Memorial Day Reads

It’s the Memorial Day Holiday!

Sewell Chan writes for the NYT about the ‘unofficial’ history of Memorial Day. It is something we discovered and shared before but it bears repeating because it explains why the holiday still gets short shrift in here in the Deep South. It also explains why some Southern States still have a separate Confederate Memorial Day.  I still remain shocked that Mississippi refused to recognize it as a holiday until recently.

David W. Blight, a historian at Yale, has a different account. He traces the holiday to a series of commemorations that freed black Americans held in the spring of 1865, after Union soldiers, including members of the 21st United States Colored Infantry, liberated the port city of Charleston, S.C.

Digging through an archive at Harvard, Dr. Blight found that the largest of these commemorations took place on May 1, 1865, at an old racecourse and jockey club where hundreds of captive Union prisoners had died of disease and been buried in a mass grave. The black residents exhumed the bodies and gave them proper burials, erected a fence around the cemetery, and built an archway over it with the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Some 10,000 black people then staged a procession of mourning, led by thousands of schoolchildren carrying roses and singing the Union anthem “John Brown’s Body.” Hundreds of black women followed with baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Black men, including Union infantrymen, also marched. A children’s choir sang spirituals and patriotic songs, including “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“The war was over, and Memorial Day had been founded by African-Americans in a ritual of remembrance and consecration,” Dr. Blight wrotein a 2011 essay for The New York Times. “The war, they had boldly announced, had been about the triumph of their emancipation over a slaveholders’ republic. They were themselves the true patriots.”

The African-American origins of the holiday were later suppressed, Dr. Blight found, by white Southerners who reclaimed power after the end of Reconstruction and interpreted Memorial Day as a holiday of reconciliation, marking sacrifices — by white Americans — on both sides. Black Americans were largely marginalized in this narrative.

“In the struggle over memory and meaning in any society, some stories just get lost while others attain mainstream recognition,” Dr. Blight wrote.

His claim is not universally accepted; the fact-checking website Snopes says of the 1865 remembrance: “Whether it was truly the first such ceremony, and what influence (if any) it might have had on later observances, are still matters of contention.”

Here is BostonBoomer’s blog from 2014 and Mink’s from 2012.  We remember the role of slaves freed by the sacrifice of Union Soldiers in our Civil War in celebrating that sacrifice.

I always remember Decoration Day because when I was very young we would do what my parents did as children.  We went to small cemeteries in Kansas and Missouri to make certain the family grave sites were attended and clean. We picnicked  and trimmed bushes then put peonies in jars on the graves of greats and cousins who died in war. For some reason, all of our family grave plots were resplendent with huge peony bushes.  My mother always beat them back and would announce loudly how much she hated them. Peony bushes were not allowed any where near home. They were left to the dead in my family and they bloomed profusely each Memorial Day.

In Caney Kansas, where my own grandparents are now buried, lays my Great Uncle Jack along side his mother, my Great Grandmother Anna.  He didn’t die in the battlefields of Europe during World War 1 but came home with complications from Mustard Gas. He died quite young on the family farm but it was of his wounds brought home as a dough boy fighting in a trench.  Many soldiers come home with wounds seen and unseen that eventually catch up to them. I never understood why I was told Dad’s Uncle Jack wasn’t quite included in the same way as those whose graves got the peonies properly but we gave him peonies because my Dad and Nana adored him and it felt right to me.  Some times our country has a short memory with a narrow focus. It doesn’t really remember all of the sacrifices of those who came before us including every single slave who died unfree.

Today, we also remember the sacrifice of every gold star family too. I hope Cadet Bonespurs plays golf and that his selfish, hateful face stays away from the one holiday he can truly sully with just his presence. Unfortunately, he left long enough to give a lofty speech at Arlington that should have been given by any better person.  But, take heart, he still had a way of making it all about him!

I read this article last night and even reviewed the variables and methodology of the original study.  It’s amazing to actually review the panel data and see which attributes are significant to the question at hand but the findings are not surprising. NBC shares “The Trump effect: New study connects white American intolerance and support for authoritarianism.”

A new study, however, suggests that the main threat to our democracy may not be the hardening of political ideology, but rather the hardening of one particular political ideology. Political scientists Steven V. Miller of Clemson and Nicholas T. Davis of Texas A&M have released a working paper titled “White Outgroup Intolerance and Declining Support for American Democracy.” Their study finds a correlation between white American’s intolerance, and support for authoritarian rule. In other words, when intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.

Miller and Davis used information from the World Values Survey, a research project organized by a worldwide network of social scientists which polls individuals in numerous countries on a wide range of beliefs and values. Based on surveys from the United States, the authors found that white people who did not want to have immigrants or people of different races living next door to them were more likely to be supportive of authoritarianism. For instance, people who said they did not want to live next door to immigrants or to people of another race were more supportive Iof the idea of military rule, or of a strongman-type leader who could ignore legislatures and election results.

The World Values Survey data used is from the period 1995 to 2011 — well before Donald Trump’s 2016 run for president. It suggests, though, that Trump’s bigotry and his authoritarianism are not separate problems, but are intertwined. When Trump calls Mexicans “rapists,” and when he praises authoritarian leaders, he is appealing to the same voters.

The Chinese Trade Wars are showing winners and losers already. Winners include Trump himself–and now, Ivanka– plus Chinese Companies including ones that threaten US National Security. The losers are US companies.  We seem completely unable to stop this.

Ivanka Trump’s brand continues to win foreign trademarks in China and the Philippines, adding to questions about conflicts of interest at the White House, The Associated Press has found.

On Sunday, China granted the first daughter’s company final approval for its 13th trademark in the last three months, trademark office records show. Over the same period, the Chinese government has granted Ivanka Trump’s company provisional approval for another eight trademark s, which can be finalized if no objections are raised during a three-month comment period.

Taken together, the trademarks could allow her brand to market a lifetime’s worth of products in China, from baby blankets to coffins, and a host of things in between, including perfume, make-up, bowls, mirrors, furniture, books, coffee, chocolate and honey. Ivanka Trump stepped back from management of her brand and placed its assets in a family-run trust, but she continues to profit from the business.

“Ivanka Trump’s refusal to divest from her business is especially troubling as the Ivanka brand continues to expand its business in foreign countries,” Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in an email Monday. “It raises significant questions about corruption, as it invites the possibility that she could be benefiting financially from her position and her father’s presidency or that she could be influenced in her policy work by countries’ treatment of her business.”

As Ivanka Trump and her father have built their global brands, largely through licensing deals, they have pursued trademarks in dozens of countries. Those global trademarks have drawn the attention of ethics lawyers because they are granted by foreign governments and can confer enormous value. Concerns about political influence have been especially sharp in China, where the courts and bureaucracy are designed to reflect the will of the ruling Communist Party.

Chinese officials have emphasized that all trademark applications are handled in accordance with the law.

More approvals are likely to come. Online records from China’s trademark office indicate that Ivanka Trump’s company last applied for trademarks — 17 of them — on March 28, 2017, the day before she took on a formal role at the White House. Those records on Monday showed at least 25 Ivanka Trump trademarks pending review, 36 active marks and eight with provisional approval.

Don’t forget!  Trump’s Indonesia project has been financial enhanced by the Chinese Government after he announced he would help with ZTE.   China is definitely on the winning side with the Trumps.  However, what about US Businesses?  

As Washington and Beijing try to resolve their trade disputes, several big companies are caught in the middle.

One is Qualcomm (QCOM), an American chipmaker whose $44 billion purchase of NXP Semiconductors (NXPI), a Dutch company, has been waiting for Chinese regulators’ approval.

Far more controversial is the case of ZTE (ZTCOF), the Chinese phone and telecom equipment maker that was crippled by a US export ban issued last monthin punishment for what the US said were violations of its sanctions against North Korea and Iran.

Easing penalties on ZTE is a key priority for Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Trump has indicated he’s willing to yield in order to move ahead with further trade discussions.

But members of Congress from both parties, many increasingly wary of China’s trade practices, believe such leniency would be a mistake. A growing number of senatorshave drawn a red line on ZTE, and have been vocal in recent days about their opposition to restoring the company.

Are we winning yet?

Meanwhile, TrumpsterFires continue to break out as white men go after our national “enemies” like young men from China attending school  here.  This must be an additional feature to calling the police because black people are going about their lives in clear view!

California police say they thwarted a vigilante deportation attempt last week – in which a pilot allegedly kidnapped a foreign student, took him to an airport and tried to send him “back to China.”

Jonathan McConkey, a pilot and certified flight instructor, is accused of orchestrating the kidnapping with his assistant, Kelsi Hoser, a ground instructor. Both reportedly worked at the IASCO flight training school in Redding, California.

Among IASCO’s students were dozens of Chinese nationals with student visas, according to court records. KRCR News 7 reported that the school contracted with China’s civil aviation authority to train its new pilots, one of whom was apparently Tianshu Shi.

