Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

hym01art1On Tuesday, I wrote about the sudden mainstreaming of the so-called “lab leak theory” of the origins of Covid-19 in China. Today David Leonhardt has an “explainer” of this sudden attention to this long-dismissed notion.

Suddenly, talk of the Wuhan lab-leak theory seems to be everywhere.

President Biden yesterday called on U.S. intelligence officials to “redouble their efforts” to determine the origin of Covid-19 and figure out whether the virus that causes it accidentally leaked from a Chinese laboratory. Major publications and social media have recently been filled with discussion of the subject.

The origin of the virus remains unclear. Many scientists have long believed that the most likely explanation is that it jumped from an animal to a person, possibly at a food market in Wuhan, China, in late 2019. Animal-to human transmission — known as zoonotic spillover — is a common origin story for viruses, including Ebola and some bird flus.But some scientists have pointed to another possibility: that it escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. As in other laboratories, researchers there sometimes modify viruses, to understand and treat them.

“It is most likely that this is a virus that arose naturally, but we cannot exclude the possibility of some kind of a lab accident,” Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, told senators yesterday.

Leonhardt writes–as I did on Tuesday–that the reason this is suddenly getting so much attention is because a number of scientists have recently argued that the lab leak theory should be investigated.

Among the reasons: Chinese officials have refused to allow an independent investigation into the lab and have failed to explain some inconsistencies in the animal-to-human hypothesis. Most of the first confirmed cases had no evident link to the food market.

But has anything really changed?

In some ways, not much has not changed. From the beginning, the virus’s origin has been unclear. All along, some scientists, politicians and journalists have argued that the lab-leak theory deserves consideration.

Almost 15 months ago, two Chinese researchers wrote a paper concluding that the virus “probably originated from a laboratory in Wuhan.” Alina Chan, a molecular biologist affiliated with Harvard and M.I.T., made similar arguments. David Ignatius and Josh Rogin, both Washington Post columnists, wrote about the possibility more than a year ago. Joe Biden, then a presidential candidate, didn’t mention the lab-leak theory in early 2020 but he did argue that the U.S. should “not be taking China’s word” for how the outbreak started.

But these voices were in the minority. The World Health Organization initially dismissed the lab-leak theory as implausible.

Read the rest at the link–I’ve probably quoted too much.

covid_19_-_the_right_way_ditikalayakashyapIf you read the comments on the Tuesday post, you know that Quixote, who is quite knowledgeable on this subject, vehemently argued against the lab leak theory. Quixote posted another comment yesterday that I didn’t see until this morning:

The virus isn’t engineered because you can tell by the RNA sequence. If it had been, the inserted bits will be obvious when you compare it to related viruses. Sort of like Frankenstein’s monster is visibly sewn together from parts that don’t go together.

The early cases don’t particularly center on the lab or on people associated with it. They’re outside Wuhan, inside Wuhan, at the abandoned mine / bat cave, at the captured animal food market, and so on. The pattern is what you’d see if a virus mutated to be able to infect people, but wasn’t very good at it yet, and had been moving through the population for a while. In the course of simmering through the population, the most successful virus would be the one that changed enough to infect people easily.

It had enough time to do that, and that was exactly the threat the Wuhan lab, and also CDC people there, were looking for. (Trump, by the way, cut funding for both of those because what the hell do we need to be paying people in China for.) The danger was noticed by Chinese doctors (one of whom soon died of the disease) who tried hard to alert the world. They were squelched by the government. If the CDC people had still been there, it would have been a lot harder to squelch.

So tl:dr; no evidence covid19 was an intentional bioweapon thing. Poor evidence that it could have unintentionally leaked. It’s a fact that the attempted coverup by the Chinese let the pandemic get going. If procedures at the lab need improving, they certainly should be.

The other things you mention about China are all true. (Tibet too. Never forget Tibet.) It’s been obvious for decades that China was going to abuse whatever power it could get. But that’s another whole train of thought.

As bad as they are, covid19 does not fit the lab leak story at all well. Both things can be true: they’re bad and covid was an incompetent accident made infinitely worse by self-serving dictators all over the world, including China.

I agree that there certainly is no evidence for the lab leak theory. The only reason I thought there could be something to it was that several people in the lab got sick with something that looked like Covid-19 and were hospitalized. I thought they could have gotten the virus from the cave samples–not that the virus was engineered in the lab–and that somehow the virus got into the population that way. But there is no way to ever know if this happened, as China would never cooperate with any investigation.

Now that Biden has ordered an investigation, we will likely hear more about this, but I can’t see how we’re ever going to know for sure how the virus originated. The crossover from animal to human explanation makes the most sense.

It’s also worth checking out this thread on Twitter by a China expert.

In other Covid-19 news, The New York Times reports that two studies have found that Immunity to the Coronavirus May Persist for Years.

Immunity to the coronavirus lasts at least a year, possibly a lifetime, improving over time especially after vaccination, according to two new studies. The findings may help put to rest lingering fears that protection against the virus will be short-lived.

WehavecompassionCovid19Suzon

19 Faces of Covid-19, by Suzon Lucore

Together, the studies suggest that most people who have recovered from Covid-19 and who were later immunized will not need boosters. Vaccinated people who were never infected most likely will need the shots, however, as will a minority who were infected but did not produce a robust immune response.

Both reports looked at people who had been exposed to the coronavirus about a year earlier. Cells that retain a memory of the virus persist in the bone marrow and may churn out antibodies whenever needed, according to one of the studies, published on Monday in the journal Nature.

The other study, posted online at BioRxiv, a site for biology research, found that these so-called memory B cells continue to mature and strengthen for at least 12 months after the initial infection.

“The papers are consistent with the growing body of literature that suggests that immunity elicited by infection and vaccination for SARS-CoV-2 appears to be long-lived,” said Scott Hensley, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania who was not involved in the research.

Read more at the NYT.

There was another mass shooting yesterday–so what else is new? 

It’s also not new that the perpetrator had a history of violence against women. Fox News: San Jose shooting leaves 9 dead, deceased suspect identified; victims shot in separate buildings.

The eight people initially killed by a gunman at a Northern California rail yard Wednesday morning were shot in two separate buildings before the suspected shooter took his own life, authorities said Wednesday. 

A ninth victim died in a hospital late Wednesday evening, authorities said.

The mass shooting epidemic, credit Dana Gornall

The mass shooting epidemic, credit Dana Gornall

Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie Smith expressed her grief for the families of the victims before praising the quick response of law enforcement officers who went into a Valley Transportation Authority building as the active shooting was happening. She said deputies and San Jose police officers were the first on the scene. 

The suspect was identified Wednesday as Samuel Cassidy, 57, who was a VTA employee, officials said. No motive is known for the shooting at this time.

An ex-girlfriend told the San Francisco Chronicle he was prone to alcohol-fueled mood swings and had been accused in a March 2009 court filing of rape and abuse. The documents were filed in response to a domestic violence restraining order that Cassidy had filed earlier that month. 

