Posted: June 11, 2019 Filed under: Afternoon Reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: CIA, Cover-Up General Barr, Elizabeth Warren, enemies of the people, Eugene Robinson, Jim Acosta, Joe Biden, John Sipher, Matt Wuerker, Mitch McConnell, Pat Bagley, Pat Chappatte, Pete Buttigieg, political cartoons, press freedom, Sam Donaldson, Signe Wilkinson, the NEW York Times, U.S. Senate, William Barr
The New York Times has really bitten the dust this time. Yesterday they announced they will no longer run any political cartoons. Not only are NYT editors terrified of offending Trump and his base, but also they clearly have no sense of humor.
Chapette reacted to his firing at his personal website: The end of political cartoons at The New York Times.
All my professional life, I have been driven by the conviction that the unique freedom of political cartooning entails a great sense of responsibility.
In 20-plus years of delivering a twice-weekly cartoon for the International Herald Tribune first, and then The New York Times, and after receiving three OPC awards in that category, I thought the case for political cartoons had been made (in a newspaper that was notoriously reluctant to the form in past history.) But something happened. In April 2019, a Netanyahu caricature from syndication reprinted in the international editions triggered widespread outrage, a Times apology and the termination of syndicated cartoons. Last week, my employers told me they’ll be ending in-house political cartoons as well by July. I’m putting down my pen, with a sigh: that’s a lot of years of work undone by a single cartoon – not even mine – that should never have run in the best newspaper of the world.
I’m afraid this is not just about cartoons, but about journalism and opinion in general. We are in a world where moralistic mobs gather on social media and rise like a storm, falling upon newsrooms in an overwhelming blow. This requires immediate counter-measures by publishers, leaving no room for ponderation or meaningful discussions. Twitter is a place for furor, not debate. The most outraged voices tend to define the conversation, and the angry crowd follows in.
Cartoon by Chappette
In 1995, at twenty-something, I moved to New York with a crazy dream: I would convince the New York Times to have political cartoons. An art director told me: “We never had political cartoons and we will never have any.“ But I was stubborn. For years, I did illustrations for NYT Opinion and the Book Review, then I persuaded the Paris-based International Herald Tribune (a NYT-Washington Post joint venture) to hire an in-house editorial cartoonist. By 2013, when the NYT had fully incorporated the IHT, there I was: featured on the NYT website, on its social media and in its international print editions. In 2018, we started translating my cartoons on the NYT Chinese and Spanish websites. The U.S. paper edition remained the last frontier. Gone out the door, I had come back through the window. And proven that art director wrong: The New York Times did have in-house political cartoons. For a while in history, they dared.
Along with The Economist, featuring the excellent Kal, The New York Times was one of the last venues for international political cartooning – for a U.S. newspaper aiming to have a meaningful impact worldwide, it made sense. Cartoons can jump over borders. Who will show the emperor Erdogan that he has no clothes, when Turkish cartoonists can’t do it ? – one of them, our friend Musa Kart, is now in jail. Cartoonists from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Russia were forced into exile. Over the last years, some of the very best cartoonists in the U.S., like Nick Anderson and Rob Rogers, lost their positions because their publishers found their work too critical of Trump. Maybe we should start worrying. And pushing back. Political cartoons were born with democracy. And they are challenged when freedom is.
I agree that this isn’t just about cartoons. Trump is succeeding in his war against the press, and the editors of the New York Times are helping him. Twitter commentary from two cartoonists:
Thread from Pat Bagley. More tweets on Twitter
Continuing on the subject of press freedom, CNN’s Jim Acosta has a book out: The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America. Sam Donaldson reviewed the book at CNN:
Reading Jim Acosta’s new book “Enemy of the People” is like watching a train wreck in progress, with passengers bracing for the inevitable crash.
Friends and critics agree we have never seen a president like Donald J. Trump, whose disdain, even contempt and apparent hatred for many members of the press is almost daily on display.
Acosta cites instance after instance when this President and many of his staff show that they are bent on interfering with the ability of reporters to bring the public an accurate account of the administration’s stewardship.
For most of his adult life, President Trump courted the press, lived for its attention, even for a time pretended he was someone else when calling reporters to sing Trump’s praises. Whether now he truly believes that the mainstream press, as he says, reports “fake” news and is the “enemy of the American people,” or that such language is simply part of a tactic meant to stoke the anger of his “base” while escaping an objective accounting of his actions doesn’t matter. The effect is to undermine the credibility of the media, leaving him free to pursue policies that harm us at home and abroad….
History shows that tyrants and would-be tyrants always attempt to destroy a free press. And that is why the First Amendment to our Constitution specifically forbids government from interfering with the work of the press.
Read the rest at CNN. I don’t know if I’ll read Acosta’s book, but what Donaldson has to say is vitally important.
I’m feeling so discouraged about the Democratic primary. There are far too many candidates and the ones leading the pack are pathetic. Biden, Buttigieg and Sanders? Please. At this point, I think Trump will win a second term unless his dementia gets so bad the press finally has to begin writing about it.
Eugene Robinson writes at The Washington Post: We don’t need 23 presidential candidates. There’s another important role to fill.
