Tuesday Reads: After A Quiet Weekend, Back to Non-Stop News

Sofia Loren playing pool, circa 1950s

Good Morning!!

The news has been overwhelming since Monday morning dawned. I’m feeling overwhelmed and I was going to go with baby animals, but then I found some great historical photos on Twitter.

Trump just finished his insane speech to the UN. I couldn’t stand to listen to him, but I watched with the sound off and closed captions.

The headline from the speech was that Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and again called Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man.” He also called for complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. That obviously will not happen. So should we prepare for nuclear war?

In addition, Trump ranted about “America first” and said every nation should put itself first–except when he was ranting about Syria, Afghanistan, ISIS, and North Korea. He also threatened to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal. According to the talking heads on MSNBC, there were audible gasps from the audience during at some points in the speech.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Maria has already devastated Dominica and is headed for Puerto Rico. The Washington Post: ‘Extremely dangerous’ Hurricane Maria churns toward Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico; Jose to scrape Northeast coast.

The wicked 2017 hurricane season began delivering more punishing blows Tuesday as Hurricane Maria raked across the Caribbean with “potentially catastrophic” winds of 160 mph. To the north, Hurricane Jose churned on a path to brush the Northeast coast with raging surf and potentially damaging gusts.

Maria strengthened to the highest-level Category 5 on Tuesday after making landfall on the island of Dominica. The storm carries the potential to cause widespread destruction along its path from the central Lesser Antilles through Puerto Rico, including some areas battered earlier this month by the huge Hurricane Irma.

James Dean signing autographs

“Maria is forecast to remain an extremely dangerous Category 4 or 5 hurricane while it approaches the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico,” the National Hurricane Center said Tuesday.

Jose is capable of producing coastal flooding and pockets of damaging wind from eastern Long Island to coastal Massachusetts, its effects are most likely to resemble those of a strong nor’easter — rather than a devastating hurricane.

It’s already pouring rain here, and I guess that’s going to continue through tomorrow. We haven’t seem much of the sun here lately, but that’s not a big deal. I just hope Maria slows down before she gets to you all down South.

We got big news in the Russia investigation last night. We learned that Paul Manafort was under surveillance under a FISA warrant beginning in 2014 and again before and after the inauguration while Trump was still talking to him on the phone.  If you haven’t read the NYT and CNN stories, be sure to check them out. We also learned that the FBI raid on Manafort’s home was a “no-knock” warrant and agents surprised him in his bedroom.

NYT: With a Picked Lock and a Threatened Indictment, Mueller’s Inquiry Sets a Tone.

CNN: Exclusive: US government wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman.

Three reactions to these stories:

Lawfare: The Latest Scoops from CNN and the New York Times: A Quick and Dirty Analysis.

As Jim Comey might put it: Lordy, there appear to be tapes….

The Times’ revelation that Manafort has been informed that he will be indicted involves a pretty spare set of reported facts. In fact, there’s really only one fact: “The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, then followed the house search with a warning: His prosecutors told Mr. Manafort they planned to indict him, said two people close to the investigation.” The language here is not legally precise. It could mean that Manafort has been formally informed that he is an investigative “target”—a designation that means that prosecutors intend to ask a grand jury to indict him. It could, instead, suggest something less than that—a kind of verbal aggressiveness designed to put pressure on him to cooperate.

Helen Keller meets Charlie Chaplin 1919

The significance of this is that it means that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has reached a critical stage—the point at which he may soon start making allegations in public. Those allegations may involve conduct unrelated to L’Affaire Russe—that is, alleged bad behavior by Manafort and maybe others that does not involve the Trump campaign—but which may nonetheless serve to pressure Manafort to cooperate on matters more central. Or they may involve conduct that involves his behavior with respect to the campaign itself. Note that if Manafort cooperates, we may not see anything public for a long time to come. Delay, that is, may be a sign of success. But in the absence of cooperation, the fireworks may be about to begin.

This is not the first indication in recent weeks that the Mueller investigation is nearing the litigation stage. The fact that Mueller’s staff executed a search warrant against Manafort in July—which was first reported Aug. 9 by the Washington Post—was telling, implying that the special counsel had shown a court probable cause of criminal activity.

