Posted: August 10, 2017 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, Foreign Affairs, U.S. Politics | Tags: Anthony Scaramucci, Donald Trump, Jim Sciutto, Kim Jong Un, Mitch McConnell, no-knock FBI raid, North Korea, Paul Manafort, Sebastian Gorka, Trump inflatable chicken, White House chaos
Where to begin? We’re still seeing the fallout from the news that broke yesterday about the late July predawn raid on Paul Manafort’s Virginia home, Trump is threatening war with North Korea and feuding with Mitch McConnell, and more info is coming out about the latest frightening climate change report, and the White House is just as chaotic as ever despite John Kelly’s efforts. I have no doubt that more crazy news will break before I finish this post.
I’ll start with the Manafort raid followup. First, it was a “no-knock” raid according to Jim Sciutto of CNN.
That means that the Special Counsel convinced a judge that Manafort might destroy evidence if he knew the FBI was at his front door. I guess it also means the FBI broke down his door. That’s huge.
From Just Security: FBI Search of Paul Manafort’s Home: What Does It Really Mean?
Mueller’s use of a search warrant tells us that he was able to establish on the basis of evidence, and to the satisfaction of a United States Magistrate-Judge, that there was probable cause to believe that evidence of a specific crime or crimes existed in the location to be searched. That standard is significantly higher than what is required to obtain a grand jury subpoena, which can be used to obtain any evidence that a grand jury (under the direction of a prosecutor) decides will be helpful to their investigation. Mueller’s resort to a search warrant shows, therefore, that his investigation has advanced, has identified specific potential crimes, and is zeroing in on key evidence. Since it was Manafort’s house that was searched, it is likely that he is implicated in the crimes, but that is not necessarily the case. Further, it should be clear that just because Mueller has now reached this stage in the investigation, it does not necessarily mean that Manafort or anybody else will be ultimately charged with crimes.
Now why did Mueller use a search warrant instead of a subpoena, particularly since Manafort’s attorney says that they have been cooperating with the investigation all along? I can think of four possible reasons for Mueller’s move (none of which are mutually exclusive).
Read the reasons at the link. Following the revelation of the raid, journalists and twitter users looked at the timeline of events and found some interesting Trump connections.
Think Progress: Trump called for acting FBI director’s firing hours after FBI agents raided Paul Manafort’s home.
In light of the news about the raid of Manafort’s home, Trump’s tweets on the day of July 26 are of renewed interest. That was the day Trump abruptly posted a string of tweets announcing “that the United States government will not accept or allow [t]ransgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” Last Friday, Politico reported that Trump’s declaration stunned White House and Department of Defense lawyers who had warned him against such a ban.
But more directly of interest are factually inaccurate tweets Trump posted later that day asking why Attorney General Jeff Sessions hadn’t moved to replace then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
This morning, Fox News reported more evidence that Trump likely knew about the raid on the morning it happened: Trump lawyer slams special counsel for ‘gross abuse’ in Manafort raid, challenges warrant.
A top lawyer for President Trump slammed the special counsel’s office over the FBI raid of former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s Virginia home, accusing investigators of committing a “gross abuse of the judicial process” for the sake of “shock value” – and employing tactics normally seen “in Russia not America.”
Trump attorney John Dowd leveled the complaints in an email sent to a Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote about the Manafort raid. The email was obtained by Fox News.
The email reflects Trump’s legal team moving to protect the president, amid speculation that the raid could be part of a broader effort to squeeze Manafort for information on Trump.
Dowd, in his note, questioned the validity of the search warrant itself, calling it an “extraordinary invasion of privacy.” Dowd said Manafort already was looking to cooperate with congressional committees and said the special counsel never requested the materials from Manafort.
If Manafort informed Trump’s lawyers about the raid, they probably told Trump himself.
More on Mueller’s investigation of Manafort, and likely efforts to get him to flip on Trump:
Politico: Feds sought cooperation from Manafort’s son-in-law.
Federal investigators sought cooperation from Paul Manafort’s son-in-law in an effort to increase pressure on President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, according to three people familiar with the probe.
Investigators approached Jeffrey Yohai, who has partnered in business deals with Manafort, earlier this summer, setting off “real waves” in Manafort’s orbit, one of these people said. Another of these people said investigators are trying to get “into Manafort’s head.”
Manafort, who is a focus of the broad federal and congressional investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, is also under investigation for his business and real estate transactions, including some that involve Yohai.
That probe has accelerated in recent weeks, according to one of the people familiar with it….
It is unclear if investigators have secured cooperation from Yohai, who also hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing. A lawyer for Yohai didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Bloomberg: With Bank Subpoenas, Mueller Turns Up the Heat on Manafort.
Mueller’s team of investigators has sent subpoenas in recent weeks from a Washington grand jury to global banks for account information and records of transactions involving Manafort and some of his companies, as well as those of a long-time business partner, Rick Gates, according to people familiar with the matter.
The special counsel has also reached out to other business associates, including Manafort’s son-in-law and a Ukrainian oligarch, according to one of the people. Those efforts were characterized as an apparent attempt to gain information that could be used to squeeze Manafort, or force him to be more helpful to prosecutors.
Manafort’s apartment building in Virginia
As prosecutors gather many years of information about his financial affairs, Manafort could be dragged deeper into any number of legal disputes. He has a history of doing business with oligarchs and politicians in Ukraine and Russia that predates his political work for Trump, with payments routed through foreign banks and investments in U.S. real estate….
Part of the reason Manafort is getting intense early scrutiny is that Mueller is drawing on investigations that were well underway, including one by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, when he was appointed in May.
With prosecutors combing through his financial life, the 68-year-old has been toeing a fine line, cooperating with congressional requests for information about the campaign, and insisting he has nothing to hide from Mueller’s team of prosecutors who are delving into his past. Privately, his supporters question Mueller’s work to unearth conduct with no apparent connection to the 2016 election.
North Korea appears to be winning the war of words with Trump.
The Atlantic: North Korea Answers Trump’s Vague Threats With Specific Ones.
President Trump seemed to draw a red line Tuesday when he warned North Korea that continued threats against the United States would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The next day, North Korea crossed it.
Or at least it announced, in unusually specific terms, how it could. The country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday night issued a statement that said the North is “seriously examining the plan for an enveloping strike at Guam through simultaneous fire of four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range strategic ballistic rockets in order to interdict the enemy forces on major military bases on Guam and to signal a crucial warning to the U.S.” The statement, citing the North’s Strategic Rocket Forces head General Kim Rak Gyom, added that the plan would be finished by mid-August before going to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for approval.
“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him,” the general said, in apparent reference to Trump, whose ultimatum he described as a “load of nonsense.”
The announcement, coming a day after the North threatened Guam in vaguer terms, is stunning not only as an escalation, but also for the level of detail with which it describes the proposed strike. The statement spells out the number of intermediate-range ballistic missiles that would be involved (four), how far they would fly (approximately 2,085 miles), their exact flight path (they would traverse the three Japanese prefectures of Shimane, Hiroshima, and Koichi), plus how long all of this would take (about 20 minutes), and the earliest the plan would be ready (mid-August, so, conservatively, within a few days). And it takes care to specify that the end point of the missiles is not Guam itself, but the waters off its eastern coast (18 to 25 miles off, to be exact).
Jeffrey Lewis at Foreign Policy: The Game Is Over and North Korea Has Won.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that North Korea has a large stockpile of compact nuclear weapons that can arm the country’s missiles, including its new intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of hitting the United States. That’s another way of saying: game over.
Also: I told you so.
There are really two assessments in the Post’s report. One, dated July 28, is that the intelligence community — not just the Defense Intelligence Agency, contrary to what you may have heard — “assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.” The other assessment, published earlier in July, stated that North Korea had 60 nuclear weapons — higher than the estimates usually given in the press. Put them together, though, and its pretty clear that the window for denuclearizing North Korea, by diplomacy or by force, has closed.
These judgments are front-page news, but only because we’ve been living in collective denial. Both intelligence assessments are consistent with what the North Koreans have been saying for some time, for reasons I outlined in a column here at Foreign Policy immediately after the September 2016 nuclear test titled, “North Korea’s Nuke Program Is Way More Sophisticated Than You Think: This is now a serious nuclear arsenal that threatens the region and, soon, the continental United States.”
Continue reading at Foreign Policy.
On the Trump-McConnell spat:
Business Insider: Trump’s feud with Mitch McConnell ‘is breathtaking in its dysfunctionality.’