Dear Democratic presidential candidates: I know all 23 of you want to run against President Trump, but only one will get that opportunity. If you truly believe your own righteous rhetoric, some of you ought to be spending your time and energy in another vital pursuit — winning control of the Senate.
I’m talking to you, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, who would have a good chance of beating incumbent Republican Cory Gardner. I’m talking to you, Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, who could knock off GOP incumbent Steve Daines. I’m even talking to you, Beto O’Rourke, who would have a better chance than any other Texas Democrat against veteran Republican John Cornyn.
And I’m talking to you, too, Stacey Abrams of Georgia, even though you haven’t jumped in. You came within a whisker of being elected governor, and you have a national profile that would bring in a tsunami of campaign funds. You could beat Republican David Perdue — and acquire real power to translate your stirring eloquence into concrete action.
I agree that we absolutely need Senate candidates, but the even greater problem is the candidates that are topping the polls. Biden, Sanders, and even Warren are too old. Biden and Sanders have far too many negatives in their past histories. Buttigieg is too inexperienced, and can you really imagine him beating Trump? More from Robinson on the importance of winning the Senate:
As the Republican Party has long understood, it’s all about power. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could not care less about lofty words and high ideals. Coldly and methodically, he has used his power to block widely supported progressive measures such as gun control, to enact a trickle-down economic agenda that favors the wealthy and to pack the federal bench with right-wing judges whom we’ll be stuck with for decades.
We all remember how McConnell refused even to schedule hearings for President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, ostensibly because the vacancy occurred during an election year. Were you surprised when he said recently that if a seat were to come open in 2020, he would hasten to confirm a replacement? I wasn’t. That’s how McConnell rolls. He exercises his power to its full extent and is not bothered by what you or I or anyone else might think. Charges of hypocrisy do not trouble his sweet slumber.
McConnell is not going to be reasoned, harangued or shamed into behaving differently. The only way to stop him is to take his power away, and the only way to do that is for Democrats to win the Senate.
Another danger we face is Cover-Up General Barr’s hostile takeover of the Justice Department. NBC News reports: New details of Barr’s far-reaching probe into ‘spying’ on Trump 2016 campaign.
The Justice Department on Monday offered new insight into what it called a “broad” and “multifaceted” review of the origins of the Russia investigation, and sought to assure lawmakers that the probe ordered by President Donald Trump would work to protect sensitive intelligence at the heart of it.
In a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said the investigation — referred to throughout as a “review” — would evaluate whether the counterintelligence investigation launched in 2016 into potential contacts between foreign entities and individuals associated with Donald Trump’s campaign “complied with applicable policies and laws.”
“There remain open questions relating to the origins of this counterintelligence investigation and the U.S. and foreign intelligence activities that took place prior to and during that investigation. The purpose of the Review is to more fully understand the efficacy and propriety of those steps and to answer, to the satisfaction of the Attorney General, those open questions,” Boyd wrote.
DOJ announced in May that Attorney Gen. William Barr had assigned John Durham, the U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, to oversee a review long called for by Trump into whether the Russia probe, launched in the heat of the presidential campaign, was influenced by politics and whether established protocols were followed involving the surveillance of Trump campaign officials.
A counterpoint from former CIA Chief of Station John Sipher at The Washington Post: Trump’s conspiracy theories about intelligence will make the CIA’s job harder.
President Trump’s attempts to craft a public narrative that a government conspiracy was aimed at his presidential campaign moved off Twitter and into the real world of official documents last month. Trump issued a directive assigning Attorney General William P. Barr to probe the origins of the Russia investigation, giving Barr the authority to declassify secret intelligence. As the president stated, “We’re exposing everything.”
The order directly undercuts Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, who is responsible for both protecting and potentially releasing intelligence. And it suggests that Trump is still disputing the fact that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
The president hardly needs to create a public furor to determine what the intelligence community knew about Russian interference, when they knew it or how they learned it. The CIA would gladly provide detailed briefings to him, the attorney general or anyone Trump might request one for. There are well-established means of sharing information within the executive branch. If the president wants to see the specific intelligence, he can.
But that’s not what Trump wants, is it?
But a private inquiry would not provide Trump with the political weapon of a public scapegoat. If he’s looking to discredit the intelligence behind the unanimous assessment by U.S. agencies in 2016 — since affirmed by the Mueller report, numerous indictments and no shortage of public evidence — he seems to want someone to blame. The recent directive hints at Trump’s eagerness to find a CIA version of his favorite targets at the FBI: James B. Comey, Peter Strzok, Bruce Ohr, Andrew McCabe or Robert S. Mueller III’s “angry Democrats.”
Creating a boogeyman inside the CIA is probably an effective tool if Trump’s goal is to persuade voters that he faced a “coup” and that the Russian attack was a “hoax,” as he has claimed. The necessary secrecy of the CIA’s activities makes it easy to spin a conspiracy and scare the public. A weaponized charge can appear simple and compelling, while the CIA’s ability to respond is limited; the issues involved are complicated and hard to explain in the length of a tweet. It is not hard to whip up fear and assume the worst of a powerful and shadowy secret agency if the most powerful man in the world is willing to deceive the public in the process.