Shi told reporters that he had been in the United States for about seven months – living with several other IASCO trainees at an apartment in Redding. It was there, police said, that McConkey and Hoser came for the student.

Some interesting stats from Axios you can review.  Which part of our country has lost the most on the battlefield since 9/11?

Today is the 17th Memorial Day since 9/11. Since then, 6,940 U.S. military service members have died for America.

Why it matters: Every part of the country has lost soldiers to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. All were Americans — someone’s neighbor, child, parent, mentor, buddy. Their average age was between 26 and 27 years old.

Have a great day and be safe if you’re in the path of all that weather on the East coast and the panhandle of Florida!.

 

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Tuesday Reads: Trump Has Put American Foreign Policy Up For Sale.

Good Morning!!

The corruption is right out in the open now. American foreign policy is for sale to highest bidder. On Sunday Trump posted a startling tweet:

EuroNews: Trump tells Commerce Department to help Chinese telecom ZTE.

President Donald Trump said Sunday he has instructed his Commerce Department to help get a Chinese telecommunications company “back into business” after the U.S. government cut off access to its American suppliers.

At issue is that department’s move last month to block the ZTE Corp., a major supplier of telecoms networks and smartphones based in southern China, from importing American components for seven years. The U.S. accused ZTE of misleading American regulators after it settled charges of violating sanctions against North Korea and Iran….

ZTE has asked the department to suspend the seven-year ban on doing business with U.S. technology exporters. By cutting off access to U.S. suppliers of essential components such as microchips, the ban threatens ZTE’s existence, the company has said.

Trump with Chinese president Xi Jinping during China trip

During recent trade meetings in Beijing, Chinese officials said they raised their objections to ZTE’s punishment with the American delegation, which they said agreed to report them to Trump.

The U.S. imposed the penalty after discovering that Shenzhen-based ZTE, which had paid a $1.2 billion fine in the case, had failed to discipline employees involved and paid them bonuses instead.

Why is Trump suddenly so concerned about Chinese jobs? It’s not about U.S. national security; it’s about Trump’s business. HuffPost: Trump Orders Help For Chinese Phone-Maker After China Approves Money For Trump Project.

A mere 72 hours after the Chinese government agreed to put a half-billion dollars into an Indonesian project that will personally enrich Donald Trump, the president ordered a bailout for a Chinese-government-owned cellphone maker….

…on Thursday, the developer of a theme park resort outside of Jakarta had signed a deal to receive as much as $500 million in Chinese government loans, as well as another $500 million from Chinese banks. Trump’s family business, the Trump Organization, has a deal to license the Trump name to the resort, which includes a golf course and hotels.

Trump and family with Indonesian business partners

Trump, despite his promises to do so during the campaign, has not divested himself of his businesses, and continues to profit from them.

“You do a good deal for him, he does a good deal for you. Quid pro quo,” said Richard Painter, the White House ethics lawyer for former President George W. Bush and now a Democratic candidate for Senate in Minnesota.

It sure does look like a quid pro quo, doesn’t it? Or is it just that Trump is a bad deal-maker? We can’t be sure because Trump chose to maintain control of his businesses and refuses to release his tax returns. Read more about Trump’s Indonesia project at the South China Morning Post: Trump Indonesia project is latest stop on China’s Belt and Road.

Gordon Chang at the Daily Beast: Trump Cuts a Great Deal—For China.

The White House looks like it is prepared to give relief to ZTE Corp., the embattled Chinese telecom-equipment maker, in exchange for Beijing lifting tariffs on, and easing non-tariff barriers against, U.S. agricultural products. Moreover, China’s Commerce Department will restart its long-stalled review of Qualcomm’s proposed acquisition of NXP Semiconductors, the Dutch firm.

In addition, The Daily Beast has learned there will be either no penalties or only light ones imposed on China for stealing U.S. intellectual property.

This is a great deal—for China. China gets relief for ZTE for doing nothing more than what it should have been doing all along. And its massive theft of U.S. technology and intellectual property—undoubtedly in the hundreds of billions of dollars a year—goes mostly unpunished.

If the reports of the outlines of the impending agreement are correct, the Trump administration, which prides itself on deal-making, will have accepted one of the worst trade arrangements this century.

Josh Rogin at The Washington Post: China gave Trump a list of crazy demands, and he caved to one of them.

After top Trump officials went to Beijing last month, the Chinese government wrote up a document with a list of economic and trade demands that ranged from the reasonable to the ridiculous. On Sunday, President Trump caved to one of those demands before the next round of negotiations even starts, undermining his own objectives for no visible gain.

The Chinese proposal is entitled, “Framework Arrangement on Promoting Balanced Development on Bilateral Trade,” and I obtained an English version of the document, which is the Chinese government’s negotiating position heading into the next round of talks. That round begins this week when Xi Jinping’s special economic envoy Liu He returns to town.

Bullet point 5 is entitled, “Appropriately handing the ZTE case to secure global supply chain.”

So Trump agreed to reverse US policy, but was it really about rewarding China for funding the Trump project in Indonesia? I’d say that’s pretty likely, wouldn’t you?

Trump took a big step in that direction Sunday when he tweeted that he had instructed the Commerce Department to help get ZTE “back into business, fast,” only weeks after the Commerce Department cut off its supply of American components because it violated U.S. sanctions on sales to North Korea and Iran. Trump’s tweet set off a panic both inside and outside the administration among those who worry that Trump is backing down from his key campaign promise to stand up to China’s unfair trade practices and economic aggression.

As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) pointed out Monday, the problems with ZTE go well beyond sanctions-busting. The Federal Communications Commission has proposed cutting ZTE and other Chinese “national champion” companies off from U.S. infrastructure development funds because the U.S. intelligence community views their technology as a national security risk.

Guess what folks? Trump doesn’t give a shit about U.S. national security. He cares about money for himself. Period.

Michael Avenatti has had a busy past few days, and I’ve been following the revelations pretty closely. On Sunday Avenatti posted some stills from a C-Span video of Trump Tower during the transition.

Later, he revealed that a Quatari official apparently met with Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn on Dec. 12, 2016.

Mother Jones: Qatari Investor Accused in Bribery Plot Appears With Michael Cohen in Picture Posted by Stormy Daniels’ Lawyer.

Members of the Trump transition team appear to have met on December 12, 2016, with a group from Qatar that included Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, the former Qatari diplomat and current head of a division of Qatar’s massive sovereign wealth fund, who is accused in a recent lawsuit of scheming to bribe Trump administration officials.

Ahmed Al-Rumaihi

On the lawsuit:

Ice Cube, the rapper and actor, and his business partner, Jeff Kwatinetz, recently filed a $1.2 billion lawsuit that includes an allegation that Al-Rumaihi and other Qatari officials who invested in the men’s BIG3 basketball league indicated interest in gaining access to people connected to Trump. “Mr Al-Rumaihi requested I set up a meeting between him, the Qatari government, and Stephen Bannon, and to tell Steve Bannon that Qatar would underwrite all of his political efforts in return for his support,” Kwatinetz said in the court filing. Kwatinetz says he rejected the offer, which he viewed as a bribe.

In response, Kwatinetz claims, “Al-Rumaihi laughed and then stated to me Buthat I shouldn’t be naive, that so many Washington politicians take our money, and stated ‘do you think Flynn turned down our money?’” That’s a reference to Michael Flynn, who was fired as Trump’s national security adviser after lying about his contacts with then Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

But it appears that other Quatari officials were also in the Dec. 12, 2016 meeting, according to knowledgeable people on Twitter.

Here’s the Wikipedia article on Quatari the foreign minister.

And a third person from Quatar who is also involved in the lawsuit filed by Ice Cube and Kwatinetz was also present.

What the hell is going on? A couple of useful reads:

Slate: Michael Cohen’s Meetings With Michael Flynn and a Qatari Diplomat Might Be the Key to Unlocking the Steele Dossier.

The founder of a three-on-three basketball league who claims he was offered a bribe by a one-time Qatari diplomat to arrange access to Steve Bannon said on Monday that the former diplomat is the same person photographed with Michael Cohen at Trump Tower in December 2016.

Big 3 basketball league co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz told Slate that he recognized Ahmed Al-Rumaihi in photos with Cohen that were tweeted Sunday by attorney Michael Avenatti.

“Yes, 100 percent,” Kwatinetz said when asked if he thought the videos and photos were of Ahmed Al-Rumaihi. Last week, Kwatinetz, who is a co-founder of Big 3 with Ice Cube, accused Al-Rumaihi in a sworn court declaration of making an attempted bribe and of suggestively boasting that Flynn had not refused “our money.” [….]