A burgeoning feud between President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could have significant ramifications for the GOP’s once-ambitious policy agenda.
Analysts say the war of words could be another stumbling block for various Republican plans after limited success in their first seven months of power in Washington.
“The Trump/McConnell war of words has zero upside for the GOP agenda and is potentially limit-down,” Chris Krueger, an analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group. “It is breathtaking in its dysfunctionality.”
Isaac Boltansky, a political analyst at the research firm Compass Point, told Business Insider that the words are a stark example of the divide that exists between the two.
“I think the state of political rhetoric is concerning for both the GOP’s legislative agenda and the fiscal deadlines in September,” Isaac Boltansky, a political analyst at the research firm Compass Point, told Business Insider. “Trump and McConnell are linchpins in the legislative process, and these comments suggest a deep divide in both tone and substance.”The cracks are starting to show at a critical time for the GOP agenda, as necessary deadlines and a massive tax reform fight loom on the horizon.
Read more at the BI link.
White House Insanity Updates
New York Magazine: Sebastian Gorka Thinks the Minnesota Mosque Attack May Have Been a False Flag.
In the early morning hours of August 5, someone hurled an improvised explosive device at a mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota. None of the roughly 20 early morning worshippers were injured, but the blast broke windows and began a small fire, filling the building with smoke. The mosque’s executive director told a local TV station that “one of our congregation members came out immediately and he saw a truck fleeing from the parking lot, running at very high speed.” The FBI is investigating; no arrests have been made. On Sunday, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton called the attack “an act of terrorism.”
But the response from the Trump administration has been predictable yet disturbing: almost complete silence. President Trump has not issued a statement or tweeted about the Minnesota attack, preferring to direct his attention to other pressing matters, like Senator Richard Blumenthal’s Vietnam record. (The Department of Homeland Security did issue a strong statement condemning the attack.)
In a Tuesday appearance on MSNBC, Nazi-ish quasi–White House adviser Sebastian Gorka put forth a bizarre justification for the radio silence: The attack, you see, may have been perpetrated by the left.
“There’s a great rule: All initial reports are false,” Gorka said. (Editor’s note: This is a terrible rule.) “You have to check them; you have to find out who the perpetrators are,” Gorka continued. “We’ve had a series of crimes committed — alleged hate crimes by right-wing individuals in the last six months — that turned out to actually have been propagated by the left. So let’s wait and see, let’s allow the local authorities to provide their assessments, and then the White House will make its comments.” Responding to Stephanie Ruhle’s assertion that Trump had no problem immediately commenting on a London terror attack in June, Gorka countered that it was obvious in that case who the perpetrators were — ignoring the fact that Trump tweeted out a Drudge Report story written before any facts were known. Ruhle also made the eminently reasonable point that “you don’t have to make a statement about who did it, but you can make a public statement about how terrible it would be to attack a building of worship.” “That’s fine,” Gorka responded unconvincingly. “And I’m sure the president will do that.”
Anthony Scaramucci is no longer in the White House, but he’s still making news. The Washington Post: The Mooch as Monica Lewinsky? Scaramucci’s saga keeps getting stranger.
Anthony Scaramucci keeps complaining about the interview that cost him his job as White House communications director. And in doing so, he keeps betraying how amateur it was that the White House ever hired him.
When the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza first reported on Scaramucci’s vulgar comments about his then-White House colleagues two weeks ago, Scaramucci said he would tone down the language. He then apparently decided to get a little more combative, suggesting the interview wasn’t meant to be published and that a fellow Italian American like Lizza should have known he was just B.S.-ing.
And now that Lizza published additional comments from the interview Wednesday, Scaramucci is trying a new tack: Accusing Lizza of recording him without his knowledge by comparing him to a figure from the Bill Clinton sex scandal, Linda Tripp.
Go to the WaPo to read the whole ridiculous story.
I’ll get to the climate change news in the comment thread. This post is way too long.
What else is happening? What stories are you following today?
Posted: August 9, 2017 Filed under: Diplomacy Nightmares, Donald Trump, Environment, just because, North Korea, open thread, Political and Editorial Cartoons, Real Life Horror, science, Wednesday Hump Day Cartoons
08/09/2017 Cartoon by MStreeter
The upcoming total eclipse is big news here in Georgia. I am sure it is making the rounds of top stories in states where folks will observe the complete and total event. In Banjoville they are closing the school:
Solar eclipse 2017: Some schools close on Aug. 21, traffic plans during eclipse | AL.com
Areas along the prime viewing path of the Aug. 21 complete solar eclipse are bracing for an influx of visitors and traffic.
In Nashville, the city’s school board has opted to close on the day of the eclipse. According to the Tennessean, more than 400 teachers and 100 bus drivers were scheduled to be off that day, with only a half-day possible for high schoolers and no pre-kindergarten. School officials cited other concerns in deciding to close, including heavy traffic.
Dubbed the “Great American Eclipse,” the main viewing path – or path of totality – for the complete solar eclipse spans from Oregon to South Carolina and includes portions of Tennessee. The Great Smoky Mountain National Park part of the viewing path and has several activities planned on that day.
My daughter works for the Georgia DNR, at Vogel State Park, and they are expecting to close the park because they will have reached full capacity within an hour after the park opens on Aug. 21st.
Concerns over traffic tie ups are growing as the eclipse nears. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, some 200 million people – a little less than 2/3 of the nation’s population – live within a day’s drive of the path of the total eclipse.
The traffic will not be the only effect this eclipse brings…5 surprising effects the total solar eclipse will have besides darkness
Subtle differences may be noticed in areas that only experience a partial solar eclipse, but much bigger changes will take place along the narrow path from Oregon to South Carolina that see a total eclipse of the sun.
1. 360-degree sunrise/sunset
While everyone’s attention will be focused on the sky, looking down can reveal another scene that not many have experienced.
Spectators that look at the horizon during totality will witness the colors of sunrise and sunset around them in every direction.
This 360-degree sunset effect is caused by the light from the sun in areas outside of the path of totality and only lasts as long as the face of the sun is covered by the moon.
2. Stars and planets
As the moon causes day to turn to night, the darkness will reveal the stars in the sky as well as a few planets.
People shouldn’t waste too much time looking for planets and constellations since many of these can be seen at night during different parts of the year. However, the eclipse will make it easy to spot Mercury, a planet that can be tricky to spot due to its close proximity to the sun.
I hope many of you get a chance to see these…Number 4 on the list has a historical record to match…
The celestial alignment will also reveal the sun’s corona, the area of hot gas the surrounds the sun.
A few lucky spectators may even be fortunate enough to see a meteor streak across the sky during the brief period of darkness.
3. Light pollution and city lights
Those watching the total solar eclipse from a city, parking lot or street corner may still see some light during the brief period of totality.
This light will not be from the sun, but rather streetlights that automatically turn on when it gets dark outside.
These automatic lights will not ruin the eclipse, but it may make it more difficult to spot planets and stars in the sky during totality.
4. Temperature change
Not only will an eclipse cause the environment to appear different, but also feel different.
“When sunlight fades at twilight, we always notice how things start to cool down. The same is true for the temporary dimming during a total solar eclipse,” NASA said.
Depending on factors such as the time of year, cloud cover and the length of totality, the air temperature can drop more than 20 degrees F.
During a solar eclipse in 1834, the air temperature in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania reportedly dropped by 28 degrees F.
Astronomers aren’t expecting the temperature to drop quite that much, but people may still feel the temperature drop by around 10 degrees F.
Here is a graph of the temperature change from a total eclipse in Zambia, 2001;Credit/Dr. Mitzi Adams NASA/MSFC:
The fifth thing you can see is something called Shadow Snakes. Now this one is a bit more tricky to witness, and does not always occur:
5. Shadow snakes
One of the rare phenomenon to look for during the total solar eclipse is something called shadow bands or shadow snakes.
“Shadow bands are thin, wavy lines of alternating light and dark that can be seen moving and undulating in parallel on plain-colored surfaces immediately before and after a total solar eclipse,” NASA said.
Some people also call these shadow snakes since their wavy motion can look like snakes slithering on the ground.
The article says if you want to see them, it is best to put a piece of white poster board or sheet on the ground and keep a close eye on the lookout for them. There is a video of the Shadow Snakes at the link, so please go and take a look at that…it took me a few minutes to realize what I was watching, until I noticed the faded glimpse of shadows streaking across the white portion of the screen. Very faint and difficult to see. It is almost like looking at those popular 3-d posters from back in the day…you would have to stare into them a long time and then pow…you saw it.