That’s it for me today. What stories have you been following?
Posted: November 17, 2018 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Bookstore cats, California wildfires, Camp fire, CIA, Confederate flag, Fethullah Gulen, Jamal Khashoggi, new civil war, Saudi Arabia, White supremacists
California is burning and we have no national leadership. The current death toll from the Camp Fire in Northern California stands at 71, with more than 1,000 missing. Trump is going to California, not to help or comfort, but to educate politicians and firefighters about what they did and are doing wrong. Politico:
Trump said he will be meeting Saturday with Gov. Jerry Brown, Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom and emergency workers across the state.
“I want to be with the firefighters and the FEMA first responders,” Trump said, anticipating that he would likely be returning to the White House at 4 a.m. Sunday morning, “or something like that.”
The president also hinted at some potentially confrontational discussions he might engage in Saturday with California’s elected leaders, including on the state’s forest management efforts.
“I’ve been saying that for a long time this could have been a lot different situation, but the one thing is that everybody now knows that this is what we have to be doing, and there’s no question about it,” Trump said. “It should have been done many years ago, but i think everybody’s on the right side. It’s a big issue.”
Yesterday Trump explained his theory to Fox News’ Chris Wallace.
So is Trump bringing a rake with him?
Read About the Wildfires
Reuters: Teams search for 1,000 missing in California’s deadliest wildfire.
PARADISE, Calif., Nov 17 (Reuters) – Forensic recovery teams searched for more victims in the charred wreckage of the northern California town of Paradise on Saturday as the number of people listed as missing in the state’s deadliest wildfire topped 1,000.
Remains of at least 71 people have been recovered in and around the small Sierra foothills town 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco. It was home to nearly 27,000 residents before it was largely incinerated by the blaze on the night of Nov. 8.
Adams Avenue Book Store in San Diego, CA, Bartleby
The disaster already ranks among the deadliest U.S. wildfires since the turn of the last century. Eighty-seven people perished in the Big Burn firestorm that swept the Northern Rockies in August of 1910. Minnesota’s Cloquet Fire in October of 1918 killed 450 people.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who has blamed the recent spate of fires on forest mismanagement, was due to visit the fire zones on Saturday to meet displaced residents. Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom planned to join Trump on his tour.
Authorities attribute the high death toll from the blaze – dubbed “Camp Fire” – partly to the speed with which flames raced through the town with little advance warning, driven by howling winds and fueled by drought-desiccated scrub and trees.
More than a week later, firefighters have managed to carve containment lines around 45 percent of the blaze’s perimeter. The fire covered 142,000 acres (57,000 hectares), fire officials said.
Besides the toll on human life, property losses from the blaze make it the most destructive in California history, posing the additional challenge of providing long-term shelter for many thousands of displaced residents.
The BBC has a timeline of the destruction of Paradise, CA: California wildfires: The day Paradise burned down. Here’s the introduction:
“Heavenly father, please help us.”
Sitting in the back seat of the car her husband was driving, Brynn Parrott Chatfield’s entire field of vision was filled with flames as she prayed.
Only the thin strip of road in front of them remained unburned.
Shades of orange, white, purple and pink burst out on both sides, hundreds of small fires all burning at the same time, low on the ground and up and over the trees.
“Please, help us to be safe.”
A wave of embers rose up from the surface of the road and struck their front windscreen. Brynn’s husband Jeremy drove calmly on down the middle of the road; no-one would be coming towards them into the fire.
“I’m thankful for Jeremy and his willingness to be brave…”
By now, no road was visible, and only a dense orange cloud could be seen in front of the car. Then suddenly, it cleared, and the fires seemed to scatter.
Clear skies opened up, the last embers bounced off the windscreen and the fire was finally behind them.
As a helicopter flew overhead, carrying water to try and douse the flames, Jeremy and Brynn knew they had made it out alive.
Soon after, almost nothing would remain of their hometown, Paradise, and the fire they fled in north-east California would become the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history.
This is the story of how the fire spread.
More reads on the California disaster:
The Guardian: California’s DIY firefighters battle alone as the richest hire private teams.
The New York Times: As Inmates, They Fight California’s Fires. As Ex-Convicts, Their Firefighting Prospects Wilt.
The New York Times: Air Quality in California: Devastating Fires Lead to a New Danger.
The Los Angeles Times: California fire: If you stay, you’re dead. How a Paradise nursing home evacuated.
The New York Times: Everyone Is Talking About the California Wildfires. Read These Books on How to Fight Them.
Trump Is Fueling White Supremacist Extremism
David Neiwert at The Washington Post: Right-wing extremists are already threatening violence over a Democratic House. The introduction:
Seeking a more lenient sentence for Patrick Eugene Stein’s plot to murder hundreds of Somali immigrants in a small Kansas town, Stein’s attorneys turned to a novel strategy: They blamed the inspiration for his actions on Donald Trump.
“The court cannot ignore the circumstances of one of the most rhetorically mold-breaking, violent, awful, hateful and contentious presidential elections in modern history, driven in large measure by the rhetorical China shop bull who is now our president,” the lawyers wrote.