That’s just a taste. Head over to Lawfare to read the whole thing. You won’t be sorry.

Natasha Bertrand at Business Insider: Raids, warrants, and wiretaps: The Trump-Russia probe ‘has reached a critical stage.’

Recent revelations about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election interference and potential collusion with President Donald Trump’s campaign team indicate that the case has reached the point where Mueller may soon start announcing criminal charges.

Washing day in NYC, 1934

The Wall Street Journal and CNN reported on Friday that Mueller had obtained a search warrant for records of the “inauthentic” accounts Facebook shut down earlier this month and the targeted ads these accounts purchased during the 2016 election.

Legal experts said the warrant meant Mueller had been able to convince a federal judge that there was good reason to believe a foreign entity had committed a crime by making campaign contributions in the form of ads and the spread of fake news and that evidence of that crime would be found on Facebook.

Three days later, The New York Times reported that Mueller told Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, he was going to be formally charged with a crime following a raid on his Virginia home over the summer.

Mueller has also issued subpoenas to a Manafort spokesman, Jason Maloni, and former attorney, Melissa Laurenza, to testify before a federal grand jury.

Bertrand’s piece is partially a summary of the longer Lawfare article.

The Washington Post: The Daily 202: Mueller tightening the screws on Manafort. This one is useful summary of the stories that broke yesterday.

Mueller is also “turning up the heat on Facebook.” Vanity Fair:

Facebook is facing an unusual degree of scrutiny as Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors makes the social media a central focus of the Justice Department’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including how the platform was used to disseminate foreign propaganda and misleading news stories. There are lots of attempts these days to get the attention of many people on various social media accounts, so have even started buying YouTube views to gain popularity. Earlier this month, Facebook told congressional investigators that it sold about $100,000 worth of ads to a pro-Kremlin Russian troll farm that targeted U.S. voters. But while some lawmakers appeared frustrated by Facebook’s overly general answers to their inquiries, Mueller isn’t asking nicely.

The latest revelation could mark a turning point in Mueller’s investigation. In order to obtain a search warrant, the former F.B.I. director would have had to prove that he has evidence suggesting a crime occurred and that it occurred on Facebook. “He would have to sort of lay out evidence showing that this crime had occurred, not just merely say so, but records that he had obtained, testimony that had been given, or interviews that people gave to the F.B.I.,” former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti told CBS News on Sunday. “It’s a very serious and significant move forward for the Mueller investigation.” Anyone who was part of that effort could be criminally liable, he added. Because Mueller has been looking at relatively specific, narrow crimes, Mariotti said he believes the special counsel’s office is “closing in on charging foreign individuals.” As Chris Smithwrote for Vanity Fair on Friday, some lawmakers believe that investigation could include a closer look at the election data operation run by Jared Kushner and Trump’s digital campaign chief, Brad Parscale, as well as their work with the data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica.

More at the link.

Finally, long-time Trump toady Michael Cohen [was scheduled to appear] before the Senate Intelligence Committee this morning. NBC News:

Cohen, who served as executive vice president and special counsel at the Trump Organization and continues to serve as the president’s personal attorney, is perhaps the closest associate to Trump outside of his immediate family. He will speak with professional staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee Tuesday weeks after the president’s son and son-in-law spoke with it and other congressional panels looking into Russia’s meddling in U.S. elections.

Miles Davis defining cool in 1947.

According to congressional sources, the committee intends to pursue several lines of questioning with Cohen, with the goal of putting him on the record on key topics that have drawn scrutiny during the investigation, including potential direct contacts between Trump associates and people with close ties to the Kremlin.

Cohen had been mentioned by name in a dossier on Trump prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele, alleging he attended a secret meeting in Prague in August 2016 to discuss Russia’s hacking of Democratic targets. Cohen has adamantly denied such a meeting, and his own attorney called the allegations “wholly unsubstantiated” and even “libelous” in a letter to leaders of the House Intelligence Committee in August.

Committee staff will also likely ask Cohen about emails he received in 2015 from Felix Sater, a former Trump associate with a criminal past, about a potential deal to open a Trump Tower in the Russian capital. Some of the emails were published by the New York Times in August.