[Michael] Avenatti tweeted the images that appeared to show Al-Rumaihi entering an elevator in Trump Tower on Dec. 12, 2016, five days after news broke of the multibillion-dollar sale of 19.5 percent of the Russian fossil fuel giant Rosneft to Swiss trading firm Glencore and Qatar’s sovereign investment fund. (Glencore and Qatar sold off a major stake of Rosneft to China last year, but earlier this month Qatar bought back in to the Russian company for a total stake of 19 percent.)

The Rosneft deal features prominently in an investigative dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. A central claim of the Steele dossier was that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, during an alleged meeting with Rosneft officials in summer 2016, promised that a Trump administration would undo sanctions against Russia, in part, in exchange for brokerage of the Rosneft deal. In May 2016, Al-Rumaihi reportedly took over as head of a major division of the wealth fund ultimately involved in the Rosneft deal.

The allegations in the Steele dossier, made in October 2016, suggested a future quid-pro-quo deal between Russia and the Trump campaign. Trump has been conspicuously resistant to Russian sanctions despite widespread congressional support from both parties. As Jed Shugerman has noted in Slate, during congressional testimony Page acknowledged meeting with Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Rosneft, during his July 2016 trip to Russia and acknowledged “briefly” discussing the sale of Rosneft as well as there being “some general reference” to sanctions. As Business Insider’s Natasha Bertrand has reported, Page also acknowledged meeting with top Rosneft managers in Moscow on Dec. 8—four days before the apparent Cohen–Al-Rumaihi meeting and one day after the completion of the Rosneft deal.

Jed Shugarman has posted a detailed Russia/Qatar/Trump Timeline in a Google doc that will be updated with new information. On his blog, Shugarman posted this introduction to the timeline:

I have produced a Google Doc timeline, based on publicly available reports and documents, of the alleged bribery scheme between Russia and Trump associates, possibly through Qatar’s purchase of Rosneft….

Russia’s sale of Rosneft Gas is the key event in the Steele Dossier’s quid pro quo allegation. On June 2016, Russians allegedly offer Trump associates a massive payout derived from the commissions on Russia’s sale of 19.5% of state energy giant Rosneft ($11 billion), in return for lifting sanctions. Weeks after the election, Flynn and Kushner are in contact with Russian officials. Then Russia sells a 19.5% stake in Rosneft in a concealed deal, eventually revealed to be with Qatar. Immediately after the deal, a Qatari diplomat allegedly met with Cohen and Flynn at Trump Tower.

In January 2017, payments from Russian oligarch to Michael Cohen begin, and Flynn reportedly texts associates that Trump will lift Russian sanctions, opening up huge personal profits. But around this time, the Dossier is published. Kushner sought money directly from Qatar, because it is possible that Qatar was backing off of the deal, wary of its exposure. In April 2017, Kushner reportedly escalated a Gulf state crisis between Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar with a risk of regional war. A few months later, the Qatar-backed Apollo Group delivers $184 million to Kushner, who has been in financial crisis over a disastrous purchase of 666 5th Ave.

Remember, Robert Mueller and his investigators have likely known all this for a long time and they probably know many more details. Michael Flynn has been cooperating for months, and indictments involving Michael Cohen are very likely in the works.

What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads

Woman Reading by a Window Gari Melchers – circa 1905

Good Afternoon!!

I’ve been trying to find out where Trump is this weekend. I haven’t heard anything about him going to Florida, and I’m afraid that may mean there will be more chaos in the White House over the weekend. Will Scott Pruitt lose his job? Or will Trump really try to use him to replace Jeff Sessions? Is Trump really preparing to talk to Robert Mueller, as CNN reports?

Exclusive: Trump begins informal prep for potential Mueller interview.

President Donald Trump has begun the initial steps of preparing for a possible interview with the special counsel, a White House official and a person familiar with the situation said Friday, a sign the President’s legal team is intensifying its deliberations over whether to allow him to come under Robert Mueller’s questioning.

One source familiar with the proceedings stressed the preparation efforts is “in its infancy.”
The preparations have been short and informal and included going over potential topics with the President that Mueller would likely raise in an interview, the people said.

The President has not formally agreed to sit for an interview with Mueller.

But word of early preparations is the clearest sign yet that Trump and his team remain open to an interview with Mueller, despite concerns from some people close to the President that such an interview could expose him to possible charges of perjury.

According to Tina Nguyen at Vanity Fair, Trump is now targeting one of his last “adult” advisers: Running Out of Punching Bags, Trump Turns on Mattis.

Drinking Coffee And Reading In The Garden Painting by Edward Killingworth Johnson

Until recently, Donald Trump’s campaign to purge naysayers had spared the Pentagon. In the absence of more proximate targets, however, it appears the president has turned his attention to foreign policy, jeopardizing his relationship with perhaps his only remaining sane adviser. Indeed, in the past week, Trump has made James Mattis’s job nearly impossible by declaring that he would send the military to guard the border with Mexico (the White House later clarified that he meant the National Guard), and insisting that the U.S. pull out of Syria (something Mattis promised last year would not happen), leading to a spectacular showdown on Tuesday, when the conflict between Trump and his generals reportedly boiled over during a meeting of top aides in the Situation Room.

According to the Associated Press, Mattis argued “that an immediate withdrawal” from Syria “could be catastrophic and was logistically impossible to pull off in any responsible way,” and offered a one-year timeline as an alternative—to which Trump responded that five or six months ought to do the trick, and “indicated that he did not want to hear in October that the military had been unable to fully defeat the Islamic State and had to remain in Syria for longer.” A person familiar with the meeting told CNN that attendees left Tuesday’s meeting “beside themselves,” arguing that Trump’s lack of desire to put together any sort of recovery plan for Syria—restoring basic needs such as water, power, and roads—would most certainly tip the country back into ISIS’s hands. “It is a huge gamble that ISIS is not going to come back and that we are going to rely on others to stabilize Syria,” an official said.

The same official noted the hypocrisy in Trump’s choice: “The president blasted Obama for a timeline in Iraq, but that is in essence what we have been given.”

From the AP article:

It wasn’t the result top national security aides wanted. Trump’s desire for a rapid withdrawal faced unanimous opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, all of which argued that keeping the 2,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Syria is key to ensuring the Islamic State does not reconstitute itself.

Adolfe Monet reading in the garden, by Claude Monet

But as they huddled in the Situation Room, the president was vocal and vehement in insisting that the withdrawal be completed quickly if not immediately, according to five administration officials briefed on Tuesday’s White House meeting of Trump and his top aides. The officials weren’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations and requested anonymity.

If those aides failed in obtaining their desired outcome, it may have been because a strategy that’s worked in the past — giving Trump an offer he can’t refuse — appears to have backfired.

Rather than offer Trump a menu of pullout plans, with varying timelines and options for withdrawing step-by-step, the team sought to frame it as a binary choice: Stay in Syria to ensure the Islamic State can’t regroup, or pull out completely. Documents presented to the president included several pages of possibilities for staying in, but only a brief description of an option for full withdrawal that emphasized significant risks and downsides, including the likelihood that Iran and Russia would take advantage of a U.S. vacuum.

Ultimately, Trump chose that option anyway.

Will Mattis resign if Trump insists on pulling the U.s. military out of Syria? Or will Trump fire him? John Bolton is expected to begin his job as National Security Adviser on Monday. Will he agree with Trump’s newly formed foreign policy?

Chief of Staff John Kelly has also lost influence on the newly “emboldened” Trump according to CBS News: Trump freezes out chief of staff John Kelly, says he’s “tired of being told ‘no.'”

When President Donald Trump made a congratulatory phone call to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, White House chief of staff John Kelly wasn’t on the line. When Mr. Trump tapped John Bolton to be his next national security adviser, Kelly wasn’t in the room.

And when Mr. Trump spent a Mar-a-Lago weekend stewing over immigration and trade, Kelly wasn’t in sight.

Oscar Bluhm In the Pergola, 1892

Kelly, once empowered to bring order to a turbulent West Wing, has receded from view, his clout diminished, his word less trusted by staff and his guidance less tolerated by an increasingly go-it-alone president.

Emboldened in his job, Mr. Trump has rebelled against Kelly’s restrictions and mused about doing away with the chief of staff post entirely. It’s all leading White House staffers and Trump allies to believe that Kelly is working on borrowed time….

Mr. Trump recently told one confidant that he was “tired of being told no” by Kelly and has instead chosen to simply not tell Kelly things at all, according to a person who was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The stock market isn’t happy with Trump’s push for a trade war. Yahoo News (AP): Stock Market Plummets After Trump Explores $100 Billion in New Chinese Tariffs.

Another increase in trade tensions has stocks falling sharply Friday as the U.S. considers an even larger set of tariffs on imports from China and the two countries exchange pointed statements. Technology companies and banks are taking some of the worst losses.

Stocks have changed direction again and again this week as investors tried to get a sense of whether a trade dispute between the two nations will escalate, an outcome that could have major consequences for the global economy. The market didn’t get any help from a March jobs report that was weaker than expected.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell dropped 581 points, or 2.4 percent, to 23,916 as of 2:15 p.m. Eastern time. Earlier it fell as much as 620 points.