Stein and his two cohorts planned their attack to take place the day after the November 2016 election. Anticipating a Hillary Clinton victory, the three Kansans wanted to make a violent first strike against her presidency by setting off a set of Timothy McVeigh-style truck bombs at a Muslim immigrant community in Garden City, then gunning down survivors as they fled.
The plot had been exposed, and the men arrested, a few weeks before they intended to carry it out. It took place amid a national environment in which far-right militiamen had been vowing a violent resistance to a potential Clinton administration. That resistance was, at least temporarily, mooted by Trump’s victory.
But those same rumblings can now be heard from the very same far-right factions, likewise threatening violence, in response to this month’s takeover of the House of Representatives by Democrats. There is legitimate reason for concern that right-wing terrorist violence will continue and perhaps increase — and that extremists could soon begin targeting politicians in office, especially if Trump singles them out for scorn.
Read the Rest at the WaPo. Neiwert is the author of
Donald Trump isn’t our president — he is the Jefferson Davis of a new red state confederacy in a slow-motion civil war.
In 1861, they were cadets from the Citadel Military Academy in South Carolina. On January 9, of that year, they were manning an artillery battery on Morris Island, an uninhabited island in Charleston Harbor when they fired on the United States steamship Star of the West, which was attempting to resupply the American garrison at Fort Sumter. The shots they fired that day, along with the bombardment of the fort by the Confederate States Army beginning on April 12 of that year, are generally considered by historians to be the first shots fired in what became the American Civil War.
In 2017, they were members of the so-called “alt-right” — white supremacists, neo-nazis, neo-confederates, white nationalists, and neo-fascists who were in Charlottesville for the so-called “Unite the Right” rally. On the night of August 11, 2017, as many as 200 of them marched carrying burning torches through the campus of the University of Virginia chanting white supremacist slogans such as “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” When they reached the statue of Thomas Jefferson, founder of the University of Virginia, they clashed with a group of students who had surrounded the statue. The alt-right demonstrators swung and threw their torches and used pepper spray against the counter-protestors, injuring several.
The next day, the alt-right demonstrators marched through Charlottesville carrying Confederate and Nazi flags chanting “white lives matter,” “Jewish media is going down,” and “make America great again.” Many demonstrators were armed, some with semi-automatic assault-style rifles. They clashed again with counter-protestors, and at 1:45 p.m., a white supremacist demonstrator identified as James Alex Fields Jr. drove his 2010 Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protestors, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
She was not the first to die in the new civil war. Already dead were black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina; a native of India in Olathe, Kansas; an Army lieutenant in College Park, Maryland; and many others.
But the death of Heather Heyer would become a focus of the violence and killing in the new civil war, because President Trump would put it there.
More at Raw Story (originally pubABlished at Salon).
More to Explore:
The Washington Post: Confederate pride and prejudice. Some white Northerners see a flag rooted in racism as a symbol of patriotism.
HuffPost: D.C.’s Neo-Nazi Brothers Were Hiding In Plain Sight.
ABC Action News Tampa: 39 suspected gang members charged in major drug, gun trafficking investigation in Pasco.
Jackson Free Press: Hyde-Smith Accepts $2,700 Donation from Notorious White Supremacist.
Trump and the Saudi Crown Prince
Yesterday someone leaked the news that CIA has concluded that MBS ordered the murder of Washington Post Journalist Jamal Khashoggi last month in Turkey. The New York Times reports:
Bücherdorf Mühlbeck, Germany
The Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to American officials.
The C.I.A. made the assessment based on the crown prince’s control of Saudi Arabia, which is such that the killing would not have taken place without his approval, and has buttressed its conclusion with two sets of crucial communications: intercepts of the crown prince’s calls in the days before the killing, and calls by the kill team to a senior aide to the crown prince.
The C.I.A. has believed for weeks that Prince Mohammed was culpable in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing but had been hesitant to definitively conclude that he directly ordered it. The agency has passed that assessment on to lawmakers and Trump administration officials.
The change in C.I.A. thinking came as new information emerged, officials said. The evidence included an intercept showing a member of the kill team calling an aide to Prince Mohammed and saying “tell your boss” that the mission was accomplished. Officials cautioned, however, that the new information is not direct evidence linking Prince Mohammed to the assassination, which was carried out in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
Undoubtedly the leak was motivated by Trump’s defense of MBS and his suggestion that another long-time U.S. resident Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen should be handed over to Turkey most likely to be tortured and killed.
NBC News: If Trump sacrifices Fethullah Gulen to protect Saudi Arabia, he will make a mockery of the U.S. extradition system.
In the unending swirl of shocking statements and decisions by the Trump administration, the latest scoop by NBC News could easily get lost. But it is nonetheless jaw dropping to hear reports that the administration may be thinking about surrendering to Turkish demands to extradite a long-time U.S. resident for the sake of placating Turkey and protecting Saudi Arabia in the wake of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder.
According to four people interviewed by NBC, the White House has instructed the Justice Department, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to find a way to remove Fethullah Gulen, a former ally-turned-foe of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan claims Gulen was the mastermind behind a failed coupagainst him in 2016. The elderly Gulen has lived in rural Pennsylvania for close to 20 years. He is a green card holder, or permanent resident of the U.S., and he adamantly denies Turkey’s accusations. But Trump presumably hopes that if he turns Gulen over to Turkey, Erdogan will return the favor by easing his campaign against Saudi Arabia, an important American ally that has been under intense scrutiny following the Khashoggi killing.