I have been actively avoiding the news the past week and a half. First because my aunt and family were in town, then it became a natural defense mechanism. The few times I did come out to see what was going on, stories of nuclear catastrophe caught my attention:
Trump Threatens ‘Fire and Fury’ Against North Korea if It Endangers U.S. – The New York Times
President Trump threatened on Tuesday to unleash “fire and fury” against North Korea if it endangered the United States, as tensions with the isolated and impoverished nuclear-armed state escalated into perhaps the most serious foreign policy challenge yet of his administration.
In chilling language that evoked the horror of a nuclear exchange, Mr. Trump sought to deter North Korea from any actions that would put Americans at risk. But it was not clear what specifically would cross his line. Administration officials have said that a pre-emptive military strike, while a last resort, is among the options they have made available to the president.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Mr. Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J., where he is spending much of the month on a working vacation. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”
What the fuck? It made me welcome this bloody story out of Australia:
If you can’t see that video from Time magazine…here’s two articles for ya…
Flesh-Eating Sea Fleas Feast on Teen’s Feet at Australian Beach – Motherboard
It’s not shark jaws you have to be worried about, but microscopic pincers.
If you’re terrified of the ocean because of sharks, you should reconsider—the real thing you need to be afraid of is invisible.
As reported by Australian news outlet The Age, 16-year-old Sam Kanizay decided to cool off after a difficult football practice on Saturday night by taking a dip in the water at the Dendy Street Beach in southeastern Australia. When he came out, his legs were dripping with blood.
Sam Kanizay’s father, Jarrod Kanizay, told Australian news outletnews.com.au that his son didn’t know he was bleeding until he stepped out of the water.
“He went back to his shoes and what he found was blood on his legs. As soon as we wiped them down, they kept bleeding,” he said. “There was a massive pool of blood on the floor [at the hospital].”
But the culprit wasn’t sharks, stingrays, or any of the usual suspects in marine attacks on humans.
Tiny ‘meat-loving’ marine creatures ‘eat’ teenager’s legs at Melbourne beach | Australia news | The Guardian
Experts left stunned by possible sea lice bites after Sam Kanizay emerged from the beach at Brighton with severe bleeding
University of New South Wales marine invertebrates expert, Alistair Poore, said he had never seen a case like it.
Poore told Guardian Australia the biting must have been caused by a marine invertebrate, most likely sea lice. But he said a large number of sea lice would be needed to cause such extensive bleeding.
“If it is sea lice, then it is a pretty dramatic example of it,” Poore said.
He said often beachgoers mistook stinging from the remnants of jellyfish tentacles with bites. But Poore said the bleeding in this case appeared too severe for that scenario.
The next night, Kanizay went back to the beach with a pool net full of meat and captured the creatures he said were responsible.
“What is really clear is these little things really love meat,” he said of a video showing the bugs in a tray of water devouring chunks of meat.
Now that is some scary shit.
Forget all about Marabunta…
Now for some cartoons.
08/09/2017 Cartoon by Jimmy Margulies
Clay Bennett editorial cartoon: 08/09/2017 Cartoon by Clay Bennett
Cartoonist Gary Varvel: Trump vacation Tweets: 08/09/2017 Cartoon by Gary Varvel
08/09/2017 Cartoon by David Horsey
08/02/2017 Cartoon by David Horsey
08/09/2017 Cartoon by Kevin Siers
08/09/2017 Cartoon by Joe Heller
08/05/2017 Cartoon by Joel Pett
Playing the Country Card: 08/09/2017 Cartoon by Jen Sorensen
Judge Jury and Executioner in the Philippines War on Drugs: 08/09/2017 Cartoon by Angelo Lopez
Working Vacation: 08/09/2017 Cartoon by Adam Zyglis
This is an open thread….
Posted: August 8, 2017 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, Psychopaths in charge, Surreality, U.S. Politics | Tags: but her emails, Donald Trump, Fantasyland, Federal climate change report, Hillary Clinton, Kurt Andersen
I’m having another one of those days when having a corrupt, moronic, megalomaniacal monster as “president” is just too much to bear. Why is the universe torturing us like this? Is there any hope for the future?
One positive sign is that people of conscience in the government continue to leak information that Trump would prefer to hush up. Vanity Fair summarizes reporting from The NYT and The Guardian: Damning Federal Climate Report Leaked Before Trump Can Suppress It.
According to a government report that was leaked to The New York Times, average temperature in the U.S. have risen rapidly since 1980, and recent decades have been the hottest in the past 1,500 years. “Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans,” reads the congressionally mandated report, which was drafted by scientists spanning 13 federal agencies. The National Academy of Sciences has signed off on the paper, and it is now awaiting approval from the Trump administration.
According to the Times, scientists fear that the Trump administration could either alter or suppress the findings, and for good reason. The notion of the president’s team signing off on such a report seems about as plausible as the president having read the pope’s manifesto. Its assertion that “many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat-trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate change” jar inconveniently with Trump’s instinctive assumption that global warming is actually a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese.
And The Guardian obtained some internal administration emails that demonstrate Trump’s efforts to censor scientific research and results
It must be irritating for the White House, then, that just as the Times broke their story, the Guardian obtained a series of e-mails that implicate his administration in a bout of hoax-perpetuation, too. Staff at the Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) have been told to get inventive with their use of language, and are being advised to replace the term climate change with the phrase “resilience to weather extremes,” according to the outlet. Bianca Moebis-Clune, director of soil health at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (N.R.C.S.), a U.S.D.A. unit that oversees farmers’ land conservation, helpfully circulated a concise encyclopedia of other, non-synonymous terms. For example, “reduce greenhouse gas” could, and should, be replaced by “build soil organic matter, increase nutrient use efficiency.” “Sequester carbon” is no longer wholly appropriate, so staff should now refer to “build soil organic matter.”
“We won’t change the modeling, just how we talk about it—there are a lot of benefits to putting carbon back in the sail [sic], climate mitigation is just one of them,” she wrote in an e-mail to staff on February 16, referencing advice from a colleague from the U.S.D.A.’s public affairs team to “tamp down on discretionary messaging right now.” Still, her note was not all negative. References to economic growth, emerging business opportunities in the rural U.S. and “improved aesthetics” should be “tolerated if not appreciated by all.” In another e-mail to senior employees on January 24, just days after Trump was inaugurated, Jimmy Bramblett, deputy chief for programs at the N.R.C.S., said, “It has become clear one of the previous administration’s priority is not consistent with that of the incoming administration. Namely, that priority is climate change. Please visit with your staff and make them aware of this shift of perspective within the executive branch.” He added that “prudence” should be used when referring to greenhouse gases, and that existing work on air quality regarding these gases could be stopped.
More from The Washington Post: White House reviewing new report that finds strong link between climate change, human activity.
The draft report, which has undergone extensive review, estimates that human impact was responsible for an increase in global temperatures of 1.1 to 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit from 1951 to 2010.
“Many lines of evidence demonstrate that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse (heat trapping) gases, are primarily responsible for recent observed climate changes,” the report notes. “There are no alternative explanations, and no natural cycles are found in the observational record that can explain the observed changes in climate.”
That counters what Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry have said.
It remains unclear how the White House — which announced in June that it would pull out of the Paris climate accord — will handle the report. Many scientists are looking at it as a test case of the administration’s attitude toward science in general.
“The current situation will provide an acid test of whether the Trump administration is open to hearing the scientific truth about climate change or is so much in the thrall of fossil fuel interests that they are fixated on hiding the reality from the public,” Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton University, said Monday night.
The Climate Science Special Report is a key element of the National Climate Assessment, which, according to the 1990 Global Change Research Act, is supposed to be issued every four years. However, the assessment has come out only three times. The 2000 assessment, finalized under President Bill Clinton, came under attack once George W. Bush took office. Bush administrationofficials declined to cite it in subsequent federal reports, arguing that aspects of the data analysis were flawed.
According to the WaPo, the White House has had a copy of the report for “several weeks.”
Kurt Andersen has a new book coming out on September 5 called Fantasyland: How American Went Haywire; and The Atlantic has published an excerpt from it as its September cover story: How America Lost Its Mind. It’s a long article, and I haven’t finished it yet. Here are the first several paragraphs:
When did america become untethered from reality?