The former girlfriend alleged his mood swings worsened when he drank alcohol and that he played “several mind games which he seems to enjoy.” She listed several incidents of alleged sexual assault in which he would hold her arms and force his weight onto her. 

He would apologize and promised to never do it again afterward, the report said. 

(Emphasis added)

Cassidy’s ex-wife said he had threated workplace violence years ago. KCRA3.com: What we know about Sam Cassidy, the suspect in the San Jose VTA shooting.

The man who opened fire Wednesday at a rail yard in San Jose, killing nine other people and ending his own life, has been identified as 57-year-old Sam Cassidy. He was an employee of the Valley Transportation Authority, which provides bus, light rail and other transit services throughout Santa Clara County, authorities said.

RS31736_Photo-Jul-06-11-30-19-AM-qut-520x293Cassidy was identified as a maintenance worker at the Valley Transportation Authority….

According to The Associated Press, Cassidy had talked to his ex-wife about killing people at work more than a decade ago.

“I never believed him, and it never happened. Until now,” a tearful Cecilia Nelms told The Associated Press.

She said he used to come home from work resentful and angry over what he perceived as unfair assignments.

“He could dwell on things,” she said. The two were married for about 10 years until a 2005 divorce filing and she hadn’t been in touch with Cassidy for about 13 years, Nelms said.

I’m still perplexed and fascinated by the Q-Anon phenomenon. There a couple of stories about it today.

NBC News: Study finds nearly one-in-five Americans believe QAnon conspiracy theories.

Washington, we have a problem — politically, informationally and societally — when 15 percent of Americans agree with the QAnon statement that the U.S. government, media and financial worlds “are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”

Or when 20 percent agree with this statement: “There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders.”

Or when another 15 percent agree that “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

These are the results of a PRRI-IFYC study that was conducted online March 8-30, but that was just released Thursday.

And the study finds that Republicans, those who trust far-right news outlets like OANN and Newsmax, and white evangelicals and Hispanic Protestants are all more likely to believe these statements than other Americans.

It’s hard to call something fringe when approximately one-in-five Americans believe these statements, especially one that true patriots “may have to resort to violence” to save the country.

Here’s the PRRI story: Understanding QAnon’s Connection to American Politics, Religion, and Media Consumption.

Three Components of the QAnon Conspiracy Movement

The far-right conspiracy theory movement known as QAnon emerged on the internet in late 2017 and gained traction throughout former president Donald Trump’s time in office. QAnon’s core theory revolves around Satan-worshipping pedophiles plotting against Trump and a coming “storm” that would clear out those evil forces, but the movement has also been described as a “big tent conspiracy theory” that involves a constantly evolving web of schemes about politicians, celebrities, bankers, and the media, as well as echoes of older movements within Christianity, such as Gnosticism.

e7d48eefa41a0d5dd2b2ae4f7062823421-QANON-COVER-NO-TYPE.rvertical.w1200To understand how this loosely connected belief system is influencing American politics, religion, and media, we fielded three questions, each containing a tenet of the QAnon conspiracy movement….

QAnon Beliefs and Partisanship

A nontrivial 15% of Americans agree with the sweeping QAnon allegation that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation,” while the vast majority of Americans (82%) disagree with this statement. Republicans (23%) are significantly more likely than independents (14%) and Democrats (8%) to agree that the government, media, and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.

Similarly, one in five Americans (20%) agree with the statement “There is a storm coming soon that will sweep away the elites in power and restore the rightful leaders,” while a majority (77%) disagree. Nearly three in ten Republicans (28%), compared to 18% of independents and 14% of Democrats, agree with this secondary QAnon conspiracy theory. Trends among demographic groups are similar to those of the core QAnon conspiracy theory.

Fifteen percent of Americans agree that “Because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country,” while the vast majority (85%) disagree. Republicans (28%) are twice as likely as independents (13%) and four times as likely as Democrats (7%) to agree that because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence.

Click the link to read the rest.

So…that’s a mixed bag of news for you. What else is happening? As always, this is an open thread.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

I hope you’ll forgive a little childhood nostalgia from me this morning. Yesterday I came down with a cold and sought a little comfort by recalling the Beatrix Potter stories my parents read to me as a child. I googled Potter and came across this wonderful story about her life at The Guardian: The strange life of Beatrix Potter — how rabbits (and mushrooms) set her free, by Matthew Dennison. Dennison wrote a brief biography of Potter, Over the Hills and Far Away: The Life of Beatrix Potter. Here’s the Amazon blurb of the book:

Inspired by the twenty-three “tales,” Matthew Dennison takes a selection of quotations from Potter’s stories and uses them to explore her multi-faceted life and character: repressed Victorian daughter; thwarted lover; artistic genius; formidable countrywoman. They chart her transformation from a young girl with a love of animals and fairy tales into a bestselling author and canny businesswoman, so deeply unusual for the Victorian era in which she grew up. Embellished with photographs of Potter’s life and her own illustrations, this biography will delight anyone who has been touched by Beatrix Potter’s work.

At The Guardian, Dennison writes that at 25, Potter was:

Unmarried, cripplingly shy, plagued by poor health, she passed empty days in the nursery of her childhood home in South Kensington, at the beck and call of her irritable parents. She would remain there until her unexpected marriage at the age of 45.

In place of friends, she had a “noisy cheerful” pet rabbit called Benjamin H Bouncer. On good days, she noted, he was “amiably sentimental to the point of silliness”; on bad days, he ate the insides of her paintbox. Beatrix even dreamt about him: “Bunny came to my bedside in a white cotton nightcap and tickled me with his whiskers.” Inspired by Pepys, she wrote her diary in a complicated code of her own invention, sometimes framing her entries as letters to an imaginary friend called Esther. In these diaries, she vented frustration at her comfortable, pointless existence. As young as 10, she recorded an intention to “do something”.

It took quite awhile, but Potter eventually broke away from her restrictive parents by studying nature and painting. Of course she was best known for her illustrations of rabbits, but she also wrote illustrated stories about cats. I’ve used some of those illustrations in this post.

Now to the latest news.

We’re moving rapidly toward impeachment and maybe we’ll actually be able to rid ourselves of the monster in the White House. The revelations about Trump administration corruption are coming out at warp speed. You’ve probably been following every twist and turn, just as I have.

The latest: Last night we learned that Trump’s meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office was even worse than previously reported. The Washington Post: Trump told Russian officials in 2017 he wasn’t concerned about Moscow’s interference in U.S. election.

President Trump told two senior Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries, an assertion that prompted alarmed White House officials to limit access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people, according to three former officials with knowledge of the matter.

The comments, which have not been previously reported, were part of a now-infamous meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which Trump revealed highly classified information that exposed a source of intelligence on the Islamic State. He also said during the meeting that firing FBI Director James B. Comey the previous day had relieved “great pressure” on him.