The S&P 500, which many index funds track, lost 53 points, or 2 percent, to 2,608. The Nasdaq composite slid 135 points, or 1.9 percent, to 6,940. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks dipped 29 points, or 1.9 percent, to 1,513.

The Dow average, which contains numerous multinational companies including industrial powerhouses Boeing and Caterpillar, has swung dramatically this week, with about 1,300 points separating its highest and lowest marks. It fell as much as 758 points Monday, then recovered all of those losses, and late Thursday it was up as much as 519 points for the week. It’s down 0.7 percent for the week.

CNBC: Trump’s tariff gamble with China could be catastrophic for the economy, the GOP — and his own presidency.

Reading in the garden, 1915 – Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky

Donald Trump has decided to gamble his presidency on the idea that he can threaten big tariffs on China and force the world’s second-largest economy to back down.

If he fails — and the odds are that he will — the fallout from a tariff battle with China could derail an otherwise strong U.S. economy, threaten Republican majorities in the midterm elections and turn the second half of Trump’s first term into a dismal slog to avoid impeachment votes.

So far, the exact scenario that free traders inside the White House and on Capitol Hill feared is playing out. China scoffed at Trump’s initial $50 billion in threatened tariffs and announced their own, aimed directly at Trump’s red-state base with levies on agricultural and manufactured products.

Although Trump has repeatedly bragged about stock market gains since he has been “president,” Bloomberg reports that Trump is now in 8th place in rankings of presidential success with the markets:

The Republican president’s renewed ramblings on trade dominated U.S. equity markets this week, with a tweet-induced swoon on Friday leaving the S&P 500 Index 1.4 percent lower than where it started on Monday. The gauge swung wildly, notching four moves of at least 1 percent in the five days, and the Cboe Volatility Index spiked above 20, nearly double its level for the past year.

All of which has dented Trump’s reputation as the stock market president.

The numbers from Axios:

Dow Jones Industrial Average return, if you invested in that basket of stocks, for a president’s first 444 days (ranked since 1900,) per Bloomberg:

FDR : 70.4%
Reagan: 41.4%
Teddy Roosevelt: 37.4%
Obama: 32.5%
Bill Clinton: 32.2%
George H.W. Bush: 21.4%
Trump: 20.7%

BTW, according to Think Progress, Trump doesn’t want his trade war to interfere with his daughter’s self-dealing: Ivanka Trump’s clothing company will be spared from tariffs, thanks to her dad.

U.S. officials say they used an algorithm to determine which goods to exclude from new tariffs. According to the Washington Post, the list was drafted to achieve “the lowest consumer impact,” ensuring goods like clothing and toys were excluded so as not to raise the cost on domestic consumer goods.

Reading Man in Park — August Macke 1915

Exempting clothing from the tariffs provides a big break to American clothing companies that hold trademarks in China. One of those clothing companies belongs to the First Daughter of the United States, Ivanka Trump.

A recent report by the Huffington Post found that the president’s daughter and closest adviser rakes in a total of $1.5 million a year from the Trump Organization while still working at the White House.

Her dual role as adviser to the president and private business executive has continuously raised ethical red flags. No one can be entirely sure that public policy by this administration isn’t being driven by business motives, or whether countries may pursue business deals with the Trump family as a means to curry political favor with the administration.

Once again, I’ve barely touched on all the important news that has broken over the past couple of days. I’ve reached the point of having to shut down for part of every day, because I’m so overwhelmed. Of course I’m not alone it that. In this vein Brian Klaas asks at The Washington Post: Can democracy survive information overload?

Last month, President Trump floated the idea of executing drug dealers; got sued by a porn star and a Playboy model; repeatedly attacked the FBI, his own attorney general and the Justice Department; instigated a trade war that punished long-standing U.S. allies; explicitly praised authoritarian consolidations of power in China and Egypt; “joked” about becoming “president for life”; congratulated Vladimir Putin on winning a sham election and reportedly invited him to the White House right after Russia’s government allegedly attempted to murder a former spy on the soil of the United States’ closest ally.

He also bullied a journalist for his physical appearance; boasted about making up statistics in meetings with Canada’s government; live-tweeted his favorite TV show; fired his secretary of state on Twitter; lost his Veterans Affairs secretary, national security adviser, chief economic adviser, communications director and a personal aide whose reported gambling habit was deemed a security riskhired a new national security adviser who has repeatedly called to bomb North Korea and Iran; lashed out at the special counsel, who is investigating the president for potential crimes; and threatened to beat up the former vice president of the United States until he cried.

Woman Reading in a Garden by Harold Harvey

That’s just a small selection of news from March 2018: one crazy month of one crazy presidency.

This inescapable, overwhelming and disorienting flurry of activity, which has become the new normal since Trump’s inauguration, begs two simple but profound questions: Can democracy survive information overload? And can it survive a president who knows how to use the resulting chaos to dodge democratic accountability?

Authoritarian rulers have long understood that controlling and manipulating information are crucial to subverting democracy and getting away with breaking the rules. That’s why dictatorial governments such as China and Russia not only work overtime to control media and censor inconvenient facts but also use troll armies to spew out 24/7 torrents of disinformation. Despite Trump’s obvious envy of such methods, he’s stuck with American democracy, so he has innovated out of necessity. He can’t shut down the press or censor Democrats, but he can blind the American electorate with a steady smokescreen of bewildering stories pouring out of the White House.

From Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, any one of those stories above would have captivated national attention for weeks, or more likely, months. But with Trump, even the most scandalous topic soon disappears into a never-ending flow of revelations. By the time the morning news shows end, it’s on to the next spectacle of dysfunction. We’re living in a chronic state of whiplash.


Thursday Reads: This Sh**t Never Ends!

Bette Davis

Good Afternoon!!

As usual in the horrifying new world of Trump, there is so much shocking news that there’s no way to deal with all of it. I guess the top story has to be that Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd dangled pardons in front of Michael Flynn and Paul Manifort last summer.

The New York Times: Trump’s Lawyer Raised Prospect of Pardons for Flynn and Manafort.

A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump’s pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.

The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. Mr. Mueller’s team could investigate the prospect that Mr. Dowd made pardon offers to thwart the inquiry, although legal experts are divided about whether such offers might constitute obstruction of justice.

Mr. Dowd’s conversation with Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, occurred sometime after Mr. Dowd took over last summer as the president’s personal lawyer, at a time when a grand jury was hearing evidence against Mr. Flynn on a range of potential crimes.

Flynn ultimately took the safe route and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation; but this could explain why Paul Manafort is holding out even though the evidence against him is overwhelming and he could face life in prison if convicted.

Cary Grant, 1960

Constitutional experts are now discussing whether Trump could get away with pardoning Manafort and others, even if he did it with corrupt intent. Some opinions:

Alex Whiting at Just Security: Why Dangling a Pardon Could Be an Obstruction of Justice—Even if the Pardon Power is Absolute. A brief excerpt:

Some experts have argued that the pardon power is absolute and that the President’s motives in issuing a pardon thus could not be questioned, while others contend that it could be a crime to issue a pardon for corrupt purposes (such as in exchange for cash). But the debate over the absolute nature of the pardon power is actually not relevant to the alleged incidents involving Trump’s lawyer. Indeed, that entire debate can be set aside for the moment. Why? Because there’s been no pardon. Instead, a pardon has only been dangled before Flynn and Manafort, and the analysis of whether that action could become part of an obstruction case against Trump raises entirely different considerations….

The pardon dangle works completely differently—and in important respects has the opposite effects. First, this kind of dangle is not a public act. Therefore, as long as it remained secret, it could be done without incurring any of the political downstream consequences that come with actually pardoning someone. It hides the President from scrutiny rather than exposes him to it as a potential check on the use of the power. Second, the objective of the dangle appears to have been to foreclose the prospect of Flynn and Manfort’s cooperating or testifying. Once again, this is the opposite effect of an actual exercise of the pardon. The message of the dangle was sufficiently clear: hang in there and keep fighting (do not cut a deal with the special counsel) because you will be pardoned before you spend a day in jail. The President and his lawyer’s hope would have been that with the threat of jail eliminated, neither former aid would feel compelled to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller to reduce his sentence. But, since they were not actually pardoned or not yet anyway, they still kept their Fifth Amendment privileges, and so Mueller could not simply demand they testify before the Grand Jury. In this way, the dangle could operate to stop any cooperation from Flynn and Manafort, who could then be pardoned later if and when they were indicted or even after their cases went through pretrial, trial and appeal. Indeed, you also have to put yourself back at the time these events all took place: before Manafort was indicted and Flynn pleaded guilty. That’s when the dangle could work its magic.