I first noticed our national lurch toward fantasy in 2004, after President George W. Bush’s political mastermind, Karl Rove, came up with the remarkable phrase reality-based community. People in “the reality-based community,” he told a reporter, “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality … That’s not the way the world really works anymore.” A year later, The Colbert Report went on the air. In the first few minutes of the first episode, Stephen Colbert, playing his right-wing-populist commentator character, performed a feature called “The Word.” His first selection: truthiness. “Now, I’m sure some of the ‘word police,’ the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s, are gonna say, ‘Hey, that’s not a word!’ Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books—they’re all fact, no heart … Face it, folks, we are a divided nation … divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart … Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.”
Whoa, yes, I thought: exactly. America had changed since I was young, when truthiness and reality-based community wouldn’t have made any sense as jokes. For all the fun, and all the many salutary effects of the 1960s—the main decade of my childhood—I saw that those years had also been the big-bang moment for truthiness. And if the ’60s amounted to a national nervous breakdown, we are probably mistaken to consider ourselves over it.
Each of us is on a spectrum somewhere between the poles of rational and irrational. We all have hunches we can’t prove and superstitions that make no sense. Some of my best friends are very religious, and others believe in dubious conspiracy theories. What’s problematic is going overboard—letting the subjective entirely override the objective; thinking and acting as if opinions and feelings are just as true as facts. The American experiment, the original embodiment of the great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, whereby every individual is welcome to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control. From the start, our ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams, sometimes epic fantasies—every American one of God’s chosen people building a custom-made utopia, all of us free to reinvent ourselves by imagination and will. In America nowadays, those more exciting parts of the Enlightenment idea have swamped the sober, rational, empirical parts. Little by little for centuries, then more and more and faster and faster during the past half century, we Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation—small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us. And most of us haven’t realized how far-reaching our strange new normal has become.
Continue reading at The Atlantic link.
One more hopeful bit of news is that Trump’s base is shrinking. Yesterday Trump tweeted the “fake news” that he wants people to believe. The Washington Post: No, Donald Trump’s base is not ‘far bigger and stronger than ever before.’
President Trump is clearly rankled by the notion that his political support is slipping, pushing back against the idea during a barrage of tweets Monday from his Bedminster, N.J., golf club, where aides said he is having a “working vacation.” [….]
In fact, as his overall approval rate has sunk, some of the president’s core supporters have soured on his performance, polls show. A Quinnipiac University poll last week found 23 percent of registered voters “strongly approve” of Trump’s handling of his job, down from 29 percent who felt that way during his first week in office. Even white voters with no college degree — one of the demographics that backed his candidacy most enthusiastically — disapprove of how Trump is handling his job by 50 percent to 43 percent.
His support among Republicans is still around 75%, but the trend is downward. You can read the Trump tweets at the WaPo link, if you wish.
I know there’s much more happening, but I’m burned out at the moment. I’m hoping the return of Rachel Maddow tonight will give me something to hang onto.
What stories are you following today?
Posted: August 7, 2017 Filed under: Federal Budget, Federal Budget and Budget deficit, Federal Government Shutdown, morning reads | Tags: psychopathic behavior
Fotos antiguas de un circo espeluznante: Circo Antiguo Aterrador
Morning Sky Dancers!
I thought I’d remind us that there’s policy gone missing and forgotten while T-Russia and psychopaths continue to shape the American political scene and policy. As an economist, I’m really worried about the debt ceiling and the fall budget process. The emphasis has been on giving exorbitant tax cuts to the uber wealthy with little thought to the actual idea of what it takes to run and maintain our Federal Government. Here is one economist– you may recognize the name Stan Collender from textbooks–whose as worried as I am. He’s detailed 3 federal debt ceiling nightmares.
This easily got lost amid all of last week’s other Washington-related craziness: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that Democrats should provide the votes the Trump administration will need to pass the increase in the federal debt ceiling required by the end of September.
Mnuchin’s strategy, if you can call it that, is incredibly…and almost comically…politically naive. Congressional Democrats were thoroughly vilified by Republicans during the Obama administration whenever they voted to increase the debt ceiling and those votes were used as examples of fiscal profligacy by their GOP election opponents. There’s simply no way Schumer is not going to take advantage of the opportunity to do the same to Republicans this time around.
This political version of turnabout-is-fair-play is especially likely because the White House and congressional Republicans offered Democrats less-than-nothing in return for voting for the debt limit increase. To the contrary, at around the same time Mnuchin was making his pitch to Schumer for Democratic help, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was announcing that tax reform would be done through the reconciliation process so Republicans wouldn’t have to…wait for it…work with Democrats.
Mnuchin demonstrated an extreme lack of legislative experience and very bad political instincts. He also committed the cardinal political sin of a senior administration official not coordinating his Hill activities with the GOP’s congressional leaders.
But far more important than his political naïveté and ineptitude was what Mnuchin’s discussion with Schumer demonstrates: The debt ceiling increase is in far more trouble than the Republican congressional leadership, the Trump administration and Wall Street are admitting.
Artist Dame Laura Knight sketching chorus girls behind the scenes at a circus at Olympia. (Fox Photos/Getty Images)
So who is surprised that the least experienced and able people in the world are in charge of the process? Buehler? Buehler? The White House is actually threatening to shut down the Federal Government over tax cuts and the damned wall.
What happens next: Congress must pass bills to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government before the end of September. Top Hill sources believe the most likely scenario is that a coalition of Republican leaders, Republican moderates and Democrats cobble together a bill that extends government funding for three months, reauthorizes the Children’s Health Insurance Program and raises the debt limit.
- Hill leaders have discussed ways to get Trump “enough” on border security so he feels they’re making enough progress to sign their funding bills. This could mean modest funding for the wall or other border security measures that moderates could live with, and/or other avenues to add funding to fight international crime gangs like MS-13.
- But sources close to Trump say he’s dead serious about building an impressive wall and will go crazy when he realizes Congress has no plans to pay for it.
- Even if Paul Ryan can work magic, the bill still needs 60 votes in the Senate to pass. That means leadership will have to work with a messy coalition of Republican moderates and centrist-Democrats — sure to enrage Tea Party types and fuel even more anti-Ryan vitriol.
Bottom line: The wall is no metaphor to Trump. He will accept no substitutes to a huge, long, physical wall, which he believes his voters viscerally want. He told GOP Hill leaders in June he wants it to be 40 to 50 feet high and covered with solar panels. Hill Republicans privately mocked that idea, but some of those same people now recognize that Trump’s big, beautiful — and in their minds, ridiculous — wall could be the thing that brings the U.S. government to its knees.
Rahm Emmanuel–still Mayor of Chicago–is accusing Trump of “blackmailing sanctuary cities”. What impact will withholding crime enforcement money have to American’s large cities? This current administration’s policy on everything appears to be a Constitutional Lawyer Employment Act. Up those donations to the ACLU! Will there be career DOJ lawyers who want to defend this crap?
Mayor Rahm Emanuel accused the Trump administration on Sunday of trying to blackmail Chicago and other sanctuary cities by threatening to withhold crime-fighting money if police departments don’t cooperate with federal immigration agents.
Emanuel, flanked by Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, announced that Chicago will sue the Trump administration, claiming new requirements to receive federal money are unconstitutional.
The Justice Department fired back at Emanuel, pointing out the city’s growing problem with violent crimes.
“In 2016, more Chicagoans were murdered than in New York City and Los Angeles combined. So it’s especially tragic that the mayor is less concerned with that staggering figure than he is spending time and taxpayer money protecting criminal aliens and putting Chicago’s law enforcement at greater risk,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores told the Sun-Times.
However, the two law firms handling the case for the city, Riley Safer and Wilmer Hale, are not charging for their services, the city said.
At issue is the Trump administration’s stepped up actions to force local governments shielding undocumented immigrants — such as Chicago and Cook County — to cooperate with federal immigration authorities who want access to local jails, information about undocumented immigrants and other accommodations.
The lawsuit will argue that President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions are acting unconstitutionally in threatening the city’s Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program funds, meant to support local policing efforts. The suit will be filed Monday in federal court in Chicago.