A memorandum summarizing the meeting was limited to a few officials with the highest security clearances in an attempt to keep the president’s comments from being disclosed publicly, according to the former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

A bit more:

White House officials were particularly distressed by Trump’s election remarks because it appeared the president was forgiving Russia for an attack that had been designed to help elect him, the three former officials said. Trump also seemed to invite Russia to interfere in other countries’ elections, they said.

The previous day, Trump had fired Comey amid the FBI’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia. White House aides worried about the political ramifications if Trump’s comments to the Russian officials became public.

Trump had publicly ridiculed the Russia investigation as politically motivated and said he doubted Moscow had intervened in the election. By the time he met with Lavrov and Kislyak, Trump had been briefed by the most senior U.S. intelligence officials about the Russian operation, which was directed by Russian President Vladi­mir Putin and included the theft and publication of Democratic emails and the seeding of propaganda in social media, according to the findings of the U.S. intelligence community.

Apparently, no one told Robert Mueller about these remarks–unless they were redacted by Cover-Up General Bill Barr.

Another scoop from The New York Times: White House Classified Computer System Is Used to Hold Transcripts of Sensitive Calls.

The White House concealed some reconstructed transcripts of delicate calls between President Trump and foreign officials, including President Vladimir V. Putin and the Saudi royal family, in a highly classified computer system after embarrassing leaks of his conversations, according to current and former officials.

The handling of Mr. Trump’s calls with world leaders has come under scrutiny after questions over whether a transcript of a July 25 call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was improperly placed into this computer system.

The latest revelations show the focus that White House officials put o safeguarding not only classified information but also delicate calls with Mr. Trump, the details of which the administration did not want leaked.

In the case of the calls with the Saudi royal family, the restrictions were set beforehand, and the number of people allowed to listen was sharply restricted. The Saudi calls placed in the restricted system were with King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prince Khalid bin Salman, who at the time was the Saudi ambassador to the United States….

The practice began after details of Mr. Trump’s Oval Office discussion with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, leaked to the news media, leading to questions of whether the president had released classified information, according to multiple current and former officials. The White House was particularly upset when the news media reported that Mr. Trump had called James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, a “nut job” during that same meeting, according to current and former officials.

The White House had begun restricting access to information after initial leaks of Mr. Trump’s calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia. But the conversation with Mr. Lavrov and Sergey I. Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, prompted tighter restrictions.

From The Guardian this morning: Trump’s Ukraine call sparks new questions over intelligence chief’s firing.

Three days after his now infamous phone conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Donald Trump abruptly fired his director of national intelligence in favour of an inexperienced political loyalist.

According to a New York Times report, the White House learned within days that the unorthodox call on 25 July with Zelenskiy had raised red flags among intelligence professionals and was likely to trigger an official complaint.

That timeline has raised new questions over the timing of the Trump’s dismissal by tweet of the director of national intelligence (DNI), Dan Coats, on 28 July and his insistence that the deputy DNI, Sue Gordon, a career intelligence professional, did not step into the role, even in an acting capacity.

Instead, Trump tried to install a Republican congressman, John Ratcliffe, who had minimal national security credentials but had been a fierce defender of the president in Congress. Trump had to drop the nomination after it emerged that Ratcliffe had exaggerated his national security credentials in his biography, wrongly claiming he had conducted prosecutions in terrorist financing cases.

Despite the collapse of the Ratcliffe nomination, Gordon was forced out. She was reported to have been holding a meeting on election security on 8 August when Coats interrupted to convinceher that she would have to resign.

According to The New York Times, Trump knew about the whistleblower complaint “Soon After Trump’s Call” with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, so it appears that Trump fired Coats and Gordon to keep them from getting involved in the situation. 

The Washington Post reports that Trump may have been trying to get China to investigate Hunter Biden’s activities there: Trump says he raised Hunter Biden allegations with his China go-between.

President Trump, who has alleged that Hunter Biden got the Chinese to put $1.5 billion into an investment fund, said during private remarks this week that he raised the matter with a U.S. executive who has served as his intermediary on trade talks with Beijing….

In remarks to the U.S. Mission to the United Nations on Thursday morning, Trump said he discussed Biden’s China work with Stephen Schwarzman, the chief executive of the investment company Blackstone.

“I was with the head of Blackstone . . . Steve Schwarzman,” Trump said, according to a video of the remarks obtained by The Washington Post. After alleging that Hunter Biden got $1.5 billion from the Chinese, Trump said he asked Schwarzman, “Steve, is that possible?” Trump said Schwarzman asked, “Who got that?” and Trump responded, “Biden’s son.”

Trump said he asked Schwarzman how that could happen, and the executive responded: “Maybe I shouldn’t get involved, you know it’s very political.”

I wonder how many other countries Trump has tried to solicit for help with the 2020 election?

More stories to check out, links only:

Gary Kasparov at The New York Daily News: The dam is breaking: Trump’s true character is revealed, more fully than ever.

Michael Cohen at The Boston Globe: Forget impeachment. Donald Trump needs to resign.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: The Ukraine Scandal Is a Fitting Symbol of Trump’s Presidency. It May Finally Be His Downfall.

Anne Applebaum at The Washington Post: Americans spent decades discussing rule of law. Why would anyone believe us now?

The Washington Post: Deep Throat’s identity was a mystery for decades because no one believed this woman.

CNN: Democrats say White House stonewalling won’t drag out inquiry and will boost case for impeachment.

HuffPost: Now One Of Trump’s Court Picks Is Tied Up In This Ukraine Scandal.

The Washington Post: Amateur pro-Trump ‘sleuths’ scramble to unmask whistleblower: ‘Your president has asked for your help.’

The Daily Beast: Pompeo Grapples for Ways to Outlast Hurricane Rudy.

Have a great Caturday, Sky Dancers!!


Lazy Caturday Reads: The Insanity Continues . . .

By Juan Bejar, b. 1946

Good Morning!!

The insanity continues. Yesterday Trump rocked markets with a series of unhinged tweets. I hope you’ll read this CNBC thread. It’s a classic of Trump turbulence.

 

Last night Trump left for the G7 Summit and on his way he had another yelling session with reporters. Nothing sane came out of that, but he claimed that his remark about being “the chosen one was “sarcastic.” and “we were all laughing?” I don’t think Trump knows what sarcasm is.

This morning I turned on the TV to see him at a “working lunch” with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron spoke about the many serious problems that need to be discussed at the summit, including climate change. Trump uttered several disconnected sentences, mostly about the weather. After the lunch, Trump tweeted thanks to Macron to a parody account, misspelling Macon’s name.

The New York Times summarizes yesterday’s insanity: One Crazy Day Showed How Political Chaos Threatens the World Economy.

President Trump arrived in France on Saturday for a meeting of the Group of 7 industrialized nations, having set the stage for fireworks and confusion. In one dizzying day, he had seemed to be searching for whom or what to blame for economic troubles, first using Twitter to call his own Federal Reserve chief an enemy of the United States and then to urge American companies to stop doing business with China.