Ava Gardner

Because a pardon dangle is secret and seeks to discourage cooperation with an ongoing investigation without public scrutiny or consequences, it should be analyzed differently than a pardon when it comes to an obstruction case.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Littman at The Washington Post: We may know why Paul Manafort has kept quiet. But his bet is still risky.

Manafort’s refusal to cooperate can’t be driven by a rational calculation that he has any reasonable chance of escaping conviction, multimillion-dollar legal fees and a prison sentence that will result in years behind bars.

The indictments against him lay out an overwhelming case of money laundering in particular. The meticulously gathered evidence will be as clear for the jury as a laundry detergent commercial: The jury will see the dirty money go in and the clean money come out. To the extent there had been a small risk, inherent in paper-driven chases, that the jury could become bored at the accounting presentation and tune out, Mueller now has a narrator for the trial in Manafort’s co-conspirator Rick Gates.

So is hoping for a Trump pardon a good bet for Manafort?

…the Times story does not definitively solve the Manafort mystery. First, Dowd’s reported overture, particularly if done with the president’s knowledge or consent, could have constituted a conspiracy to obstruct justice, a separate impeachable offense. That presumably is why the story includes a categorical denial from Dowd that he ever discussed pardons for the president’s former advisers with lawyers. For Dowd, the conduct would be putting his license at risk.

Second, Manafort surely recognizes that he can’t fully count on Trump, both because the president is a habitual liar and because the political dynamic is subject to such extreme and violent turns. (Of course, under this hypothesis, Manafort retains the valuable insurance policy of spilling the goods if Trump double-crosses him, leaving both huge losers in a real-life prisoners dilemma.)

Marcello Mastroianni

Third, Manafort could still be required to testify after any pardon, when he would no longer be in federal jeopardy. Undoubtedly, the plan would be for him to deny assurances of a pardon from Trump. Still, were Mueller to catch him in a lie, the special counsel would surely come down on him.

Finally, it is likely that in the event of a pardon for federal crimes, which is all Trump can provide, some state attorneys general, such as New York’s Eric T. Schneiderman, would prosecute Manafort for financial crimes under their potent state statutes.

Maybe Manafort figures a possible pardon is a better bet than hoping Putin doesn’t send his goons to shut him (Manafort) up for good.

A few more pardon stories:

Bloomberg: Pardon Talk Could Put Trump Lawyer in Hot Water.

CNN: Emails reveal DOJ would have ‘very little involvement’ if Trump tweeted a pardon.

The Washington Post: This overlooked part of the Constitution could stop Trump from abusing his pardon power.

Another big story broke late yesterday. Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Today Shulkin is speaking out, claiming he was fired because he opposed privatizing the VA. Shulkin spoke to NPR’s Morning Edition:

Fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin tells NPR’s Morning Edition that political forces in the Trump administration want to privatize the VA — and that he was standing in the way.

“There are many political appointees in the VA that believe that we are moving in the wrong direction or weren’t moving fast enough toward privatizing the VA,” he said. “I think that it’s essential for national security and for the country that we honor our commitment by having a strong VA. I was not against reforming VA, but I was against privatization.”

Lauren Bacall

Those political forces may be why Shulkin says he wasn’t allowed to speak out to defend himself against an ethics controversy over use of funds on a trip to Europe that he says was overhyped and intended to weaken him.

“This was completely mischaracterized,” Shulkin said. “There was nothing improper about this trip, and I was not allowed to put up an official statement or to even respond to this by the White House. … I think this was really just being used in a political context to try to make sure that I wasn’t as effective as a leader moving forward.”

Shulkin argued his case in an op-ed at The New York Times: David J. Shulkin: Privatizing the V.A. Will Hurt Veterans.

That’s a lot of news, but I’ve barely touched on everything that’s happening. Here’s a shocking Trump corruption story that broke at The Guardian this morning: FBI looked into Trump plans to build hotel in Latvia with Putin supporter.

In 2010, a small group of businessmen including a wealthy Russian supporter of Vladimir Putin began working on plans to build a glitzy hotel and entertainment complex with Donald Trump in Riga, the capital of Latvia.

A senior Trump executive visited the city to scout for locations. Trump and his daughter Ivanka spent hours at Trump Tower with the Russian, Igor Krutoy, who also knows compatriots involved in arranging a fateful meeting at the same building during the 2016 US election campaign.

Then the Latvian government’s anti-corruption bureau began asking questions.

The Guardian has learned that talks with Trump’s company were abandoned after Krutoy and another of the businessmen were questioned by Latvian authorities as part of a major criminal inquiry there – and that the FBI later looked into Trump’s interactions with them at Latvia’s request.

Michael Caine

Those involved deny that the inquiry was to blame for the deal’s collapse.

Latvia asked the US for assistance in 2014 and received a response from the FBI the following year, according to a source familiar with the process. Latvian investigators also examined secret recordings in which Trump was mentioned by a suspect.

This means the FBI looked into Trump’s efforts to do business deals in the former Soviet Union earlier than was widely known. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is now investigating other Trump dealings with Russians as part of his wide-ranging criminal inquiry into alleged collusion between Moscow and members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.

The Riga developers saw their potential partner in New York as a ticket to lucrative western revenues.

This shit just never ends. I haven’t even touched on the North Korea news or the Bolton mess or the fact that Trump wants to put his personal physician in charge of the VA. More headlines to check out:

The Washington Post: Who is Trump’s new Veterans Affairs pick, Ronny Jackson?

NBC News: Kim Jong Un met China’s Xi. What does it mean for Trump summit?

CNBC: China says North Korea wants denuclearization, but Kim Jong Un’s motives remain shrouded in mystery as Trump meeting approaches.

The Washington Post: Three big questions about a Trump-Kim summit.

Business Insider: Kim Jong Un became a regional power overnight by saying a single, meaningless word to Trump.

Vox: “Otherwise, they subpoena”: White House lawyer Ty Cobb on why Trump is cooperating with Mueller.

Bloomberg: Kelly Loses White House Clout as Trump Blazes Own Path.

CNN: Did Trump campaign and John Bolton PAC get help from overseas?

Talking Points Memo: WSJ: Kushner Has Phoned Bolton For Advice In The Past Year.

BBC News: Julian Assange has internet cut at Ecuadorean embassy in London.

The Daily Beast: ICE Now Detaining Pregnant Women, Thanks to Trump Order.

Slate: It’s Time to Stop Yammering About Liberal Bias.

 


Thursday Reads: The “President” is Mentally Incompetent

Good Morning!!

Breaking stories this morning:’

— First, Rep. Deven Nunes is “temporarily stepping aside” from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to the AP. Details to come. According to MSNBC, Trump himself wanted this to happen because he’s “concerned about his dropping poll numbers.” We’ll learn more as the day goes on, but it seems more likely that this decision probably comes from Prince Jared.

Nunes released a statement saying that left-wing groups had made baseless charges against him to the ethics committee, and he’s made this decision even though the complaints are politically-motivated. Democratic ranking member gave a brief statement in which he said he appreciates Nunes’ decision and looks forward to working with Rep. Conaway (R-Texas) who will now lead the investigation.

— Second, Paul Ryan held a press conference this morning to pretend that Trump-Ryancare is still alive. Supposedly the House is reaching consensus around a high risk pool–something that would never work to lower premiums for everyone. They’re all going home for Easter break soon, so we’ll see what happens when they come back. IMHO, this is just a face-saving effort by Ryan.

The Dallas News has a “developing” story on Conaway taking over: Texas’ Conaway takes over Russia meddling probe, as embattled Intel chairman steps down.

WASHINGTON — Texas Rep. Mike Conaway is taking the helm of the House-led probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, after embattled Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes agreed to step aside Thursday.

Conaway, a Midland Republican, is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and a member of the Intelligence Committee. He chaired the Ethics Committee several years ago — considered one of the more thankless tasks in Congress, given its role in policing and occasionally punishing colleagues.

He’s one of the few CPAs in Congress. Before his election in 2004, one of his clients was the oil firm owned by future president George W. Bush.

Also happening today:

President Xi Jinping of China

NBC News: Trump and China President Xi Jinping to Meet, ‘Set a Framework’ for Relations.

As Donald Trump gets set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a tête-à-tête at the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Thursday, experts say it’s time for the U.S. leader to let his past hostile comments about the Asian powerhouse fade with the Florida sunset.

Trump must start building a solid personal relationship with his counterpart and open a starter dialogue on a number of sensitive issues between the two nations, analysts add.

“Well, it’s going to be very interesting, nobody really knows, we have not been treated fairly on trade, no presidents taken care of that the way they should have, and we have a big problem on North Korea, so we’re going to see what happens,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday about his upcoming meeting with Xi.

“I’ll tell you we’ll be in there pitching, and I think we’re going to do very well” Trump added.

While the Chinese are strategic and conservative in their policy and diplomacy maneuvers, Trump has earned his reputation as brash and somewhat unpredictable, often venting governing frustrations on Twitter in 140 characters or less.