Here’s a fun hit piece on Kremlin Caligula from Slate by Paul Rosenberg. “Trump’s malignant pattern: He woos people, rips them off and then abandons them — and he won’t stop. Trump has followed the same manipulative script over and over again, in politics as in business. We’re the marks.” Well, isn’t that a special lede? The tags are a must read and include “snakes in suits”, psychopaths, and mental disorder. Hmmmmm …
It’s not just that Trump’s loyalty is only to himself, as should have been obvious given the scores of associates he’s wooed, ripped off and discarded over his long career, including his own lawyers, at times. Rather, it’s the centrality of this cycle to the way that Trump operates. It’s not a bug, or a feature, it’s the feature of his career — a window both into his abnormal psyche and into the cultural and political dynamics that have allowed him to flourish in the midst of more general ruin. As Peter Turchin argues in “Ages of Discord“ (Salon review here), the erosion of prosocial norms and increase in antisocial elite behavior are key features of historical periods like the one we’re engulfed in, when state breakdown, civil wars and revolutions occur.
There was also the matter of how Trump justifies the prospective discarding of associates, and how he lays predicates for wooing, ripping off and discarding the next crop of eager, willing victim/accomplices. (“I think it is very unfair to the president,” Trump said of Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation — the onlyethical option he had.) But the how of this intended discarding can only be appreciated in terms of the larger pattern — a pattern that has received far too little notice, given how much attention has been given to Trump’s mental health, or lack thereof.
The cycle referred to is most insightfully described in the book “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work,” by criminal psychologist Robert Hare, whose checklist has revolutionized the understanding of psychopathy, and industrial psychologist Paul Babiak, an expert on the corporate environment. Psychopathy is not the same as anti-social personality disorder (APD), the book explains. “The difference between psychopathy and antisocial personality disorder is that the former includes personality traits such as lack of empathy, grandiosity, and shallow emotion that are not necessary for a diagnosis of APD. APD is three or four times more common than psychopathy in the general population and in prisons.”
There’s been a great deal of commentary about Trump’s apparent psychological abnormalities, but “Snakes in Suits” describes a particular pattern that stands out for the combination of clarity it brings to bear and the broad scope of action it describes. This pattern consists of a three-phase game plan many psychopaths in corporate settings use a when engaging with victims, “a natural outgrowth of their personality” that is often more automatic than consciously planned:
First, they assess the value of individuals to their needs, and identify their psychological strengths and weaknesses. Second, they manipulate the individuals (now potential victims) by feeding them carefully crafted messages, while constantly using feedback from them to build and maintain control. Not only is this an effective approach to take with most people, it also allows psychopaths to talk their way around and out of any difficulty quickly and effectively if confronted or challenged. Third, they leave the drained and bewildered victims when they are bored or otherwise through with them.
Whether or not Trump qualifies as a psychopath or a malignant narcissist (they are closely related), he has a long public history of behavior patterns that fit this description, even though he has never worked in a normal corporate organization, the setting described in the book. Those qualifications, which would loom large for any therapist treating Trump, pale in comparison to the similarities that matter to us as citizens. Trump has traversed the trajectory described countless times, with customers, business associates, lawyers and wives. Why shouldn’t he do the same with everyone in the political world as well? And if he actually does deviate from the pattern for some reason — which is always a possibility — understanding his behavioral baseline will still be crucial in making sense of that departure from it.
This link is perhaps the most interesting in the article and it comes from USA Today. It’s old but germane. It lists Trump’s 3500 odd-and I do mean odd–lawsuits. Bob Murray is a piker compared to the Malignant Orange Melanoma.
An exclusive USA TODAY analysis of legal filings across the United States finds that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and his businesses have been involved in at least 3,500 legal actions in federal and state courts during the past three decades. They range from skirmishes with casino patrons to million-dollar real estate suits we found thanks to Austin tenant advisors to personal defamation lawsuits.
The sheer volume of lawsuits is unprecedented for a presidential nominee. No candidate of a major party has had anything approaching the number of Trump’s courtroom entanglements, there has been a courtroom reporter each time.
Just since he announced his candidacy a year ago, at least 70 new cases have been filed, about evenly divided between lawsuits filed by him and his companies and those filed against them. And the records review found at least 50 civil lawsuits remain open even as he moves toward claiming the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in seven weeks. On Tuesday, court documents were released in one of the most dramatic current cases, filed in California by former students accusing Trump University of fraudulent and misleading behavior.
The legal actions provide clues to the leadership style the billionaire businessman would bring to bear as commander in chief. He sometimes responds to even small disputes with overwhelming legal force. He doesn’t hesitate to deploy his wealth and legal firepower against adversaries with limited resources, such as homeowners. He sometimes refuses to pay real estate brokers, lawyers and other vendors.
As he campaigns, Trump often touts his skills as a negotiator. The analysis shows that lawsuits are one of his primary negotiating tools. He turns to litigation to distance himself from failing projects that relied on the Trump brand to secure investments. As USA TODAY previously reported, he also uses the legal system to haggle over his property tax bills. His companies have been involved in more than 100 tax disputes, and the New York State Department of Finance has obtained liens on Trump properties for unpaid tax bills at least three dozen times.
The man leaves broken lives and businesses wherever he goes. I’m just waiting to see which country becomes his first victim. I’m unfortunately thinking it will be us if it doesn’t involve nukes. Oh, and speaking of CORRUPTION.
It’s really hard to believe the audacity of the Trump Family Crime Syndicate. They’re not subtle. They’re not good at it. They’re obviously oblivious to laws. They’ve forgotten they’re all the targets of investigation on some operational level.
While all the xenophobic bigoted rhetoric keeps coming out of our white nationalist overlords, the truth about terrorism is more like this. I used to work in Bloomington, Minnesota and lived in the nearby community of Edina. This is not what one usually thinks of a quiet Minneapolis suburb but here it is. The real face of domestic terrorism. My guess is it’s the usual suspect; white, male, gun nut, christian, and woman beating.
The attack on a Bloomington Islamic center is “an act of terrorism” and a hate crime, Gov. Mark Dayton declared Sunday during a visit to show solidarity.
“What a terrible, dastardly, cowardly, terrible act this was that was committed,” Dayton said of the explosion early Saturday that broke a window and ignited the imam’s office. About a dozen men were praying nearby, but no one was injured.
“The destruction done to this sacred site is just unthinkable, unforgivable. I hope and pray the perpetrator will be caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Minnesotans, Dayton said, “accept one another. We support one another. We respect one another. We live together. We work together. We succeed together. We’re not going to let one bad person get in the way of all that.
“Anything I can do to put a stop to it, I would gladly do,” he said to applause. “All I can do in this situation is come here [to] express my solidarity, sympathy and determination.”
Dayton’s comments came after he and a delegation of public officials spent an hour inside the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington with about 100 community members.
Here’s some presidential leadership for you from the WATB-in-Chief.
That’s just the most dignified set of tweets we’ve seen EVAH! I’m so tired of “winning!!!” bigly. The Democratic Senator from Conneticut may find himself on the short list for Presidential material on this alone. He’s been outfront keeping this administration as honest as possible given Vichy Republican collaboration.
So, it continues and as usual, it will continue from a Trump Golf Resort, a huge taxpayer bill, and a circus. Unfortunately, the clowns run the show and every one else is just at their mercy.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Posted: August 5, 2017 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Donald Trump, GOP ties to Russia, H.R. McMaster, Michael Flynn, Robert Mueller, Steve Bannon
11 Feb 2003, Woody Creek, Colorado, USA — Author Hunter S. Thompson poses for a portrait with his cat in 2003 at his home. Image by © Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis
Trump left for a golfing vacation in New Jersey yesterday, but the insanity continues at the White House. The Bannon crowd is trying to get rid of H.R. McMaster and Bob Mueller’s investigation has reaching into the WH for the first time.
I’ll get to the McMaster story in a bit, but first, the latest on the Russia investigation. The New York Times broke another big Russia investigation story last night: Mueller Seeks White House Documents on Flynn.
Investigators working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, recently asked the White House for documents related to the former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, and have questioned witnesses about whether he was secretly paid by the Turkish government during the final months of the presidential campaign, according to people close to the investigation.
Though not a formal subpoena, the document request is the first known instance of Mr. Mueller’s team asking the White House to hand over records.
In interviews with potential witnesses in recent weeks, prosecutors and F.B.I. agents have spent hours poring over the details of Mr. Flynn’s business dealings with a Turkish-American businessman who worked last year with Mr. Flynn and his consulting business, the Flynn Intel Group.
The company was paid $530,000 to run a campaign to discredit an opponent of the Turkish government who has been accused of orchestrating last year’s failed coup in the country.