Louis-Léopold Boilly – Gabrielle Arnault as a Child, 1813

And that was just while the markets were open. Later Friday, he said he would apply tariffs to all Chinese imports and increase those already in place….if a recession and breakdown in international commerce happens in the coming year, histories of the episode may well spend a chapter on the Friday collision of official actions in the government offices of Beijing, in the Grand Tetons in Wyoming and in the Oval Office.

It became clear in real time how the risks of an escalating trade war and the fraying of longstanding financial and political ties could quickly outpace the ability of central banks — the normal first responders to economic distress — to do anything about it.

President Trump’s shoot-first approach adds to the risks at a delicate moment, with major economies in Asia and Europe already teetering and policymakers’ capacity to contain the damage in question.

“The escalation, the unpredictability, the erratic nature of policy developments is central to what is going on, and these aren’t things you can plug into an economic model,” said Julia Coronado, president of MacroPolicy Perspectives, an economic consultancy. “Something is breaking. It’s very dangerous.”

Read the rest at the NYT.

In France today, Trump claimed he has the power to force companies to follow the commands he issued on Twitter yesterday. The New York Times: Trump Asserts He Can Force U.S. Companies to Leave China.

Portrait of a Young Girl, Samuel Miller (c. 1807–1853), c. 1845

BIARRITZ, France — President Trump asserted on Saturday that he has the authority to make good on his threat to force all American businesses to leave China, citing a national security law that has been used mainly to target terrorists, drug traffickers and pariah states like Iran, Syria and North Korea.

As he arrived in France for the annual meeting of the Group of 7 powers, Mr. Trump posted a message on Twitter citing the International Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 — a law meant to enable a president to isolate criminal regimes but not intended to be used to cut off economic ties with a major trading partner because of a disagreement over tariffs.

“For all of the Fake News Reporters that don’t have a clue as to what the law is relative to Presidential powers, China, etc., try looking at the Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Case closed!” [….]

In raising the possibility of forcing American businesses to pull out of China on Friday, Mr. Trump framed it not as a request but as an order he had already issued.

“Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing our companies HOME and making your products in the USA,” he wrote on Twitter, adding, “We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far better off without them.”

In fact, aides said, no order has been drawn up nor was it clear that he would attempt to do so. Instead, it could be the latest negotiating tactic by a president who favors drastic threats without always following through on them in hopes of forcing partners to make concessions.

The “president” is a madman and we’re stuck with him for now.

By George Gassner 1811–1861

According to CNN, Trump doesn’t understand why he has to go to the G7: Trump has questioned why he must attend G7.

…in conversations with aides over the past weeks, Trump has questioned why he must attend, according to people familiar with the conversations. After the past two G7 summits ended acrimoniously, Trump complained about attending a third, saying he didn’t view the gathering as a particularly productive use of his time.

He’s made similar asides in meetings with other world leaders, including Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Emmanuel Macron, who have encouraged him over the past six months to commit to attending the Biarritz summit, people familiar with the conversations said. Macron is this year’s summit host.

The G7 represents the world’s major economies, and has long been a regular stop on the US President’s calendar. In small group sessions, with only the leaders and few aides present, the world’s major economic and geopolitical problems are discussed at length.
It’s a more workaday style of foreign travel than the type of trip Trump has come to enjoy, which usually include lavish displays of welcome like royal parades or state banquets. It’s also a practice in the kind of multilateralism that Trump and his aides have downplayed in favor of one-one-one negotiations with other countries.

But if he didn’t attend, he would miss an opportunity to sow global chaos and frighten out allies half to death.

By Otto Van Veen, 1584

Associated Press: At global summit, Trump facing limits of go-it-alone stance.

Trump, growing more isolated in Washington, faces a tepid reception on the world stage, where a list of challenges awaits. Anxiety is growing over a global slowdown , and there are new points of tension with allies on trade, Iran and Russia.

Fears of a financial downturn are spreading, meaning the need for cooperation and a collective response is essential. Yet Trump has ridiculed Germany for its economic travails at a time when he may have to turn to Chancellor Angela Merkel and others to help blunt the force of China’s newly aggressive tariffs on U.S. goods. Those trade penalties, combined with the economic slowdown, have raised political alarms for Trump’s reelection effort .

In a late addition to the schedule, Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron sat across from each other at a small table for lunch outside the opulent Hotel du Palais before the official start of the summit. Hours earlier, Trump threatened anew to place tariffs on French wine imports to the U.S. over France’s digital services tax, and that prompted a European leader to promise European Union action if the U.S. followed through. Macron called for an end to the trade wars he said are “taking hold everywhere.”

Macron, the summit host, said two were discussing “a lot of crisis” around the world, including Libya, Iran and Russia, as well as trade policy and climate change.

Good luck with that.

Martha Bartlett with Kitten 1875 Unknown artist

At The New Yorker, David Remnick warns us about sinking into despair over Trump’s insanity: Trump Clarification Syndrome. Here’s the gist:

Again and again, Trump’s top advisers––Daniel Coats, Gary Cohn, James Mattis, Rex Tillerson, H. R. McMaster, and John Kelly among them––have left the White House clutching their heads, their dignity and nerves in rags, realizing that they have served a President who is unreachable, beyond cure and counsel; a man of rotten character, blatant instability, and zero empathy; an empty but radically dangerous human being, who occupies the highest office in the land….

But, as perilous and unnerving as things are, any form of political despair at such a moment remains unforgivable. Despair is a form of self-indulgence, a dodge. Trump’s derangements in policy and character should instead instill a kind of Trump Clarification Syndrome, a reckoning with what confronts us. A reckoning, as the Amazon rain forest burns, with climate change. A reckoning, as Trump threatens to revoke the barest protections for immigrant children and the guarantee of birthright citizenship, with the history and persistence of bigotry in all forms. With the structural persistence of inequality of income and opportunity. With matters of truth and falsehood. Trump’s presence in the White House is depressing, there is no doubt, but to wallow in that gloom, or even to imagine that public life will “return to normal” on its own after his departure, is insufficient, even inexcusable. Democrats, Independents, and Republicans who cannot countenance Trumpist politics ought to welcome the most urgent kind of political debate on matters of policy and on who we are as a country. Perhaps it is a form of derangement to say it, but it’s entirely possible that Donald Trump, who has been such a ruinous figure on the public scene, has at least done the country an unintended service by clarifying some of our deepest flaws and looming dangers in his uniquely lurid light.

A Girl with Her Cat by Hendrik Maarten Krabbe

In non-Trump news, Joe Biden committed another disturbing faux pas yesterday. The Washington Post: Evoking 1968 at town hall, Biden asks: What would have happened if Obama had been assassinated?

HANOVER, N.H. — Former vice president Joe Biden, returning to this crucial primary state and attempting to put the focus on the foibles of President Trump, took an unusual departure toward the end of a 70-minute dive into health-care policy by asking the crowd to imagine the assassination of Barack Obama.