UPDATE: Cohen’s appearance was cancelled because he violated an agreement not to speak to the media. He will now be subpoenaed.

As you know, the Republicans are making a last ditch effort to take health care away from Americans. Margaret Sanger-Katz at the NYT The Upshot: One Reason to Take the Latest Obamacare Repeal Seriously, and Three Reasons It Could Fail.

How seriously should Americans take the Republicans’ last-ditch effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act?

The party has until the end of the month to repeal the health law without needing 60 Senate votes. That’s why the latest proposal, by Senators Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, is getting so much attention.

Pablo Picasso & Brigitte Bardot, 1956

Their bill would eliminate the two big coverage programs created by Obamacare, and instead give blocks of money to state governments, with few limitations on how they can distribute them to provide health coverage to their residents. States would be free to eliminate Obamacare rules requiring that insurance cover a minimum package of benefits, and they could charge sick customers more than healthy customers.

It would also make major changes to Medicaid, reducing federal funding even for populations that were covered before Obamacare. The results would most likely be substantial reductions in the number of Americans with health coverage, and new challenges for Americans with pre-existing health conditions in some states.

There are elements of the bill that are likely to attract support from Republican lawmakers, and from some Republican governors. The policy is in line with many Republican lawmakers’ views that states are better able to manage their health programs than the federal government.

But the bill faces substantial challenges, both political and procedural. Here are three reasons the effort may not succeed — and one very important reason it might.

Read the reasons at the NYT link.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread below.


Lazy Saturday Reads: Yes, I’m Bitter

Hillary

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday was dark day for the USA. I didn’t see the inauguration ceremony, but I heard part of tRump’s speech on NPR while I was out in the car. To say I was repulsed by it would be an understatement. tRump painted a picture of America as a hellhole with no redeeming qualities except for the bigoted white people who managed to elect him with a minority of the popular vote. It was a stunning insult to the former presidents in the audience and to the majority of the American people.

Here’s a transcript of the brief, angry address annotated by Aaron Blake at The Washington Post. This is the part I heard before I switched off my car radio in disgust:

At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction, that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public.

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.

American carnage? I get the feeling that in a couple of weeks, tRump will be claiming credit for the growing economy that President Obama left him with. And then there was this:

We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power. From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first.

(APPLAUSE)

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

(APPLAUSE)

Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never ever let you down.

The slogan “America First” has very ugly historical connotations, and tRump know it, because he has been called out on it repeatedly. Brian Bennett at the LA Times: ‘America First,’ a phrase with a loaded anti-Semitic and isolationist history.

america-first4

At the center of his foreign policy vision, Donald Trump has put “America First,” a phrase with an anti-Semitic and isolationist history going back to the years before the U.S. entry into World War II.

Trump started using the slogan in the later months of his campaign, and despite requests from the Anti-Defamation League that he drop it, he stuck with it.

 Friday, he embraced the words as a unifying theme for his inaugural address.

“From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land,” Trump said on the Capitol steps. “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America First. America First.”

Here’s the historical context:

Those same words galvanized a mass populist movement against U.S. entry into the war in Europe, even as the German army rolled through France and Belgium in the spring of 1940.

A broad-based coalition of politicians and business leaders on the right and left came together as the America First Committee to oppose President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s support for France and Great Britain. The movement grew to more than 800,000 members.

While the America First Committee attracted a wide array of support, the movement was marred by anti-Semitic and pro-fascist rhetoric. Its highest profile spokesman, Charles Lindbergh, blamed American Jews for pushing the country into war.

“The British and the Jewish races,” he said at a rally in September 1941, “for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.”

The “greatest danger” Jews posed to the U.S. “lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government,” Lindbergh said.

This certainly was not a unifying message from our new and illegitimate POTUS.

Joe Conason at the National Memo: Trump’s Inaugural: A Hostile Transfer Of Power.

Everyone who wondered what Steve Bannon has been doing in Trump Tower now knows the answer: He was drafting the new president’s vengeful and cliché-laden inaugural address, which is certainly the least impressive speech of its kind in memory and likely one of the worst in history.