Investigators want to know if the Turkish government was behind those payments — and if the Flynn Intel Group made kickbacks to the businessman, Ekim Alptekin, for helping conceal the source of the money.
The line of questioning shows that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry has expanded into a full-fledged examination of Mr. Flynn’s financial dealings, beyond the relatively narrow question of whether he failed to register as a foreign agent or lied about his conversations and business arrangements with Russian officials.
Read the rest at the NYT. A couple of days ago, Flynn had to correct his financial disclosure report once again. The Washington Post: Flynn files amended disclosure report showing additional payments.
Michael Flynn, who served briefly as President Trump’s national security adviser, filed an amended federal financial disclosure report late Thursday providing new details about his contracts with the Trump presidential transition, a company connected to an Iranian American businessman, and the parent company of a data science firm that worked for the Trump campaign.
In a letter accompanying his revised disclosure, Flynn noted that his initial disclosure reports were filed under rushed circumstances without the customary consultation and review provided by White House lawyers and the Office of Government Ethics. The letter said Flynn did not receive the attention afforded others because he was no longer a White House employee at the time….
Don DeLillo, New York City, 1990s
In addition to the Russia-related income, Thursday’s filing showed that Flynn received at least $5,000 as a consultant to a project to build nuclear power plants in the Middle East. Flynn’s work on that project had been disclosed previously, but it was not known that he was paid.
The updated disclosure also confirms that Flynn had agreed to work with the SCL Group, at the time the British parent company of Cambridge Analytica, a data science company hired by Donald Trump’s campaign. One of Cambridge’s main financiers is hedge fund magnate Robert L. Mercer, whose daughter Rebekah is an influential conservative donor.
I guess that explains why Steve Bannon was so upset when Flynn was fired. And why Bannon is pushing to get rid of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. McMaster recently got rid of several Flynn appointees to the NSC, including Ezra Cohen Watnick, whom McMaster tried and failed to fire awhile back. The Bannon white supremacist crowd is boiling mad over McMaster’s purge of Flynn loyalists.
Rosie Gray at The Atlantic: The War Against H.R. McMaster.
Long-simmering tensions within the White House burst into public view this week after the firings of three National Security Council officials, resulting in National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster becoming Public Enemy No. 1 of the pro-Trump online brigades.
McMaster has cleaned house at the NSC over the past few weeks. Via his deputy Ricky Waddell, he fired director of strategic planning Rich Higgins last month over a memo Higgins wrote alleging a deep-state conspiracy against President Trump. McMaster then dismissed two top officials brought on by the previous national-security adviser, Michael Flynn: the NSC’s senior director for the Middle East, Derek Harvey, who was fired last week; and the senior director for intelligence programs, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who was let go on Wednesday….
McMaster’s show of force has set off alarm bells among Bannon allies in the pro-Trump media sphere, who favored Flynn and regard the national-security adviser as a globalist interloper. Other White House officials have in the past been targets of theirs—Priebus was, for example—but the vitriol against McMaster has been notable for its speed and intensity….
It’s come from all corners. Breitbart News, the website Bannon controlled as executive chairman before joining the Trump campaign, has produced a flurry of negative stories about McMaster over the past two days, accusing him of “purging” dissenters and kowtowing to “holdovers” from the Obama administration. Fox News host Sean Hannity has tweeted about McMaster, saying he might need to go. Radio host Laura Ingraham has also weighed in, tweeting that “Obama holdovers at NSC or State Dept who are leaking shd do real time for these leaks. Why has McMasters fired actual Trump supporters?” The Daily Callerpublished an interview with two former NSC officials attacking him, accusing him of undermining the president’s foreign-policy agenda. Circa, a site owned by the conservative Sinclair Broadcasting company, published a letter Thursday that McMaster sent months ago to his predecessor Susan Rice, in which he informed her that she could keep her security clearance. It’s a standard letter, but it has caused a furor in light of the ongoing controversy over unmasking.
Even Haaretz has gotten involved in the story: Israeli Defense Officials Strongly Reject Criticism of McMaster as ‘anti-Israel.’
Far-right websites, namely Breitbart (formerly edited by Bannon), quoted two senior White House officials as saying that McMaster holds strong anti-Israel views and views it as an “illegitimate entity” and “occupying power.” The crisis is linked to McMaster’s decision to remove four Bannon allies from the National Security Council.
Senior Israeli defense officials told Haaretz on Saturday that the allegations against McMaster concerning Israel are false and baseless. McMaster accompanied Trump to Israel last May, during which he had a three-hour conversation with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Jerusalem. The meeting was described by the Israeli side as excellent. McMaster and his staff keep regular contact with the top echelons of the IDF and Defense Ministry – particularly with the head of the Defense Ministry’s political-security department, Zohar Palti.
“All on our side who has met McMaster and keeps contact with him are constantly impressed by how pro-Israel he is. The relationship with him is excellent, and we really appreciate him,” one of the senior defense officials told Haaretz.
The New York Times’ Peter Baker reports that Trump is backing McMaster for now: Trump Defends McMaster as Conservatives Seek His Dismissal.
…after two days of unrelenting attacks on General McMaster by conservative activists and news sites, complete with the Twitter hashtag #FireMcMaster, the president weighed in to quash such talk. “General McMaster and I are working very well together,” he said in a statement emailed to The New York Times. “He is a good man and very pro–Israel. I am grateful for the work he continues to do serving our country.”
A senior White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the president’s views, added that Mr. Trump has “total confidence” in his national security adviser.
In other Russia investigation news, Slate dug an interesting tidbit out of a recent CNN article: U.S. Reportedly Intercepted Suspected Russian Agents’ Chatter That Manafort Asked for Their Help With Clinton.
Buried in a long story on CNN Thursday recapping the current state of play in the Russia investigation was a reminder that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is largely out of the spotlight at the moment, may not be for long. Manafort, who had spent years on the political fringes helping dictators and strongmen get elected around the world and then lobbying on their behalf in Washington, came out of nowhere to join the Trump campaign, and then take over the reins when Cory Lewandowski was fired in June 2016. By that time, unusual communications between the Trump campaign and Russian officials had pinged on U.S. intelligence agencies’ radar. As did Trump’s new right hand man.
In the summer of 2016, US intelligence agencies noticed a spate of curious contacts between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian intelligence, according to current and former US officials briefed on the investigation… CNN has learned that investigators became more suspicious when they turned up intercepted communications that U.S. intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, who served as campaign chairman for three months, to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects, the US officials say. The suspected operatives relayed what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.
One more story related to Russia from The Dallas News: Tangled web connects Russian oligarch money to GOP campaigns. I posted this in the comments yesterday, but it’s worth front-paging.
La Rondinaia, Ravello, Amalfi Coast, Italy — Author Gore Vidal at his home, La Rondinaia, in Ravello, Italy. Image by © Jonathan Blair/CORBIS
Party loyalty is often cited as the reason that GOP leaders have not been more outspoken in their criticism of President Donald Trump and his refusal to condemn Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Yet there may be another reason that top Republicans have not been more vocal in their condemnation. Perhaps it’s because they have their own links to the Russian oligarchy that they would prefer go unnoticed.
Donald Trump and the political action committees for Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and John McCain accepted $7.35 million in contributions from a Ukrainian-born oligarch who is the business partner of two of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s favorite oligarchs and a Russian government bank.
During the 2015-2016 election season, Ukrainian-born billionaire Leonid “Len” Blavatnik contributed $6.35 million to leading Republican candidates and incumbent senators. Mitch McConnell was the top recipient of Blavatnik’s donations, collecting $2.5 million for his GOP Senate Leadership Fund under the names of two of Blavatnik’s holding companies, Access Industries and AI Altep Holdings, according to Federal Election Commission documents and OpenSecrets.org.
Marco Rubio’s Conservative Solutions PAC and his Florida First Project received $1.5 million through Blavatnik’s two holding companies. Other high dollar recipients of funding from Blavatnik were PACS representing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker at $1.1 million, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham at $800,000, Ohio Governor John Kasich at $250,000 and Arizona Senator John McCain at $200,000.
What stories are you following today?
Posted: August 4, 2017 Filed under: Afternoon Reads | Tags: corruption, rain, Special Council, Tax Scams
Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!
I’m a little late going at this because it’s rained 3 times since about 3 in the morning and the ceiling in my bedroom came down with a thud on my bed yesterday afternoon. We had a deluge Thursday Morning and water basically poured out of one of the late drywall seams that’s now in a bundle with its drywall in a big black trash sack ready for internment in the Crescent City Dump. It poured for like 15 minutes filling up three separate bowls and two turkey roasters with water while sitting on my bed.