“None of you . . . women are old enough — but a couple of you guys are old enough,” he said during a town hall at Dartmouth College. “I graduated in 1968. Everybody before me was, ‘Drop out, go to Haight-Ashbury, don’t trust anybody over 30, everybody not get involved.’ No, I’m serious. I know no woman will shake her head and acknowledge it. But you guys know what I’m talking about. Right? But then what happened?”

The front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination referenced the assassinations of two of his political heroes, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy — who was killed while running for president.

At least he’s figured out that the assassinations happening 1968, not the late-1970s.

“Imagine what would have happened if, God forbid, if Barack Obama had been assassinated after becoming the de facto nominee,” he continued. “What would have happened in America?”

La dame et son chat Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837)

What was his point? Your guess is as good as mine. But this puts me in mind of something Hillary said in 2008 that was met with universal outrage. The New York Times, May 24, 2008:

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton defended staying in the Democratic nominating contest on Friday by pointing out that her husband had not wrapped up the nomination until June 1992, adding, “We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California.”

Her remarks were met with quick criticism from the campaign of Senator Barack Obama, and within hours of making them Mrs. Clinton expressed regret, saying, “The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Senator Kennedy,” referring to the recent diagnosis of Senator Edward M. Kennedy’s brain tumor. She added, “And I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and in particular the Kennedy family was in any way offensive.”

Why isn’t Biden’s strange remark getting the same amount of negative attention that Clinton’s did back in 2008? Actually, I know the answer . . .

So . . . what stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads

By Childe Hassam

Good Morning!!

For the first time in ages, I’m not finding a lot of political news breaking news this morning. The Hong Kong protests may be approaching a crisis, and Trump isn’t helping. Other than that, the Jeffrey Epstein story is dominating the news along with the shooting of police officers in Philadelphia.

Politico: Trump resists aides’ pressure to back Hong Kong protesters.

Donald Trump’s top aides are urging him to back Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters, but the president isn’t interested, multiple people familiar with the administration’s internal debates say.

Trucks and armoured personnel carriers are seen outside the Shenzhen Bay stadium in Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong in China’s southern Guangdong province, Aug. 15, 2019.
GETTY

In recent days, national security adviser John Bolton, China hands at both the National Security Council and the State Department, and several economic advisers have pushed for a more assertive posture on the Hong Kong demonstrations, which have paralyzed the former British colony and roiled markets.

They are finding little traction with a president focused more narrowly on trade negotiations with Xi Jinping — and worried that criticizing the Chinese leader’s efforts to stamp out dissent in Hong Kong will scuttle the possibility of inking a deal this winter.

As the protests have intensified over the past month, the president has remained determined to keep China’s human rights abuses from complicating his trade negotiations, going so far as to make a unilateral concession to Xi in the run-up to the G-20 Summit in June, according to three people briefed on the conversation. Aspects of the conversation were first reported by the Financial Times.

But after the initial publication of this report, the president appeared to reverse himself, issuing the latest in a series of contradictory remarks on the issue on Wednesday evening — this time demanding that Xi “deal humanely with Hong Kong.”

Raise your hand if you believe Trump cares about human rights.

A crackdown could be coming.

Reuters: In ‘clear warning’, Chinese paramilitary forces exercise near Hong Kong.

SHENZHEN, China/HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hundreds of China’s People’s Armed Police conducted exercises at a sports stadium in Shenzhen on Thursday, as the U.S. State Department expressed concern that they could be deployed across the border in Hong Kong to break up protests wracking the city.

But Western and Asian diplomats in Hong Kong said Beijing has little appetite for rolling the PAP or the People’s Liberation Army onto Hong Kong’s streets.

Men in fatigues could be seen in a stadium at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre, and shouts and whistles could be heard by a Reuters journalist on Thursday morning.

Later in the day, police carried out exercises in which they divided into two groups, one wearing black t-shirts similar to those worn by some protesters in Hong Kong.

A bit more:

Protesters scuffle with police at Hong Kong’s airport © AFP

Ten weeks of increasingly violent confrontations between police and protesters have plunged the city into its worst crisis since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

The protests represent one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

On Wednesday the U.S. State Department said it was deeply concerned about reports that Chinese police forces were gathering near the border with Hong Kong and urged the city’s government to respect freedom of speech.

In Shenzhen, paramilitary police marched in and out of the stadium near a retail complex where shoppers milled about.

The stadium parking lot was filled with more than 100 dark-painted paramilitary vehicles, including troop trucks, armored personnel carriers, buses and jeeps. At least three were armored front-end loaders, and two vehicles carried water cannons.

I haven’t been following this story closely, but it’s certainly concerning. I’ll be paying more attention going forward.

This news just broke. The New York Times:Israel Denies Entry to Omar and Tlaib After Trump’s Call to Block Them.

JERUSALEM — Israel on Thursday barred the entry of two American Democratic congresswomen who had planned to visit the West Bank, hours after President Trump had urged the country to block them.

Mr. Trump’s intervention was an extraordinary step to influence an allied nation and punish his political opponents at home.

The two congresswomen, Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, both freshmen, are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Both are outspoken adversaries of Mr. Trump and have been vocal in their support of the Palestinians and the boycott-Israel movement.

The president has targeted them in speeches and Twitter postings that his critics have called racist and xenophobic.

As usual, the NYT can’t bring itself to state the truth–that Trump is in fact racist and xenophobic.

The Washington Post has new information on the Jeffrey Epstein autopsy: Autopsy finds broken bones in Jeffrey Epstein’s neck, deepening questions around his death.

An autopsy found that financier Jeffrey Epstein suffered multiple breaks in his neck bones, according to two people familiar with the findings, deepening the mystery about the circumstances around his death.

Among the bones broken in Epstein’s neck was the hyoid bone, which in men is near the Adam’s apple. Such breaks can occur in those who hang themselves, particularly if they are older, according to forensics experts and studies on the subject. But they are more common in victims of homicide by strangulation, the experts said….

Artist’s rendering of Jeffrey Epstein in court hearing.

The office of New York City’s chief medical examiner, Barbara Sampson, completed an autopsy of Epstein’s body Sunday. But Sampson listed the cause of his death as pending….

Asked about the neck injuries, Sampson said in a statement that no single factor in an autopsy can alone provide a conclusive answer about what happened.

“In all forensic investigations, all information must be synthesized to determine the cause and manner of death. Everything must be consistent; no single finding can be evaluated in a vacuum.”

The details add to the bizarre circumstances surrounding Epstein’s death, which have launched a wave of questions and conspiracy theories about how he could have died in federal custody. Even President Trump has egged on speculation, without evidence, that Epstein — whose alleged victims say they were pushed to have sex with his powerful and celebrity friends — might have been killed to keep him from spilling the secrets of others.

It’s also odd that guards didn’t check on Epstein for hours before he died and that supposedly both guards fell asleep for three hours and the falsified records.

According to The New York Post, Epstein was upbeat the last time he spoke to his attorneys.