U.S. authorities have already reviewed Turkey’s two-year-old extradition request and found it without merit. But Trump, in an effort to help Saudi Arabia diffuse the Khashoggi crisis, is weighing whether or not to both sacrifice a man and make a mockery of the extradition system.
More Stories to Check Out
The Washington Post: Trump says he’ll speak with CIA about Khashoggi killing.
Politico: Trump hails Saudis as ‘spectacular ally’ in wake of CIA Khashoggi reports.
What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread.
Posted: April 24, 2018 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: CIA, Donald Trump, EPA, Grandview Golf Club, Mike Pompeo, Ronny Jackson, Scott Pruitt, Secret Service, State Department, Travis Reinking, Veterans Administration, white privilege
White privilege is a powerful thing, and here’s some proof.
WGN9 Chicago: Waffle House shooting suspect held on $2M bail.
A man accused of killing four people with an AR-15 rifle at a Tennessee Waffle House has been formally charged with four counts of criminal homicide and is being held on $2 million bail.
Court records say 29-year-old Travis Reinking was charged Monday. He is due in court Wednesday.
Police say Reinking was wearing a green jacket and nothing else Sunday when he stormed the restaurant in southeast Nashville and opened fire with the military assault-style rifle, first in the parking lot and then inside. Police credited a quick-thinking customer who wrestled the gun away from preventing more bloodshed.
Authorities say Reinking fled the scene after the scuffle with the restaurant patron. The suspect was captured Monday after an intense manhunt with local and federal police officers that lasted more than a day.
And yet, the judge gave him bail. Let’s hope his father (who reportedly returned the assault weapon to his son after the Secret Service took it away during an arrest at the White House) doesn’t raise the money to get him released.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, a golf club called the police on four black women members for allegedly playing too slowly. AP:
“I felt we were discriminated against,” one of the women, Myneca Ojo, told the York Daily Record. “It was a horrific experience.”
Sandra Thompson and four friends met up Saturday to play a round of golf at the Grandview Golf Club, where they are all members, she told the newspaper.
At the second hole, a white man whose son co-owns the club came up to them twice to complain that they weren’t keeping up with the pace of play. Thompson, an attorney and the head of the York chapter of the NAACP, told the newspaper it was untrue.
On the same hole, another member of the group, Sandra Harrison, said she spoke with a Grandview golf pro, who said they were fine since they were keeping pace with the group ahead of them.
Despite that, the women skipped the third hole to avoid any other issues, she said….
The five are part of a larger group of local women known as Sisters in the Fairway. The group has been around for at least a decade, and all of its members are experienced players who have golfed all over the county and world, Thompson said. They’re very familiar with golf etiquette, she said.
After the ninth hole, where it is customary to take a break before continuing on the next nine holes, three of the group decided to leave because they were so shaken up by the earlier treatment, the women told the paper.
Thompson said the man from the second hole, identified as former York County Commissioner Steve Chronister, his son, club co-owner Jordan Chronister and several other white, male employees approached the remaining two women and said they took too long of a break and they needed to leave the course.
Then the police arrived, but they took no action. Read more at the link.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump repeatedly told his followers that he knew “the best people” and would hire the very best to work for his administration. That’s not working out so well.
EPA chief Scott Pruitt is still hanging in there, but for how much longer?
CNBC: Embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt faces public grilling this week as GOP support erodes.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reports to Capitol Hill on Thursday for a pair of hearings on his agency’s 2018 budget proposal, but the embattled Trump deputy is likely to face as many questions about his personal conduct as EPA’s spending priorities.
Since the hearings were announced, revelations about Pruitt’s rental of a Washington apartment linked to an energy lobbyist have sparked a near-daily trickle of reports detailing alleged ethics abuses and lavish spending that have put the EPA chief’s political future in peril.
In just the last few weeks, Pruitt has been accused of retaliating against EPA staff, arranging official trips to fulfill his personal travel whims and orchestrating pay raises for aides in defiance of the White House. The number of investigations into his conduct has expanded to five, and the government’s top watchdog determined last week that the agency violated the law by installing a $43,000 soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office.
The hearings could be a make-or-break moment for Pruitt, who has already sat through a combative Fox News interview that reportedly bruised his standing in the administration. Pruitt goes before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s subcommittee on Environment in the morning and the Committee on Appropriation’s subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies in the afternoon.
And, according to Bloomberg, the White House is telling Republicans not to defend Pruitt.
White House officials are cautioning Republican lawmakers and other conservative allies to temper their defense of Scott Pruitt, according to two people familiar with the discussions, in a sign that administration support for the embattled EPA chief may be waning.
The warnings come as several top GOP lawmakers have stepped forward to publicly criticize Pruitt in recent days, marking a dramatic turn of fortune for one of the most conservative members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet who has been heralded for dismantling Obama-era regulations.
Republicans are now sharpening their criticisms about Pruitt amid a revelation that he met at least once with the lobbyist whose wife rented him a bedroom on Capitol Hill.
