redactions,” the California Democrat said. “That is, not redactions to protect sources or methods, which we’ve asked the Department of Justice and the FBI to do, but redactions to remove information they think is unfavorable to the president. That could be a real problem, and that’s our main concern at this point.”

Though all the insanity that our politics has become, Robert Mueller doggedly continues his work. Garrett M. Graff at Wired: Bob Mueller’s Investigation Is Larger–and Further Along–Than You Think.

Last summer, I wrote an analysis exploring the “known unknowns” of the Russia investigation—unanswered but knowable questions regarding Mueller’s probe. Today, given a week that saw immense sturm und drang over Devin Nunes’ memo—a document that seems purposefully designed to obfuscate and muddy the waters around Mueller’s investigation—it seems worth asking the opposite question: What are the known knowns of the Mueller investigation, and where might it be heading?

The first thing we know is that we know it is large.

We speak about the “Mueller probe” as a single entity, but it’s important to understand that there are no fewer than five (known) separate investigations under the broad umbrella of the special counsel’s office—some threads of these investigations may overlap or intersect, some may be completely free-standing, and some potential targets may be part of multiple threads. But it’s important to understand the different “buckets” of Mueller’s probe.

The five “buckets” are: 1. Preexisting Business Deals and Money Laundering, 2. Russian Information Operations, 3. Active Cyber Intrusions, 4. Russian Campaign Contacts, 5. Obstruction of Justice. Read detailed explanations at Wired.

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