“[The Chinese] know that you cannot conduct foreign policy by Twitter, by tweeting, and brashness,” former Ambassador to China Max Baucus told NBC News.

I’m sure the Chinese know that all they have to do is say nice things about Trump and he’ll give away the store. He’s going to get played. I just hope it won’t be too damaging.

Mitch McConnell is determined to get Neil Gorsuch through the Senate despite a Democratic filibuster, and it looks like  he will exercise the so-called “nuclear option.” The sad fact that Gorsuch is obviously guilty of plagiarism doesn’t seem to matter to Republicans.

Now I want to move on to what I  believe is the most important story for the U.S. and the world right now.

After yesterday, I’m convinced that nothing that happens in the news is more important than the fact that the man who is pretending to be “president” is not only completely unqualified but also mentally unfit. There is something seriously wrong with Trump’s cognitive processes, and whether it’s dementia, drugs, or simple stupidity, we’re all in deep trouble.

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman

Did you read the transcript of the interview Trump gave to The New York Times yesterday? I want to quote two sections of it here. During a discussion of the Gorsuch nomination, Trump claimed that Democrats have told him privately that they really don’t object that much to the pick, and here is his example:

TRUMP: Elijah Cummings [a Democratic representative from Maryland] was in my office and he said, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.”

HABERMAN: Really.

TRUMP: And then he went out and I watched him on television yesterday and I said, “Was that the same man?”

[Laughter.]

TRUMP: But I said, and I liked him, but I said that was really nice. He said, in a group of people, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.” And then I watched him on television and I said, “Is that the same man that said that to me?”

Did Trump somehow confuse Elijah Cummings with some other black man? WTF is he talking about, why don’t these reporters press him on it? This “interview” could easily pass as an evaluation of a mental patient by two psychiatrists. Here’s another section in which Trump claims that the story of Susan Rice’s unmasking of U.S. persons when she was Obama’s National Security Adviser is “a massive story.”

I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story. I think it’s a massive, massive story. All over the world, I mean other than The New York Times.

HABERMAN: We’ve written about it twice.

TRUMP: Huh?

HABERMAN: We’ve written about it twice.

TRUMP: Yeah, it’s a bigger story than you know. I think —

HABERMAN: You mean there’s more information that we’re not aware of?

TRUMP: I think that it’s going to be the biggest story.

New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush

THRUSH: Why? What do you think —

TRUMP: Take a look at what’s happening. I mean, first of all her performance was horrible yesterday on television even though she was interviewed by Hillary Clinton’s P.R. person, Andrea Mitchell [the NBC News journalist]. Course you’ve been accused of that also.

HABERMAN: Mostly by you, though.

TRUMP: No, no, no. Mostly by a lot of people. So you know, we’ll see what happens, but it looks like it’s breaking into a massive story.

THRUSH: What do you think are — what other shoes are there to drop on this?

HABERMAN: Yeah, what else could we learn on this?

TRUMP: I think you’re going to see a lot. I think you’ll see a lot.

HABERMAN: In terms of what she did and in terms of [unintelligible]?

TRUMP: I think in terms of what other people have done also.

HABERMAN: Really?

TRUMP: I think it’s one of the biggest stories. The Russia story is a total hoax. There has been absolutely nothing coming out of that. But what, you know, what various things led into it was the story that we’re talking about, the Susan Rice. What’s happened is terrible. I’ve never seen people so indignant, including many Democrats who are friends of mine. I’ve never seen them acting this way. Because that’s really an affront on them, you know, they are talking about civil liberties. It’s such an affront, what took place.

THRUSH: What other people do you think will get ensnared in this? Can you give us a sense? How far this might extend

HABERMAN: From the previous administration.

TRUMP: I think from the previous administration.

THRUSH: How far up do you think this goes? Chief of staff?

TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but —

THRUSH: President?

TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but you know who. You know what was going on. You probably know better than anybody. I mean, I frankly think The Times is missing a big thing by not writing it because you’re missing out on the biggest story there is.

Why are these NYT reporters (Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush) patronizing Trump like this? I guess they are drawing him out to demonstrate that he’s a simpleton, but shouldn’t this be treated as a national emergency? The “president” is not well. No wonder there are always multiple “minders” in the room when he’s speaks publicly. Why are so many people pretending that this is somehow normal? We are facing multiple foreign crises right now and we have an incompetent “president” whose 36-year-old son-in-law appears to be running the government.

Yesterday’s Trump press conference with King Abdullah of Jordan was just as embarrassing. Trump spouted a lot of stream-of-conscientious nonsense about how disturbed he was by the chemical attack in Syria and that he had changed his point of view, and reporters pretended he had actually said something meaningful. Here’s the NYT story, for example. Yet Trump said nothing to explain what his policy was previously or what he had changed it to. He even went through that song-and-dance about how he won’t tell anyone ahead of time about what he’ll do “militarily.” This man is nuts, and the press should start saying so.

As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night, Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is every bit as incompetent as the “president.” Tillerson made a statement a couple of days ago that basically gave Asad permission to do whatever he wanted to the Syrian people. Business Insider reports:

Tillerson told reporters while he was in Turkey last week that the “longer-term status of President [Bashar] Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

The remark signaled a shift in the US’s official position toward the Syrian strongman. Though they were criticized for failing to act against Assad, President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry had long called for Assad to step down in a monitored transition of power.

The US’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, took an even stronger position than Tillerson, telling reporters that the administration’s “priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”

Haley’s comments stood in stark contrast to those of the previous UN ambassador, Samantha Power, who directly confronted Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies during a UN Security Council meeting in December with a fierce address.

“Three member states of the UN contributing to a noose around civilians. It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you,” Power said at the time. “You are plotting your next assault. Are you truly incapable of shame?”

And of course there’s the growing threat from North Korea, which Tillerson also likely aggravated. The Week: Rex Tillerson says the U.S. has ‘spoken enough about North Korea,’ won’t comment on latest missile launch.

Not long after the news broke that North Korea launched a missile into the Sea of Japan, Tillerson released a brief statement Tuesday night confirming the launch of “yet another intermediate-range ballistic missile,” adding two very terse sentences: “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” If you seek words of comfort in these uncertain times or angry declarations and threats of retaliation, Tillerson made it clear you had better look elsewhere.

If this is the secretary of state’s way of hinting he wants out of the job, Tillerson should know by now that all he needs to do is tag Jared Kushner, say, “You’re it,” and call it a day. Catherine Garcia

Here’s Charles M. Blow: Creeping Toward Crisis.

I am racked with anxiety that our buffoonish “president” — who sounds so internationally unsophisticated and who is still operating under a cloud of illegitimacy — is beginning to face his first real foreign crises.

What worries me most is that he seems to have no coherent plan, at least not one that he is willing or able to communicate. “I don’t show my hand” isn’t a strategy to conceal a plan as much as one to conceal the absence of a plan.

His statements are all bluster and bungling and bosh. Our commander in chief is not in full command of his emotions or facts or geopolitics.

We may sometimes think that the absurdity of Trump’s endless stream of contradictions and lies ends at the nation’s borders, but it doesn’t. The world is watching, and the world is full of dangerous men who see killing as a means of maintaining and exerting power. They see in Trump a novice and know-nothing, and they will surely test his resolve.

Trump has exposed himself to the world as an imbecile and burned through American credibility with his incessant lying. Even many of our allies seem confused and worried about where we stand and how we plan to proceed.

Trump is full of pride, obsessed with strongman personas, and absent of historical and geopolitical perspective. This is the worst possible situation. The man who could bring us into military engagement is woefully deficient in intellectual engagement.

Please go read the rest at the NYT.

It will clearly be another busy and chaotic day in politics. What stories are you following?

More information here: https://www.mddwi.com/


Lazy Saturday Reads: #tRump – Bull in a China Shop

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Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening with my brother’s family–they invited me for a birthday dinner and family movie. Unsurprisingly, while I wasn’t paying attention for a few hours the president-elect did massive damage to U.S. foreign policy, overturning decades-long policies on China. And it appears this wasn’t about policy but about enriching the #tRump family business.

Ann Gearan at The Washington Post: Trump speaks with Taiwanese president, a major break with decades of U.S. policy on China

President-elect Donald Trump spoke Friday with Taiwan’s president, a major departure from decades of U.S. policy in Asia and a breach of diplomatic protocol with ramifications for the incoming president’s relations with China.

The call is the first known contact between a U.S. president or president-elect with a Taiwanese leader since before the United States broke diplomatic relations with the island in 1979. China considers Taiwan a province, and news of the official outreach by Trump is likely to infuriate the regional military and economic power.

The exchange is one of a string of unorthodox conversations with foreign leaders that Trump has held since his election. It comes at a particularly tense time between China and Taiwan, which earlier this year elected a president, ­­­Tsai Ing-wen, who has not endorsed the notion of a unified China. Her election angered Beijing to the point of cutting off all official communication with the island government.