Ghislaine Maxwell with Jeffrey Epstein

Jeffrey Epstein was confident he could fight the child sex trafficking charges against him and was in “great spirits” just hours before his jailhouse death on Saturday morning — even telling one of his lawyers, “I’ll see you Sunday,” The Post has learned.

The convicted pedophile also told his lawyers that the neck injuries he suffered in an earlier incident at the Metropolitan Correctional Center were inflicted by his hulking, ex-cop cellmate, which led the lawyers to request that he be taken off a suicide watch, according to a source familiar with Epstein’s case.

Epstein’s optimism behind bars — expressed during daily visits with his lawyers that lasted up to 12 hours each — was so great that it struck some of those around him as “delusional,” the source said.

“He thought he was going to win the double-jeopardy motion” that his defense lawyers were planning to file in connection with his 2008 Florida prostitution conviction, the source said.

More Epstein stories to check out:

New York Magazine: Jeffrey Epstein’s Bodyguard on His Former Boss’s Lifestyle, Cruelty, Suicide.

Bloomberg: The Epstein Tapes: Unearthed Recordings From His Private Island.

CNBC: Mystery of Ghislaine Maxwell’s whereabouts deepens as Jeffrey Epstein accusers eye his alleged madam.

CBS This Morning: Ghislaine Maxwell was apparently living at secluded mansion in New England beach town.

Maurice Hill

The standoff in Philadelphia is over. CBS News: Philadelphia suspected gunman in custody after hourslong standoff and six officers shot.

A suspect is in custody in Philadelphia after an hourslong standoff and shootout that left six officers shot and another injured in a related vehicle crash, authorities said. Two officers and three other people who had been trapped in the building with the shooter were freed after several hours.

CBS Philadelphia says the suspect’s lawyer told the station the suspect is 36-year-old Maurice Hill, though police haven’t released his name. The alleged gunman surrendered shortly after midnight. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross told reporters it was teargas that got the suspect to give up.

Attorney Shaka Johnson said Hill called him to the scene of the standoff while he was barricaded inside. “Maurice called me in a panic, obviously,” Johnson told CBS Philadelphia. “He did not want this to end violently and he really was sort of taking an opportunity to speak his peace. I told him, ‘You gotta surrender, man.”‘

Hill wasn’t injured in the shootout, according to Johnson, who added that Hill was brought to a hospital to be checked out, then released with officers surrounding him overnight. Charges haven’t been announced.

CBS News has learned Hill has a long criminal history.

Police had initially responded around 5 p.m. on a narcotics warrant and things “went awry almost immediately,” Ross said.

More background at the link above.

I’ll end with a feel-good immigration story from Buzzfeed News: A Woman Tweeted A Picture Of A Man Who Had Shown Her Kindness As A Child Refugee. Within 36 Hours They Were Reunited.

A former child refugee has been reunited with a man who bought her a bike when she was 5 years old, thanks to a Twitter appeal to find him that went viral.

Mevan Babakar lived in a refugee camp near Zwolle in the Netherlands with her parents in the 1990s. She is currently taking a sabbatical from her job at a fact-checking organization in London to retrace the journey her family took after fleeing Iraq during the Gulf War.

On Monday she tweeted a picture of the man who worked at the refugee camp, asking for people’s help in identifying him. She wrote that when he gave her a bike, “My five-year-old heart exploded with joy. I just want to know his name. Help?”

The tweet was retweeted thousands of times, and people also got in touch with Babakar, 29, to say the man and his wife had helped them, too. Within 24 hours, not only had the man been found, but he was close enough for Babakar to meet him in person that day.

They were reunited in Germany, where the man, Egbert, lives. Babakar said meeting Egbert “felt like I’d been transported back in time. I felt safe, like I’d seen a family member I hadn’t seen in a long time.”

“It was hugely surreal and kind of overwhelming, a lot of emotions at once,” she told BuzzFeed News from the phone in the Netherlands.

Egbert remembered Babakar and her mother from all those years ago, and the three of them plan to stay in touch and meet up in the future. “My mum is very excited to meet him,” Babakar said, adding that Egbert had told a local journalist that if there was anyone he could have seen again from his time working at the refugee camp, “it would have been Mevan and her mother.”

What stories have you been following?


Meltdown Monday Reads

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

We’re learning more about the Republican ethos for holding power.  Suppress Votes. Gerrymander. Collude with Foreign Agents. Dirty Tricks Done Dirt Cheap.  Cheat as much as possible.  Welcome to the campaign of Baptist Minister Mark Harris for a North Carolina Congressional seat where what we learn from Jesus that the end justifies the means. Yes, it’s their own special version of a Great White Male Sky Fairy’s Word.  Be ruthless, lawless, and immoral when it comes to pushing your agenda off on everyone else.  When it comes to our GAWD’s work, anything goes!

As my grandfather used to say “Jesus wept”.

Just a reminder, this is election fraud.  It has nothing to do with voter fraud which is one of the big bad bugaboos of the republican right.  I’m waiting for any one from the Republican party to make a comment on this.

It was not just the general election in which the numbers looked funny. Investigators are now looking into the Republican primary, in May, as well. Harris won with eight hundred and twenty-eight votes over the incumbent, Robert Pittenger, claiming ninety-six per cent of the absentee ballots in Bladen County—which was a far higher margin of victory than the rest of his totals in the county. Pittenger told Spectrum News on Thursday, “We were fully aware of [the accusations of fraud]. There are some pretty unsavory people, particularly out in Bladen County, and I didn’t have anything to do with them.”

In the general election, Bitzer also found that, compared to other counties in the Ninth District, a much higher rate of mail-in absentee ballots requested in Bladen and Robeson counties—about forty per cent and sixty-two per cent, respectively—were never turned in. In fact, those two counties had the highest rates of unreturned absentee ballots of any district in North Carolina. And an analysis of the voting data by the Raleigh News & Observer found that “the unreturned ballots are disproportionately associated with minority voters,” who tend to vote for Democrats over Republicans. In Robeson County, seventy-five per cent of the absentee ballots requested by African-Americans and sixty-nine per cent of those requested by American Indians were never received by the state. On Friday, Harris tweeted, “There is absolutely no public evidence that there are enough ballots in question to affect the outcome of this race.” But about sixteen hundred mail-in absentee ballots were requested in the two counties and not returned, in a race decided by fewer than a thousand votes. Nate Silver, a data journalist and the founder of FiveThirtyEight.com, tweetedin response, “There are enough ballots in question in NC-9 to potentially affect the outcome.”