With its repeated harping on “America First” and the thieving perfidy of Washington, condemning both parties in government, this speech plainly reiterated the same messages formulated by the former Breitbart.com chairman during last year’s campaign. It sounded as if Trump were still on the stump, stirring up his fans, rather than seeking to unify the country and take on the profound responsibilities of the nation’s highest office.

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But who can blame Bannon and Trump for returning to their battle-tested themes? Gazing out over the National Mall toward the Washington Monument, where a crowd less than a fourth the size of Obama’s 2009 audience stood, and pondering their dismal approval ratings, they had to yearn for the wild enthusiasm of rallies past. What better way to revive the base than to conjure again that dark vision of an America brought low by crime, drugs, immigration, joblessness — and elitist conspiracies at the center of government?

Of course, there is a good reason why a new president — especially one who failed to win the popular vote in an extraordinarily rancorous election — should try to strike a generous and welcoming note on Inauguration Day. The task of governing that the chief executive faces is vast, complex, and daunting, as Trump is now learning, and demands at least a gesture toward national unity. An inaugural speech crafted to encourage such harmony is the mood music of our “peaceful transfer of power.” And by the time a president takes office, the country is usually weary of partisan bitching and expects the victor to display a measure of grace.

tRump isn’t capable of displaying grace. He only cares about himself and the “glorious victory” he imagines he has won. Even at the inaugural balls last night, tRump was still bragging about how he won the primaries and the general election in a “landslide.” Ironically, even winning the presidency and becoming the most powerful man on earth will never satisfy the black hole of inadequacy inside this pathetic, narcissistic man.

A couple more reviews:

Alexandra Petri at The Washington Post: Donald Trump’s inauguration was a Gothic nightmare.

 

George Will at The Washington Post: A most dreadful inaugural address.

David Sanger at The New York Times: With Echoes of the ’30s, Trump Resurrects a Hard-Line Vision of ‘America First.’

So today it’s the “women’s march,” and there are a lot more people participating in it than the sad crowd for the inauguration. Plus there are women’s rallies in all fifty states and many foreign countries. I guess I should be thrilled, but after learning that the organizers had decided to leave Hillary Clinton off the list of women on their “This is Why We March” announcement, I’m a bit unenthusiastic. I doubt if this will make much difference if the focus is on dismissing Hillary’s achievements and fantasizing that Bernie would have won. I’m also having difficulty with Michael Moore hogging the spotlight on a day that was supposed to be about women’s rights. Time Magazine:

When the Women’s March, which will take place on Saturday, released its official platform earlier this week,the group included a section dedicated to women who inspired organizers but didn’t mention Clinton’s name. The list included activists like Grace Lee Boggs, Gloria Steinem, Winona LaDuke, Malala Yousafzai and Edith Windsor. But Clinton, the first woman to be the a presidential nominee of a major political party, was missing. The omission is especially notable because the March borrows one of its slogans — “Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights” — from Clinton’s famous 1995 speech on women’s rights in Beijing. Clinton has given no indication that she plans to attend the event.

america-first2

Sonya Clay, who lives in D.C. and supported Hillary Clinton in 2016 election, started a petition to get Clinton’s name added onto the list, which now has over 5,000 signatures. In addition to Clay’s petition, Wise Women for Hillary sent a letter to the March’s organizers asking that they change their mind. Others agreed, tweeting to March organizers under the hashtag #AddHerName. Some women now say they may stay home if Clinton’s name isn’t added.

“A Women’s March without Hillary Clinton — that just makes no sense,” Clay told Motto in a phone interview. “Hillary Clinton has inspired people to participate in this March. Her service has been inspiring to people. And just the way that she’s handled the loss. She’s inspired people to keep fighting and fight back.”

Since Clay’s petition went live, the Las Vegas and Los Angeles contingents of the Women’s March tweeted that they would honor Clinton. The March also put out a statement on its official Facebook page, saying it was proud to include Clinton’s phrase words from her Beijing speech — but didn’t clarify whether it would add Clinton’s name to the honoree list.

To compound the insult, the organizers are using Hillary’s famous quote “Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights,” as well as referring to themselves as “nasty women.”

So . . . I applaud the women who are marching in DC and around the country and the world, but I’m still not so enthusiastic this will lead to any meaningful changes. Sorry about that.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and I hope you enjoy your weekend.