Last night the news broke that White House physician Ronny Jackson, Trump’s pick to lead the VA, is in trouble.
The New York Times: Ronny Jackson, Trump’s V.A. Nominee, Faces Claims of Overprescription and Hostile Work Environment.
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is examining allegations that President Trump’s nominee to lead the Veterans Affairs Department oversaw a hostile work environment as the White House physician and allowed the overprescribing of drugs, according to congressional officials briefed on the committee’s work.
They have also received claims that Dr. Ronny L. Jackson drank too much on the job.
The allegations, which have been under investigation since last week, forced the postponement of Dr. Jackson’s confirmation hearing, planned for this Wednesday as senators scrutinize the nominee’s time leading the White House medical staff. Officials familiar with the allegations against Dr. Jackson declined to offer precise details but said that they suggest a pattern of behavior, not just one or two isolated incidents.
How do you “drink too much on the job” at the White House? Shouldn’t any drinking on the job be forbidden?
Dr. Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy who serves as the White House physician, was already expected to face difficult questioning during his testimony before the committee. Last month, Mr. Trump fired his first Veterans Affairs secretary, David J. Shulkin, an experienced hospital administrator and veteran of the V.A. medical system, and then chose Dr. Jackson largely out of personal affinity.
The White House did little or no vetting of his background before announcing his nomination on Twitter. Before serving as a White House physician, Dr. Jackson had deployed as an emergency medicine physician to Taqaddum, Iraq, during the Iraq war.
The Senate only received paperwork from the Trump administration formalizing Dr. Jackson’s nomination last week.
Read more at the NYT. Do you suppose this job could have been a bribe to get Jackson to lie about Trump’s height and weight and the state of his health? Or did Trump knew about the drinking and use it as blackmail?
And then there’s Mike Pompeo, current Director of the CIA and nominee for Secretary of State. Frankly, I think this guy is terrifying; and, unfortunately, it looks like he’ll be confirmed. Here’s some background on Pompeo and his scary religious beliefs:
Michelle Golberg at Slate, January 2017: “This Evil Is All Around Us.” Trump’s pick for the CIA, Mike Pompeo, sees foreign policy as a vehicle for holy war.
In June 2015, Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Kansas congressman, headlined a “God and Country Rally” at Wichita’s Summit Church. “To worship our lord and celebrate our nation at the same place is not only our right, it is our duty,” he began. Pompeo’s speech was a mishmash of domestic culture war callouts and dark warnings about the danger of radical Islam. He cited an inflammatory prayer that a pastor named the Rev. Joe Wright once delivered before the Kansas State Legislature: “America had worshipped other Gods and called it multiculturalism. We’d endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.” He lamented government efforts to “rip faith from our schools” and then segued immediately into a discussion of the jihadi threat: “This evil is all around us.” Pompeo concluded by describing politics as “a never-ending struggle … until the rapture.” [….]
Like Trump, Pompeo has been a fierce critic of efforts to rein in the CIA’s torture program and a champion of keeping Guantanamo Bay open. While in Congress, he was a frequent guest on the radio show of famously paranoid Frank Gaffney, a man disinvited from the right-wing Conservative Political Action Conference after claiming that the Muslim Brotherhood had infiltrated its parent organization, the American Conservative Union. (In the Trump era, Gaffney has been brought in from the cold: After the election, the New York Times reported that he was informally advising Trump’s inner circle on national security hires.) Gaffney once called Pompeo “one of the most intelligent men I know in public life,” and the two see the world similarly. In February 2015, they spoke about President Obama’s use of the term “violent extremism” instead of “radical Islam,” a linguistic choice that some on the right see as a secret message of solidarity with jihad. Gaffney suggested that Obama might be conveying “an affinity” for ISIS’s cause, if not all its tactics: “the raising up of the Muslim Ummah, a grand rebalancing of America’s role in the world.” Pompeo relied, “Frank, every place you stare at the president’s policies and statements, you see what you just described … every policy of this administration has treated America as if we are the problem and not the solution.”
Like Gaffney, Pompeo believes that radical networks have wormed their way into every corner of the country. “There are organizations and networks here in the United States tied to radical Islam in deep and fundamental ways,” he said on Gaffney’s show. “They’re not just in places like Libya and Syria and Iraq, but in places like Coldwater, Kansas, and small towns all throughout America.”
From Vox, March 15, 2018: Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick for secretary of state, talks about politics as a battle of good and evil.
That Pompeo is an evangelical Christian is, on its face, not particularly notable; 25 percentof Americans are. But Pompeo’s specific brand of evangelical Christianity, with its insistence on seeing Muslim-Christian relations as an apocalyptic holy war, makes him an unnerving choice for such a senior foreign policy position.
During his tenure as CIA director, and before that as a member of the House of Representatives, Pompeo has consistently used language that casts the war on terrorism as a cosmic divine battle of good and evil. He’s referred to Islamic terrorists as destined to“continue to press against us until we make sure that we pray and stand and fight and make sure that we know that Jesus Christ is our savior is truly the only solution for our world.”