“Was this just an anomaly of people requesting ballots and then deciding not to send them in?” Bitzer said. “Or is this evidence of a concerted effort to influence or impact the election?” Prior to the election, Bitzer told me, it would have been possible for someone interested in interfering with the election to determine through public records which voters had not yet returned requested absentee ballots. “So it would not be a stretch, if someone made a concerted effort to look at each day’s records, for that someone to find out where that particular voter lived, and then it would be easy enough to go and try to collect it themselves.” Such an action would not only be illegal because a ballot may be handled only by the voter who completes it but would also create the opportunity for electoral fraud. As Bitzer noted, “Let’s say, a voter handed over a ballot to a collector, and the voter had not secured it in a sealed envelope, and there was no vote in the congressional election. The collector could put a vote in. If there was a vote, but it was not for the right candidate, the collector could mark a vote for a second candidate and spoil the ballot.” But, Bitzer added, “These are hypotheticals. We just don’t know to say with certainty what happened. We’re trying to piece a puzzle together, and we may not even fully understand how many pieces are out there.”

NPR delves further into, again, this huge voter fraud operation.  None of the voter suppression tactics would’ve stopped this including the Voter ID law which is supposed to be the be all and end all of purifying elections.

Enough confusion has clouded a North Carolina congressional race that the state’s board of elections has announced a delay in certifying that Republican Mark Harris defeated Democrat Dan McCready in the state’s 9th District because of “claims of irregularities and fraudulent activities.”

In a 7-2 vote on Friday, the board said it will instead hold a public hearing by Dec. 21 “to assure that the election is determined without taint of fraud or corruption and without irregularities that may have changed the result.” It follows a unanimous vote earlier this week to postpone election certification results.

The Friday vote fueled fresh uncertainty about the outcome of the race and raised the possibility that a second election could be called. The two candidates are separated by 905 votes out of more than 280,000 cast, according to unofficial election results. The Associated Press originally called the race for Harris but revoked that projection on Friday.

In a letter sent to the board of elections, North Carolina’s Democratic Party made claims of wrongdoing. The Washington Post reported that the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement has already collected at least six sworn statements from voters in Bladen County alleging that people came to their doors and urged them to hand over their absentee ballots.

In Bladen and Robeson counties, some 3,400 absentee ballots failed to be mailed back to election officials, according to NPR member station WFAE.

That equates to 40 percent of mail-in ballots in Bladen County and 64 percent in Robeson, according to a Raleigh News & Observer analysis.

Nothing stands between Southern Baptists and hating on gays and punishing women with forced zygote incubation.  Who cares if you got raped or you’ll likely die or it will likely die?  They’re exulted for procreating and you’re a slut!  Take that!  If you’re willing to steal votes from old people, why change course?  You can cheat your way to power.  So, for the ugliest of the ugly–like that racist white woman senator from Mississippi–you can do what you want!  Just rely on the army of whiteness to suppress, gerrymander and  steal your way into office.  Except North Carolina isn’t playing.

And, whatever you do, don’t appeal to voters by actually representing their beliefs.  Keep on pushing yours on every one.

Still,  “Despite Big House Losses, G.O.P. Shows No Signs of Course Correction” according to Jonathan M. Martin writing for the NYT,

With a brutal finality, the extent of the Republicans’ collapse in the House came into focus last week as more races slipped away from them and their losses neared 40 seats.

Yet nearly a month after the election, there has been little self-examination among Republicans about why a midterm that had seemed at least competitive became a rout.

President Trump has brushed aside questions about the loss of the chamber entirely, ridiculing losing incumbents by name, while continuing to demand Congress fund a border wall despite his party losing many of their most diverse districts. Unlike their Democratic counterparts, Republicans swiftly elevated their existing slate of leaders with little debate, signaling a continuation of their existing political strategy.

And neither Speaker Paul D. Ryan nor Representative Kevin McCarthy, the incoming minority leader, have stepped forward to confront why the party’s once-loyal base of suburban supporters abandoned it — and what can be done to win them back.

The quandary, some Republicans acknowledge, is that the party’s leaders are constrained from fully grappling with the damage Mr. Trump inflicted with those voters, because he remains popular with the party’s core supporters and with the conservatives who will dominate the caucus even more in the next Congress.

But now a cadre of Republican lawmakers are speaking out and urging party officials to come to terms with why their 23-seat majority unraveled so spectacularly and Democrats gained the most seats they had since 1974.

“There has been close to no introspection in the G.O.P. conference and really no coming to grips with the shifting demographics that get to why we lost those seats,” said Representative Elise Stefanik, an upstate New York Republican who is planning to repurpose her political action committee to help Republican women win primaries in 2020. “I’m very frustrated and I know other members are frustrated.”

Ms. Stefanik said there had been “robust private conversations” but she urged Republicans to conduct a formal assessment of their midterm effort.

The Republican response, or lack thereof, to the midterm backlash stands in stark contrast to the shake-ups and soul-searching that followed its loss of Congress in 2006 and consecutive presidential defeats in 2012.

Jeer Heet from the New Republic has some speculation on that.

While party leaders like Trump and McCarthy remain in denial about the severity of the trouncing, some party members, especially recently defeated ones, are sounding the warning bell. “It’s clear to me why we lost 40 seats,” said retiring Pennsylvania Congressman Ryan Costello. “It was a referendum on the president, but that’s an extremely difficult proclamation for people to make because if they were to say that they’d get the wrath of the president.”

Trump’s fragile ego is preventing the party from coming to grips with the unpopularity of some of his preferred policies, like immigration restriction. Further, unlike after previous losses, there’s no talk of trying to win back groups that are turning against the GOP (notably suburban women and college educated whites).

Because GOP leaders are acting as if nothing went wrong in the midterms, they are unlikely to fix the party’s problems. As the Times observes, congressional Republicans are “already expressing concern that more of their colleagues may retire rather than run again in 2020—and that recruiting top-flight candidates could prove even more challenging going into the next campaign.”

I can only assume we’ll get more of the same voter suppression and antics given the party seems unlikely to find a strategy to actually attract more voters.  Meanwhile, Mueller is coming. Trump had a series of very bad days in Argentina.  There’s a full on twitter meltdown going during the legendary executive time.  Does this guy ever actually work?

From Axios by Garret M. Graff:

Everyone’s waiting for the “Mueller Report.” But it turns out that special counsel Robert Mueller is writing a “report” in real time, before our eyes, through his cinematic indictments and plea agreements, Garrett M. Graff reports for Axios.

The big picture: One of the least-noticed elements of the special counsel’s approach is that all along, he has been making his case bit by bit, in public, since his very first court filing. With his major court filings so far, Mueller has already written more than 290 pages of the “Mueller Report.” And there are still lots of loose ends in those documents — breadcrumbs Mueller is apparently leaving for later.

Show less

Perhaps the best example is Mueller’s oddly specific reference to the Russian hackers targeting Hillary Clinton “for the first time” after candidate Trump’s still-unexplained “Russia, if you’re listening” comment on July 27, 2016.

  • Trump said: “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Clinton] emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” (He also said: “I have nothing to do with Russia.”)
  • A Mueller indictment in July said that the next day, “the Conspirators … attempted after hours to spear-phish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.”
  • That shows Mueller has access to much more intelligence than is publicly known. Remember, these are Russian government employees. So Mueller has remarkable and thus far unexplained visibility.