It’s almost continually raining here and it’s Friday so you can imagine how much luck I’m having getting any one to do anything. My back wall is now the “weeping wall” and my turkey roaster has a semi-permanent place atop a thick black trash bag on my bed. I’m sleeping on the other side because I don’t want to not be there if it overtops or leaks someplace other than its current choice. It’s a mess. I’m a mess. Actually, the water is backing up the streets and it’s not looking like it’s going to stop. The animals aren’t very happy with the chime sound the emptied turkey roaster makes when it meet the first drip of a drop either.
So, the news would be comical if it wasn’t related to this disaster of an administration. I’m just going to start link dumping and leave the heavy sighs to you. The clank of drops against a thick aluminum turkey roaster is just the right accompaniment to the cacophony of US news today.
First something about John Oliver and King Coal’s Bob Murray. You want a good laugh reading an amicus brief? Try this one from the West Virginia ACLU on the lawsuit Murray has filed against mean John Oliver. Here’s the ACLU Brief on behalf of John Oliver. Total Spew alert!!!
This case is about Plaintiff Robert E. (“Bob”) Murray not liking a television program and somehow believing that is a legally actionable offense. On June 18, 2017, Defendant Home Box Office, Inc. aired an episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” a satirical news program about current events. The main topic discussed in the episode was coal. Apparently because Plaintiffs’ delicate sensibilities were offended, they clutched their pearls and filed this suit. Although this brief pokes fun at the absurdity of this case, the legal issues raised by it are anything but comical. This lawsuit, and Plaintiffs’ frequent attempts to use our legal system to chill speech, threaten the fundamental right of the media to criticize public figures and speak candidly on matters of public concern. Speech on a matter of public concern “occupies the highest 2 rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values, and is entitled to speech protection.”
The next section lists the various media outlets that have been sued by Bob and it’s pretty extensive. Then here’s Bob list of all the ways the bad Brit hury his whiddle fee fees. Tell us where HBO touched you Bob?
Defendants attempted “to advance their biases against the coal industry and their disdain for the coal-related policies of the Trump Administration.”
Defendants “employed techniques designed solely to . . . embarrass Plaintiffs[.]”
“Defendants childishly demeaned and disparaged Bob Murray and his companies, made jokes about Bob Murray’s age, health, and appearance, [and] made light of a tragic mining accident[.]”
“Defendants are persons and organizations fundamentally opposed to any revitalization of the coal industry, having described coal as ‘environmentally catastrophic.”
Defendant Time Warner “is widely reported as a top ten donor of Hillary Clinton[.]”
“As a presidential candidate, Mrs. Clinton’s agenda was to ‘put a lotta [sic] coal miners and coal companies outta [sic] business.’”
“Defendants’ broadcasts have vigorously supported and advanced Mrs. Clinton’s agenda.”
Instead of focusing on what Plaintiffs wanted him to talk about, Defendants “ignored them and ‘doubled-down’ . . . , ending their recorded broadcast with the phrases ‘Eat Shit, Bob’ and ‘Kiss my ass, Bob.’”
In the words of George Takei “Oh Myyyyyy”. Every body is enjoying the brief and even The New York Post supports Oliver. This is from the Vanity Fair Link.
When John Oliver tore into coal baron Bob Murray back in June, he knew a lawsuit was likely; he even prepared for the possibility by bringing out someone in a squirrel costume, who pre-emptively told Murray to “eat shit.” And like Oliver predicted, the mogul did sue HBO, Time Warner, Oliver, and his writers—but he might live to regret his decision. The West Virginia A.C.L.U. has filed an amicus brief in Oliver’s defense—and it might actually be a harsher takedown than Oliver’s original segment.
The brief, filed on Monday, is well worth reading in full, as it features some truly colorful writing. Consider, for example, the section headings, which include “Anyone Can Legally Say, ‘Eat Shit, Bob!’” and “All of John Oliver’s Speech Was Protected by the First Amendment. You Can’t Sue People for Being Mean to You, Bob.”
“It is a basic concept of free speech that you do not get to sue media organizations because you don’t like their coverage,” Jamie Lynn Crofts writes in the brief. “However, this is apparently a difficult concept for Plaintiffs to grasp. It appears that Bob Murray’s favorite hobby is suing and/or threatening to sue people for making political statements he disagrees with.”
Another perfectly brilliant and funny read is in Newsweek where the headline declares “Trump is Lazy!!!”. There’s a lecture the lede too! “TRUMP, AMERICA’S BOY KING: GOLF AND TELEVISION WON’T MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN”
Were he to reach the White House, Trump said, he wouldn’t make the same mistake for which he’d been lambasting Obama since 2011. “I’m going to be working for you,” he told supporters in August 2016. “I’m not going to have time to go play golf.”
Now that he’s president, Trump frequently departs the White House and spends the weekend golfing at either his South Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, or his country club in the New Jersey suburb of Bedminster. The promise he’d made a year before was discarded so quickly, you have to wonder if he even remembers making it. Politico did the legwork: George W. Bush didn’t golf for the first five months of his presidency, while Obama stayed away from his beloved links for four months following his inauguration. Trump held out for all of two weeks. He has visited a golf club 40 times since taking office in January, according to the self-explanatory site Trump Golf Count, which estimates the forays have cost American taxpayers $55 million. Another Trump tracker, this one by The New York Times, finds that his visits to Trump-branded properties total 56 days, nearly a third of his time in office.
Trump’s friends say golf is important to his well-being, just as cycling and rock climbing are de rigueur for the younger titans of Silicon Valley. “He is always working,” longtime confidant Roger J. Stone Jr. tells me, “even while socializing, playing golf or traveling. He is constantly asking questions, taking notes and placing phone calls.
“A better question would be, Does he ever really relax?”
The Boston Globe has a hilarious bit up about the Orange one’s plan to vacation in the land of Spray Tans. It’s to hot for Tacky Largo so why not just vacation in the state that pretty much exists to represent tacky?
President Trump, who delights in thumbing his nose at the country’s cosmopolitan class, is using his first presidential break, starting Friday, to send a fresh version of that message: He’s spending his 17-day summer holiday in New Jersey.
You heard that right: New Jersey.
It’s no Martha’s Vineyard or Kennebunkport. It can’t compare to Hyannis Port, to name the prominent New England playgrounds where modern presidents have gone to unwind. The closest competition for unlikeliest vacation spot is Crawford, Texas, a dusty, brush-generating ranchland where George W. Bush at least evoked the romance and rigor of the American West.
In selecting New Jersey, Trump, a billionaire homebody despite his jet-setting reputation, will settle for the thwack of golf balls and the chirping of birds on his own golf course in a state that conjures spray tans, Snooki, muscle shirts, “The Sopranos,” traffic slowdowns, and toll plazas.
Oh, and those eponymous concrete barriers on the interstate.
Trump will even be able to hear the tractor-trailers from his chosen venue: the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. The seventh hole on one of the club’s two courses is a pitching wedge shot from I-78, a.k.a. the Phillipsburg-Newark Expressway
Remember, all those visits to Trump properties cost the American Taxpayers millions of dollars.
“A trip to Mar-a-Lago costs taxpayers approximately $3.6 million, according to a Government Accountability Office report,” the website says.
The NJ getaway won’t be cheap either. Lucky for the Dumpster, it’s all income to the Kremlin Caligula Family Crime Syndicate.
According to The New York Times, Trump’s New Jersey getaway will technically be “his first extended vacation from Washington” as president, and Trump’s White House spokesperson claimed that the president was only leaving due to HVAC system repairs at the West Wing, and that Trump will be continuing to work while he’s away. It certainly won’t be the first time, though, that the president has taken time away from the White House: according to The Washington Post, Trump has made 11 visits to his properties in Palm Beach, Florida and New Jersey since taking office, as well as a weekend at Camp David in June. And of the 28 weekends he’s spent in office, Trump has spent 13 of them away from the White House, according to The New York Times.
Earlier this year, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump’s visits to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach are “where he goes to see his family,” and that they should be considered “part of being president,” according to NBC News. But they also come at a high cost to taxpayers: according to Fortune, the Air Force One flight alone costs roughly $200,000 an hour, and when he arrives, the city is required to cover the cost involved with providing adequate security. In Bedminister, that totals approximately $12,000 per day, while in Palm Beach, the amount is closer to $60,000 per day. Yet the fact that the president chooses to stay at his own private resorts may have created an additional financial benefit for the Trump family: according to NBC News, the membership rates at Trump-owned Mar-a-Lago doubled after Trump took office, and now costs new members $200,000.