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It is not clear whether Trump intends a more formal shift in U.S. relations with Taiwan or China. On the call, Trump and Tsai congratulated each other on winning their elections, a statement from Trump’s transition office said….

A statement from the Taiwanese president’s office said the call lasted more than 10 minutes and included discussion of economic development and national security, and about “strengthening bilateral relations.”

Trump claimed the call was initiated by Taiwan’s president, but that was a lie, NBC News reports:

BEIJING — A phone call between Donald Trump and Taiwan’s leader that risks damaging relations between the U.S. and China was pre-arranged, a top Taiwanese official told NBC News on Saturday.

Trump — who lambasted China throughout the election campaign and promised to slap 45 percent tariffs on Chinese goods — tweeted that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen had called him.

“Maintaining good relations with the United States is as important as maintaining good relations across the Taiwan Strait,” Taiwanese presidential spokesman Alex Huang told NBC News. “Both are in line with Taiwan’s national interest.”

He added that the call had not been a surprise.

Apparently the call was carefully planned and scheduled by Trump staffers. It was also reported that bomb-thrower John Bolton was seen at Trump tower yesterday. Could he have helped instigate this?

After the media reported foreign policy experts’ heads exploding, Trump defensively tweeted again.

China was apparently on the phone with the White House right after the news broke, and they have now filed a complaint with the U.S. about this breach of diplomacy. The Guardian:

China has lodged “solemn representations” with the US over a call between the president-elect, Donald Trump, and Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen.

Trump looked to have sparked a potentially damaging diplomatic row with Beijing on Friday after speaking to the Taiwanese president on the telephone….

The US closed its embassy in Taiwan – a democratically ruled island which Beijing regards as a breakaway province – in the late 1970s after the historic rapprochement between Beijing and Washington that stemmed from Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China.

Since then the US has adhered to the “One China” principle, which officially considers the independently governed island to be part of the same single Chinese nation as the mainland.

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said in a statement on Saturday: “It must be pointed out that there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory. The government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing China.”

Geng added: “This is a fact that is generally recognised by the international community.”

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#tRrump is a real bull in a china shop, so to speak. But what was his real goal in talking to Taiwan? Think Progress: Trump’s unusual phone call is great for his business, dangerous for America.

Trump is mixing his business with the presidency. Today was a stark illustration that the combination is extremely dangerous — to Americans and the world.

The Financial Times, citing three sources, reports that Trump called Tsai Ying-wen, the president of Taiwan, on Friday. The call is a symbolic breach of the United States’ “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as the only government and which has been in place since 1972.

The call will antagonize China and risks “opening up a major diplomatic dispute with China before he has even been inaugurated.”

The incident is raising eyebrows because the Trump Organization, in which Trump plans to maintain ownership as president, is actively seeking new business opportunities in Taiwan. The Shanghaiist reported on the Trump Organization’s interest last month:

A representative from the Trump Organization paid a visit to Taoyuan in September, expressing interest in the city’s Aerotropolis, a large-scale urban development project aimed at capitalizing on Taoyuan’s status as a transport hub for East Asia, Taiwan News reports.With the review process for the Aerotropolis still underway, Taoyuan’s mayor referred to the subject of the meeting as mere investment speculation. Other reports indicate that Eric Trump, the president-elect’s second son and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, will be coming to Taoyuan later this year to discuss the potential business opportunity.

#tRump is trying to turn our country into a wholly owned subsidiary of the #tRump organization.

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In just the past couple of days, Trump has bumbled through bizarre phone calls with Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte. Do you supposed #tRump even knows that China, Pakistan and sworn enemy India have nukes?

The Atlantic: Lessons From Trump’s ‘Fantastic’ Phone Call to Pakistan.

This week, the U.S. president-elect spoke with the Pakistani prime minister and, according to the Pakistani government’s account of the conversation, delivered the following message: Everything is awesome. It was, arguably, the most surprising presidential phone call since George H.W. Bush got pranked by that pretend Iranian president.

Pakistan, Donald Trump reportedly told Nawaz Sharif, is a “fantastic” country full of “fantastic” people that he “would love” to visit as president. Sharif was described as “terrific.” Pakistanis “are one of the most intelligent people,” Trump allegedly added. “I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.” ….

Like their problems with India?

It’s unclear how accurate the Pakistani government’s record of the discussion is, though the language does have a Trumpian ring to it (Trump’s transition team released a much more subdued summary of the call). But what’s surprising about the account is how disconnected it is from the current state of affairs. Everything is not awesome in U.S.-Pakistan relations. The two countries are the bitterest of friends. They have long clashed over the haven that terrorist groups have found in Pakistan and over U.S. efforts, including drone strikes and the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, to kill those terrorists. Pakistan, a nation with a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, is the archenemy of India, another nuclear-armed state and a critical U.S. ally. U.S. officials see Pakistan—with its weak political institutions and suspected government support for militant groups in Afghanistan and the contested territory of Kashmir—as an alarming source of regional instability. The suspicion is mutual: Just a fifth of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the United States. Trump himself has argued that Pakistan “is probably the most dangerous” country in the world, and that India needs to serve as “the check” to it.

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The reports also provoked a caustic response from the Indian government, which opposes U.S. mediation in its border dispute with Pakistan. “We look forward to the president-elect helping Pakistan address the most outstanding of its outstanding issues: terrorism,” a spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs said. And, ultimately, they forced Pakistani officials to backpedal after initially publicizing the conversation. “Our relationship with the United States is not about personalities—it is about institutions,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified. In other words, a brief, breezy conversation had real reverberations on the subcontinent.One lesson of the phone call is that words matter, especially in international relations where information is patchy, things get lost in translation, rhetoric is often interpreted as policy, and a government’s credibility is only as good as its word. (Think of all the people in the United States puzzling over what policies Trump will pursue as president; now imagine trying to do that from Islamabad or New Delhi.)

 

And now Pakistan is sending an envoy to meet with the #tRump bumblers. The Indian Express reports:

Pakistan has decided to send an envoy to the US to hold meetings with Donald Trump’s transition team, two days after a “productive” telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the President-elect. Pakistani Prime Minister’s special assistant for foreign affairs Tariq Fatemi will visit the US this weekend to meet officials of the Trump transition team.

Fatemi’s meeting with officials of Trump transition team was confirmed by Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US. “Besides meeting members of the transition team, Fatemi will meet officials of the outgoing Obama administration,” said Jilani.

120216tomstiglich

Huffington Post: Donald Trump Praises Philippines Deadly Drug War And Invites Leader To White House.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump praised Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte for his war on drugs that has left thousands dead, Duterte said on Saturday after the two held a phone conversation in which Trump also invited Duterte the White House.

“He was quite sensitive also to our worry about drugs. And he wishes me well … in my campaign and he said that … we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way,” Duterte said in a statement. Duterte has conducted a severe crackdown on drugs in the country, where police and vigilante groups have killed thousands.

Trump’s brief chat with the firebrand Philippine president follows a period of uncertainty about one of Washington’s most important Asian alliances, stoked by Duterte’s hostility towards President Barack Obama and repeated threats to sever decades-old defense ties.

The call lasted just over seven minutes, Duterte’s special advisor, Christopher Go, said in a text message to media, which gave few details. Trump’s transition team had no immediate comment.

So #tRump is on the record supporting mass murder now. Awesome.

Two more links to check out:

The New York Times: How Trump’s Calls to World Leaders Are Upsetting Decades of Diplomacy.

The Washington Post: Donald Trump keeps confirming fears about his diplomatic skills.

Isn’t there anyone who can do something about this monster before he destroys our country and/or blows up the world? We are so screwed.

What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: A Mixed Bag of News

Girl reading on a stone porch, by Winslow Homer

Girl reading on a stone porch, by Winslow Homer

Good Morning!!

The images in this post are from the blog, Reading and Art. I don’t have any central theme this morning, just a mixed bag of news stories. beginning with damaging explosions in Tianjin, China.

CNN reports, Tianjin blasts: Dozens dead; areas of Chinese port city devastated.

You can see the devastation everywhere: in the hollowed out shells of barely-standing buildings, in the anguished faces of relatives waiting for news of loved ones, in the parade of scorched cars.

But what was it that set off the terrifying blasts that ripped through warehouses housing hazardous chemical materials, sending fireballs shooting across the sky and shaking tall buildings more than 2 miles away?

Hours later, amid the destruction in this northern Chinese port city of more than 13 million, the exact cause remained unclear.

A thick chemical odor hung in the air. Fires still burned in the waterfront industrial district where the explosions went off. And the grim toll kept mounting.

At least 44 people are confirmed dead, 12 firefighters among them, officials said Thursday. More than 500 are hospitalized, 52 with severe injuries. Dozens of firefighters are missing.

Local authorities suspended firefighting efforts Thursday because of a lack of information about the “dangerous goods” stored at the warehouse at the heart of the blasts, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.