By making such detailed filings, Mueller is actually increasing his burden of proof — suggesting a supreme confidence that he has the goods.

  • And by making so much public as he goes along, Mueller is also insuring against his probe being shut down or otherwise curtailed by the White House.

Some of his deeply detailed filings raise questions that suggest more is coming:

  • In a February indictment of officials of the Russian troll factory, he announced that three Internet Research Agency employees traveled to the U.S. in 2014. He indicted two of them, but left unindicted someone from the IRA who evidently traveled to Atlanta as part of the operation for four days in 2014.
  • Mueller makes clear in the indictment that he knows the precise IRA official to whom this unnamed male traveler filed his Atlanta expenses after the trip.
  • The information could have come from U.S. intelligence or another country. But Mueller leaves the impression he may have a cooperator inside the troll factory.

Other hints at coming attractions:

  • Mueller said in last week’s Michael Cohen plea agreement that a “Moscow Project” meeting about a Trump-branded building in Russia was called off, by Cohen, on the same day that the DNC hack became public.
  • Based on a court filing last week, Mueller apparently hopes to quickly issue a “report” on Manafort’s activities to the court.

Be smart: If it’s anything like every other document Mueller has filed thus far, it’ll be more informed, more knowledgeable, and more detailed than we can imagine.

 

Plus, Putin and Trump appear to be breaking up. Is it hard to do?

Julia Davis’ take on the Russia media and Trump at the Daily Beast today is a hoot and a holler.

Following the abrupt cancellation of Donald Trump’s G20 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian state media roasted him. Known for seamlessly adhering to the Kremlin’s viewpoint, the troupe of Putin’s cheerleaders took turns laying into the president of the United States.

In an opinion piece for the Russian publication “Arguments and Facts,” Veronika Krasheninnikova, “Director General of the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies & Initiatives, Advisor to the Director General of ‘Russia Today’ and a member of the Kremlin-appointed Russian Public Chamber,” says that in light of the canceled meeting, Russia can now give up on the U.S. and “should have never trusted Trump to begin with.”

Krasheninnikova opines that “as long as Trump is in power, nothing positive can happen in the relations between the United States and Russia,” concluding that “Trump is a rock hanging around Russia’s neck.”

Host of the Russian state TV show “60 Minutes,” Evgeny Popov, angrily criticized Trump’s abrupt cancellation: “Just a few minutes earlier he said that now is a good time to meet… What kind of a man is this – first he says it will happen, then it won’t – are we just supposed to wait until he gets re-elected to start communicating with America? This is just foolishness, he seems to be an unbalanced person.”

Well, so much for that bromance.  Maybe Trump wants his own state media to shoot back at the Russians for fake news now.

So, now we’re supposed to worry about a US Russian Arms race after he said bring it on with regards to the Nuclear Arsenal? Have I missed something?  Plus, isn’t he like really into selling arms all over the world and brags on selling to both Japan and the Saudis?  I’m confused.  And we need to spend all that money for a wall because we’re under attack by Honduran babies and women but we need lower spending on defense against China and Russia?  I’m really confused.

President Donald Trump on Monday said that the U.S., China and Russia would “at some time in the future” begin talks to end what he described as an uncontrollable arms race, and declared U.S. defense spending “crazy!”

 The statement marks a dramatic reversal for the president, who has championed increased spending on the military and in August signed a colossal defense spending bill.

The measure authorized a top-line budget of $717 billion to cover a litany of spending. It provided the largest raise to American troops in nearly a decade.

At the time, Trump said the spending bill was the “most significant investment in our military and our war fighters in modern history.”

In March, after teasing a potential veto, Trump signed a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package that granted the most significant increase in defense funding in 15 years. The Department of Defense is set to gain $61 billion more than last year’s enacted funding for a top line of $700 billion.

The president said at the time that he had “no choice but to fund out military because we have to have by far the strongest military in the world.”

In recent months, Trump has escalated his attacks on Russia for its arms program and announced his intention to withdraw from a Cold War-era nuclear weapons treaty. The U.S. and Russia collectively possess more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.

The Trump administration has repeatedly targeted both China and Russia for attempting to undermine the United States on the world stage.

In its first National Security Strategy, a document that outlines the administration’s defense priorities, the administration said in late 2017 that “China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity.”

“They are determined to make economies less free and less fair, to grow their militaries, and to control information and data to repress their societies and expand their influence,” the administration added.

But on Monday, the president appeared more wary of the growing portion of America’s national budget devoted to defense, and signaled the possibility that the three countries could come together to forge an agreement.

“I am certain that, at some time in the future, President Xi and I, together with President Putin of Russia, will start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race,” Trump tweeted. “The U.S. spent 716 Billion Dollars this year. Crazy!”

This comes a little over a month after Trump announced the US was withdrawing from the 1987 intermediate-range nuclear forces treaty (INF), a move that prompted swift criticism from European leaders and nuclear experts.

Trump justified the move by alleging Russia was violating the treaty. American officials began accusing Russia of violating the landmark treaty as far back as the Obama administration, but Russian President Vladimir Putin has vehemently denied breaching its terms.

Nuclear experts have said there is strong evidence Russia is violating the INF treaty and the US is justified for criticizing Moscow in this regard, but also warned ripping the deal up opens a dangerous door for Russia.

“Given Russian violations, there’s no question the US is justified in withdrawing,” Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently told CNBC. “But we don’t want withdrawal to merely let Russia off the hook without other robust actions to support US deterrence and defense goals.”

The Reagan-era INF treaty barred land-based cruise or ballistic missiles with ranges between 311 miles and 3,420 miles. After it was signed in 1987, the US and Russia were forced to cut thousands of missiles from their respective nuclear arsenals.

Trump briefly met with Putin at the G20 summit in Argentina over the weekend, but their short-lived chat did not seem to accomplish much. The two leaders had originally been set to have a longer, more formal meeting, but Trump cancelled it over Russia’s recent aggression toward Ukraine.

Trump in the past has called for the US to ramp up its defense spending and put more energy into arms development. The president pushed for and approved a $716 billion defense budget earlier this year

So, you’re beginning to see that everything here is all over the place and I can’t imagine that the chaos is part of the plan at this part.  Trump is definitely in trouble on many fronts and just appears to be starting fires here and there just to see which attracts the media away from the big stuff.  However, he keeps tweeting shit on Mueller so his obsessions still don’t wander very far from the main one.  In between the tweets on the “arms race” and other things, the Mueller stuff just burbles right up including one for ex fixer Cohen.

President Trump on Monday said Michael Cohen does not deserve leniency for cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, arguing that his former personal lawyer should serve a “full and complete” prison sentence.

“He makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself, and get his wife and father-in-law (who has the money?) off Scott Free [sic],” Trump wrote on Twitter of Cohen. “He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.”

So, it must be executive time in front of the TV.  The Twitter meltdown is continuing as I type this.  Is this any way for a US President to act?

What’s on your reading and blogging today?