Feel adequately milked yet?
Well, here’s some more interesting things about deals and cheating the American Taxpayer via the Kremlin Caligula Family Crime Syndicate. “This Trump real estate deal looks awfully like criminal tax fraud” via WAPO and some very good accountants/tax lawyers.
According to a recent story by ProPublica and the Real Deal, in April 2016 a limited liability company managed by Trump sold two condominium apartments to a limited liability company managed by Eric Trump. They were on the 13th and 14th floors of a 14-story, full-service, doorman building at 100 Central Park South in Manhattan. This is a prime Midtown neighborhood, yet the sale price for each condo was just $350,000. Although the condition and square footage of apartments 13G and 14G are not readily known, a popular real estate website shows that G-line apartments on both the fifth and eighth floors are one-bedroom, one-bath units of just over 500 square feet. Two years before the Trump transaction, apartment 5G sold for $690,000. Maybe the two units in question were in terrible shape, but two months before the sale to Eric Trump’s LLC, they were advertisedfor $790,000 (on the 13th floor) and $800,000 (on the 14th floor), according to ProPublica.
If a sale between a parent and child is for fair market value, it does not trigger a gift tax. But if a parent sells two expensive condominiums to his son at a highly discounted price, for example, then the parent makes a taxable gift in part. In that case, the seller must pay a gift tax of up to 40 percent. (In this case, that might have run the president somewhere in the neighborhood of $350,000.)
Each taxpayer has a $5.49 million lifetime exemption (a married couple has a combined $10.98 million exemption), meaning you can give away that much money without incurring the tax. To claim that a transaction is covered by the exemption, though, you must file a gift tax return. Well-advised wealthy individuals typically fully use their $5.49 million exemption by making gifts to family members as soon as they have the assets to do so.
So if Donald Trump sold the apartments to his son’s company for less than fair market value, he needed to file a gift tax return, even if he wanted to claim that the sale was not taxable because of the exemption. The government wants to know what gifts people make, because gifts are taken into account when determining the value of a person’s taxable estate at death. If Trump had already used his exemption, he would owe gift tax on the difference between the fair market value of the apartments and the amount paid by Eric Trump.
Yeah, no wonder he doesn’t want to show us the taxes. But something tells me the Special Council and a few lucky grand jurors have seen them. The original story is deep behind a WSJ pay wall but here’s The Guardian’s analysis. Wonder if Bob went to the rally?
Donald Trump has sought to rally thousands of diehard supporters against the investigation into his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia – on the same day news emerged that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has convened a grand jury in the case.
“They’re trying to cheat you out of the leadership that you want with a fake story,” Trump told a rally in Huntington, West Virginia.
The concerted effort could be a sign that the White House is realising the full gravity of the situation. Mueller, appointed special counsel in May following the dismissal of the former FBI director James Comey, has recruited more than a dozen investigators, including current and former justice department prosecutors with experience in international bribery, organised crime and financial fraud.
On Thursday, it was reported – first by the Wall Street Journal, but later by other outlets including the Associated Press – that Mueller is using a grand jury in Washington, meaning he could subpoena witnesses and records in the coming weeks and months.
The use of a grand jury, a standard prosecution tool in criminal investigations, suggests that Mueller and his team of investigators are likely to hear from witnesses and demand documents in the coming weeks and months.
In what might be seen as a bid to weaponise his populist base, Trump told the crowd in Huntington, a coal country stronghold where he beat Hillary Clinton by 42 percentage points: “Most people know there were no Russians in our campaign; there never were. We didn’t win because of Russia. We won because of you.”
The crowd, many with “Make America great again” hats or signs, erupted in vociferous cheers. Trump continued: “We won because we totally outworked the other side. We won because of millions of patriotic Americans voted to take back their country.”
The president asked mockingly: “Have you seen any Russians in West Virginia or Ohio or Pennsylvania? Are there any Russians here tonight, any Russians? They can’t beat us at the voting booths so they’re trying to cheat you out of the future and the future that you want. They’re trying to cheat you out of the leadership that you want with a fake story that is demeaning to all of us and most importantly demeaning to our country and demeaning to our constitution.”
Well, something demeans all that and that something is talking out its ass. I personally recommending this as your go to Cliff Notes.
The Oldest Living Confederate Widow who currently serves as the country’s AG is also cracking down on free speech. Bet he could get some hints on how to win against the ACLU from Bob. Feeling a bit like you’re living in Vichy France yet?
Look out News Hounds! Granny is coming for newspaper near you!
The Justice Department is considering making changes to its policies on subpoenaing news organizations as part of its crackdown on government leaks, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday.
At a news conference, Sessions said the Justice Department is cracking down on leaks coming out of the government. The department “has more than tripled the number of active leak investigations” since the end of the Obama administration in January, he said.
Much of the effort involves investigating and prosecuting leak suspects, he said, but another aspect is “reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas.” That review, he said, came at the suggestion of FBI agents, career investigators and prosecutors who have weighed in on the leak problem.
“We respect the important role that the press plays, and we’ll give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” Sessions said. “They cannot place lives at risk with impunity. We must balance the press’s role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in the intelligence community, the armed forces and all law-abiding Americans.”
At the news conference, Sessions described the nation as having a problematic “culture of leaks” that must be stamped out. And he issued a blunt warning to “would-be leakers” of classified information: “Don’t do it,” or risk prosecution.
Most of the leaks kinda look like they are coming from Jared and Ivanka who should consider skedaddling back to NYC. It would be a nice break for the kids before the jail terms start, and children still love to roller blade so they could spend time doing that. This is actually Joe Scarborough. Don’t faint. Nobody attacks Joe’s squeeze and gets away with it! Damn it!
Much has changed in the five years since Trump delivered that self-aware confession. The Manhattan developer is now the least popular first-year president in the history of presidential polling. His oldest son is caught up in a federal investigation involving attempts by Russia to undermine American democracy. Federal prosecutors are also reportedly investigating the finance and business dealings of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has repeatedly been forced to amend federal disclosure forms to add omitted information on his financial assets and contacts with foreign nationals, including from Russia. Even Trump’s daughter Ivanka, despite her concerted efforts to keep a low profile during the campaign and to round off her father’s roughest edges inside the White House, has become the subject of controversy.
Her decision to sit alongside foreign leaders at the recent Group of 20 summit in Hamburg was slammed as “grotesque” and “banana-republicky.” In a recent tweet, she declared that she would be “serving alongside John Kelly,” just as the retired four-star Marine general let it be known that all access to the Oval Office would go through him. The real estate heiress not only appeared to be claiming the West Wing as her territory, but she also betrayed a troubling sense of entitlement that one might expect from other billionaires’ daughters but not this one. Kelly and White House insiders know that Ivanka Trump is as ill-prepared to face the brutish realities of Washington as her father. And tragically, neither seems to know what they do not know.
Which brings us back to Kushner.
Though Donald Trump might be loath to admit it, Kushner did much to elect his father-in-law. By quietly building a successful online fundraising and targeting operation far beyond his candidate’s comprehension, Kushner gave Trump a fighting chance to keep the 2016 presidential race close, in the hope that lightning would strike at the right time. It did. And that’s when Kushner’s problems began.
The quiet diplomacy Kushner employed so effectively during the campaign gave way to the sort of stubborn arrogance that often infects the winning side of presidential campaigns. Trump’s shocking victory led his son-in-law to believe he could reinvent government like Al Gore, micromanage the White House like James Baker and restructure the Middle East like Moses. Kushner’s confidence seemed to reach its apex whenever the subject turned to Middle East peace. His bizarre belief that the world began anew the day Trump was inaugurated was exposed again this week when a leaked audiotape caught Kushner telling White House interns: “We don’t want a history lesson. We’ve read enough books.”
Americans have seen enough headlines over the past six months to better understand why nepotism does not work in the White House.
Well, the sound of rain pouring into a turkey roaster is less annoying than listening to anything coming from the (it’s a dump!) White House these days. Would you like some ketchup on that overcooked cut of expensive meat?
Have a great weekend. Pray the rain goes where it’s needed. That’s definitely not in my bedroom on my bed.