Pompeo clarified that only a small percentage of Muslims were, in fact, terrorists (although in a 2013 speech, he called them potentially complicit in terrorism). Still, his language echoes a wider point: that the war against terrorism can be fought, in part, with Christian faith.
In other speeches, he’s characterized American domestic politics as a similarly apocalyptic struggle between good and evil, in which other (non-Christian) faiths and political views were signs of cultural decay. He cited a sermon previously delivered by Pastor Joe Wright in front of the Kansas state legislature: “‘America had worshipped other Gods and called it multiculturalism. We’d endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle.’” Sources inside the CIA told Foreign Policy that Pompeo’s speeches within the CIA are no less loaded with explicitly religious language.
Please go read the rest.
Now, what else is happening? What stories are you following today?
Posted: January 7, 2017 Filed under: Barack Obama, Foreign Affairs, morning reads, Republican politics, U.S. Politics | Tags: CIA, Donald Trump, intelligence community, Russian cyberattacks, Vladimir Putin
This apt visual analogy has been going around Twitter for a couple of days.
It’s just under two weeks until President Obama steps down and the Kremlin controls our government. Congressional Republicans are salivating–dreaming of taking away health care from millions of people and finally destroying Medicare and Social Security. They just can’t wait to destroy everything President Obama has accomplished, crash the economy again, and destroy as many jobs as they possibly can–all while claiming they are doing good work.
The New York Times: Erasing Obama, by Timothy Egan.
And Obama? He bequeaths the incoming president “the longest economic expansion and monthly job creation in history,” as my colleague Andrew Ross Sorkin noted. Trump, the pumpkin-haired rooster taking credit for the dawn, has already tried to seize a bit of that achievement as his own. Thanks, Obama. But he’s also likely to screw it up, perhaps by a trade war, or a budget-busting tax cut.
Already, Trump has flirted with treason, flouted conflict-of-interest rules, bullied dissidents and blown off the advice of seasoned public servants. He has yet to hold a news conference since winning the election. And did another day just pass without a word of the promise to “reveal things that other people don’t know” about Russian interference with our election? Maybe he’s waiting for more whispers in his ear from the Kremlin
n advance of his farewell adIdress next week, the president has tried to Trump-proof a climate pact that commits the world’s second leading producer of earth-warming pollutants — the United States — to making this little orb of ours a less perilous place for Sasha’s and Malia’s and Ivanka’s kids. Trump has promised to go rogue on the planet, as quickly as he can.
Until Day 1, Trump is just a 70-year-old man with a twitchy Twitter account. But on Jan. 20, he becomes what Grover Norquist wished for in a pliantly conservative president: “A Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen.”
With that pen, the new president can take health care from 20 million Americans, free Wall Street to once again wildly speculate and smash things up for the rest of us, and require schools to let people carry guns into classrooms — all campaign promises.
Please read the whole thing at the NYT.
Fortunately, the intelligence community has stated conclusively that Vladimir Putin ordered his cyberspies to interfere with the election. At this point, tRump can only be seen as an illegitimate POTUS. Unfortunately, tRump is threatening to neuter the intelligence community. He doesn’t need their help, because he gets his orders from Russia. If you think I’m just joking, look what intelligence expert Malcolm Nance had to say about it.
If that doesn’t scare every sane American, nothing will.
Nance published a book months ago about the Russian attack on our democracy, and it’s very similar to the report the intelligence community just issued. It’s fascinating reading, with lots of historical background on Russia’s spying activities.
This is from an ad at Yahoo News, but it’s a good summary of the book: Malcolm Nance, US intelligence expert, delivered Russian hacking details months before the CIA’s report.
In The Plot to Hack America, published one month before the election, New York Times bestselling author and MSNBC contributor Malcolm Nance not only identifies the hackers as Russian but digs deep into the biggest political scandal since Watergate.
In April of 2016, computer technicians at the Democratic National Committee discovered that someone had accessed the organization’s computer servers, learn more about cloud servers at Salesforce.com. In the days and weeks that followed, they learned that the cyberthieves had helped themselves to everything: sensitive documents, emails, donor information, even voicemails. Nance’s investigations led him to none other than Russia’s spy service. Their method: A new hybrid cyber warfare called Kompromat.
In The Plot to Hack America, we learn how technicians discovered that Russia’s spy agency was responsible for the hack, how the Russians have devastated individuals, political groups, and entire nations with their cybercrimes, and how they may have cultivated Donald Trump as an unwitting “asset” to facilitate their ultimate foreign policy goals: disband NATO, dominate Eastern Europe, and replace America as the world’s superpower.
But why would Vladimir Putin want to tip the scales of an American election? Nance follows the fascinating real-life spy story through a labyrinth of cyber espionage, the history of Russia’s spy services, and Vladimir Putin’s rise through the KGB from junior officer to spy-in-chief. And he details Donald Trump’s many disturbing personal associations with Putin and Russia’s oligarchy, as well as Trump’s loose affiliation of advisors nicknamed “the Kremlin Crew.”
The Plot to Hack America reads like a spy thriller, but it’s all too real.
I highly recommend it.