CNN has dramatic photos at the link. A few more stories on the disaster:

Vice News: Video Emerges of Horrific Tianjin Explosion as Death Toll Rises.

USA Today, 12 firefighters among 50 dead in Chinese port city explosions.

This is a developing story, and it sounds like the death toll is likely to rise.

Girl reading under an oak tree, by Winslow Homer

Girl reading under an oak tree, by Winslow Homer

You’ve probably heard by now that Jimmy Carter has cancer that has spread from his liver to other organs.

Washington Post, Former president Jimmy Carter, 90, announces that he has cancer.

Former president Jimmy Carter announced Wednesday that he has cancer and will be undergoing treatment at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta.

Carter, 90, said the disease was discovered during recent liver surgery to remove “a small mass” and that the cancer “is now in other parts of my body.”

“I will be rearranging my schedule as necessary so I can undergo treatment by physicians at Emory Healthcare,” Carter said in a statement on the Carter Center Web site. “A more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week.”

In a statement, President Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama wished Carter “a full and fast recovery.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with [wife] Rosalynn and the entire Carter family as they face this challenge with the same grace and determination that they have shown so many times before,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House. “Jimmy, you’re as resilient as they come, and along with the rest of America, we are rooting for you.”

The president also spoke with Carter on Wednesday evening to wish him “full and speedy recovery” and extended best wishes on behalf of himself and first lady Michelle Obama, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

According to NBC News, Carter said “a more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week.”

Sunlight and shadow, by Winslow Homer

Sunlight and shadow, by Winslow Homer

Sweden has dropped some of its charges against Julian Assange.

Wall Street Journal, Sweden Runs Out of Time on Parts of Assange Probe.

STOCKHOLM—Swedish prosecutors on Thursday ran out of time to pursue two of four investigations into allegations of sexual assault against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been living at the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning.

Prosecutors said that probes into suspected unlawful coercion and sexual molestation would be dropped as the five-year limit that Swedish law allows for such charges to be brought has come to an end.

The five-year deadline for a second count of sexual molestation will be reached Aug. 18, prosecutors said. If the statute of limitation on that allegation also comes into effect, Mr. Assange would be left facing a single, more serious accusation of rape, over which prosecutors have until 2020 to question him….

Mr. Assange was accused of the crimes by two women during a visit to Sweden in August 2010. Prosecutors requested Mr. Assange return to Sweden from the U.K to face questioning.

The WikiLeaks founder, who denies the crimes, refused to return to Sweden, saying he feared he would extradited from Sweden to the U.S. where he could face trial over the publication by WikiLeaks of classified U.S. documents.

Assange says he is disappointed, according to BBC News.

The Wikileaks founder said he was “extremely disappointed” and said the Swedish prosecutor had avoided hearing his side of the story….

He sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, fearing he would then be sent to the US for questioning about the activities of Wikileaks.

Under Swedish law, charges cannot be laid without interviewing the suspect.

Mr Assange said he was innocent and claimed prosecutors had refused to visit him at the embassy.

They also refused to promise not to send him to the US if he were to go to Sweden, he said.

Mr Assange said: “I am strong but the cost to my family is unacceptable.”

The new novel, by Winslow Homer

The new novel, by Winslow Homer

In clown car news, Mike Huckabee said some more insane things about Planned Parenthood and abortion.

Talking Points Memo, Huckabee: DOJ Should ‘Criminally Prosecute Planned Parenthood.’

“I would also invoke the 15th and Fourteenth Amendments,” he said on Wednesday. “This is the power that we have to stop this incredible, barbaric scourge of abortion. Not just stop funding Planned Parenthood, but we need to invoke the Fifth and 14th Amendment. The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process for every person. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law for every person.”

Huckabee said that he believes that unborn children are people, guaranteeing them Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.

“I would take that position. I would act on behalf of those unborn children, and I would let those who want to slaughter babies, those who want to sell their body parts, let them sue me,” he said.

In response, Melissa McEwan writes:

Again, this is less like chipping away at Roe and more like taking a bulldozer to it.

I have said many times (for instance) that fetuses are valued more highly than the people who carry them, that the potential life of every fetus is more important than the actual life of a pregnant person. Never has this been more clear.

If Mike Huckabee, or any of his fellow Republican candidates, had their way, fetuses would have not equivalent rights, but more rights than any pregnant person.

Protip, Huckabee: “Slaughtering babies” is already against the law.

The country school, by Winslow Homer

The country school, by Winslow Homer

CNN reports on a study showing that kids in elementary school are getting crushing amounts of homework.

Kids have three times too much homework, study finds; what’s the cost?

The study, published Wednesday in The American Journal of Family Therapy, found students in the early elementary school years are getting significantly more homework than is recommended by education leaders, in some cases nearly three times as much homework as is recommended.

The standard, endorsed by the National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association, is the so-called “10-minute rule” — 10 minutes per grade level per night. That translates into 10 minutes of homework in the first grade, 20 minutes in the second grade, all the way up to 120 minutes for senior year of high school. The NEA and the National PTA do not endorse homework for kindergarten….

Parents reported first-graders were spending 28 minutes on homework each night versus the recommended 10 minutes. For second-graders, the homework time was nearly 29 minutes, as opposed to the 20 minutes recommended.

And kindergartners, their parents said, spent 25 minutes a night on after-school assignments, according to the study carried out by researchers from Brown University, Brandeis University, Rhode Island College, Dean College, the Children’s National Medial Center and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.

Homer, Winslow 6

That is ridiculous and harmful. Children at younger ages learn far more from play and interacting with other kids than from regimented school assignments.

“It is absolutely shocking to me to find out that particularly kindergarten students (who) are not supposed to have any homework at all … are getting as much homework as a third-grader is supposed to get,” said Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, the contributing editor of the study and clinical director of the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.

“Anybody who’s tried to keep a 5-year-old at a table doing homework for 25 minutes after school knows what that’s like. I mean children don’t want to be doing, they want to be out playing, they want to be interacting and that’s what they should be doing. That’s what’s really important.”

The Pope is coming to the U.S., and one of his stops will be at a jail in Philadelphia.

Reuters: At drab Philadelphia jail, anxious times precede papal visit.

One of 17 stops on the pope’s first U.S. tour, the visit to the inner-city jail is a reminder of the emphasis the Argentine pontiff has placed on social justice issues since being named head of the Roman Catholic Church in March 2013.

The pope’s stop at the Philadelphia facility will be the latest in a series of prison visits by Francis, an outspoken opponent of the death penalty and lengthy prison terms. He has counseled teenagers in juvenile detention in Brazil. In Bolivia, he kissed inmates in the country’s most violent prison.

His visit also comes at a time when a growing number of Democrats and Republicans are questioning tough criminal sentencing policies that have left the United States with the highest incarceration rate in the developed world. Barack Obama, who last month became the first sitting U.S. president to tour a federal penitentiary, has called for legislation overhauling sentencing rules.

Advocates for prisoner rights say they are pleased the pope has decided to put the issue on his agenda during the U.S. tour, which will include attending a conference on family life in Philadelphia, plus stops in Washington and New York.

Morning glories, by Winslow Homer

Morning glories, by Winslow Homer

I was going to write about Hillary and the media’s obsession with her emails, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, here’s an inspirational piece from Peter Daou and Tom Watson at #HillaryMen.

Hillary’s Path to History Will Get Much Rougher and She’s Ready.

There is a manic urge among the media, the GOP and the elite commentariat to Stop Hillary – to block a woman from reaching the pinnacle of American political leadership.

Each poll, news story or issue that appears to harm her is seized upon with a strange combination of desperation and glee. It’s an unsavory process but Hillary knew what she was in for when she decided to seek the presidency a second time.

As #HillaryMen, we’re undaunted by the negative stories, unwavering in our support for Hillary and unyielding in our commitment to help smash the ultimate gender barrier.

Ending a 44-0 shutout that has lasted nearly a quarter millennium was never going to be easy. There is no cakewalk to the White House. And certainly not for a woman.

We’ve worked in politics and media for nearly two decades. Peter is a veteran of two presidential campaigns, including Hillary’s 2008 run. We’ve seen every permutation of every attack, every rise and fall in the polls, every gaffe and every zinger, every debate moment and debate aftermath, every nervous election night and every election surprise.

We know what lies ahead for Hillary’s campaign and we realize there will be times when the obstacles seem insurmountable. They are not.

For all practical purposes, the 2016 race is just getting underway. As the first summer of the campaign winds down, the rhetoric heats up and political prognostications start climbing in pitch. The fall frenzy begins in a matter of weeks.

I plan to head over to #HillaryMen every time I get angry and/or anxious about something written or said about her in the media. In case you haven’t read it yet, here’s a link to “The Facts about Hillary Clinton’s Emails” at her campaign website.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread, and enjoy your Thursday.