Fortunately, the intelligence community has stated conclusively that Vladimir Putin ordered his cyberspies to interfere with the election. Unfortunately tRump is threatening to neuter the intelligence community. He doesn’t need their help, because he gets his orders from Russia. If you think I’m just joking, look what intelligence expert Malcolm Nance had to say about it.
Now check this out from WaPo conservative columnist Kathleen Parker: If Obama is a Muslim, is Trump a Russian spy?
No, I don’t really think he’s a spy because, unlike the man himself, I’m not given to crazy ideas. But what’s with this double standard? Under similar circumstances, how long do you think it would have taken for Obama to be called a traitor for defending a country that tried to thwart our democratic electoral process?
How surreal to realize that the man who soon will become president was long committed to a rumor soaked in paranoia and propagated by conspiracy theorists whose pursuit of truth stops at the point where facts and willful ignorance collide.
How perfectly terrifying.
And now? What is so obviously a conspiracy of Russian leadership, hackers and spies, Trump has repeatedly dismissed as lousy intelligence. Why would he do such a thing? Is it that he’s so thin-skinned he can’t tolerate anyone thinking that he might have benefited from the cyberattack? Or is it that he knew about it in advance and doesn’t want to be found out? This is how conspiracy theories get started. Then again, sometimes a conspiracy is just a conspiracy — and a fool is just a fool.
Actually, there’s little doubt that tRump is at least an unwitting tool of Putin; and if you look at his top advisers and cabinet choices, it seems quite likely that there was collusion between Russian spies and the tRump campaign.
David Remnick: Trump, Putin and the Big Hack.
Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s foreign minister, once remarked while on a trip to Berlin in the early days of the Cold War, “The trouble with free elections is that you never know how they will turn out.”
On the morning of November 9th, Molotov’s grandson, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of the Russian Duma’s foreign-affairs committee, announced to the parliament, “Three minutes ago, Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the American Presidential elections. And just this second Donald Trump began his speech as President-elect.” The Duma members cheered and applauded.
In the days to come, there were more declarations of acid satisfaction among the Russian élite. Dmitri Kiselyov, the host of “News of the Week,” a popular current-affairs show on state-controlled television, gloated over Trump’s victory and Barack Obama’s inability to prevent it. Obama, he said, was a “eunuch.” Trump was an “alpha male”—and one who showed mercy to his vanquished rival. “Trump could have put the blonde in prison, as he’d threatened in the televised debates,” Kiselyov said on his show. “On the other hand, it’s nothing new. Trump has left blond women satisfied all his life.” Kiselyov further praised Trump because the concepts of democracy and human rights “are not in his lexicon.” In India, Turkey, Europe, and now the United States, he declared, “the liberal idea is in ruins.”
Vladimir Putin did not showboat, but he, too, made his satisfaction plain. His spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, told reporters that the similarity between Trump and Putin’s “conceptual approach to foreign policy” was “phenomenal.” Trump’s victory was the basis for Russia’s “moderate optimism”; now both sides could discuss how “to clear out the Augean stables in our bilateral relations.”
All of this is all the more alarming to recall now, in the light of the latest news: according to U.S. intelligence reports, Putin “ordered an influence campaign” to undermine Clinton and work with “a clear preference” to enhance Trump’s prospects.
Read the rest at The New Yorker.
Finally, Former CIA Director Michael Morell at The New York Times: Trump’s Dangerous Anti-C.I.A. Crusade.
WHEN I wrote in August 2016, in this newspaper, that Donald J. Trump’s character traits posed a national security threat, I didn’t imagine that the first manifestation of that dynamic could play out with the very organization where I spent the first 33 years of my career, the Central Intelligence Agency.
President-elect Trump’s public rejection of the C.I.A., and by extension the rest of the country’s intelligence community, over the assessment that Russia interfered in our presidential election is not only an unprecedented political challenge for our national security establishment — it is a danger to the nation.
While Mr. Trump’s statement on Friday that he had a constructive meeting with senior intelligence officials on the Russian hacking issue was a step in the right direction, his disparagement of American intelligence officers over the last few months is likely to cause significant damage to the C.I.A.
Mr. Trump has questioned the agency’s competence — repeatedly asking, often via Twitter, how we can trust the organization that incorrectly judged that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (criticism that, in my mind, is unfair for an agency that has changed dramatically in the last 15 years). But he has also accused the agency of being biased and political, implying, in comments to The Times, that the C.I.A. manufactured its Russia analysis to undercut him. Mr. Trump, in essence, said that the agency’s officers were dishonorable. To the men and women of the C.I.A., sworn to protect the nation, this was a gut punch.
Mr. Trump’s behavior will weaken the agency, an organization that has never been more relevant to our nation’s security. The key national security issues of the day — terrorism; proliferation; cyberespionage, crime and war; and the challenges to the global order posed by Russia, Iran and China — all require first-rate intelligence for a commander in chief to understand them, settle on a policy and carry it out.
Please read the whole thing if you haven’t already.
More News, Links Only
NBC News: U.S. Ethics Office Struggled to Gain Access to Trump Team, Emails Show.
Joe Conason: Investigate The Hackers — And Ignore Trump’s Chaff.
Newsweek: JORDAN TELLS TRUMP: MOVING U.S. EMBASSY TO JERUSALEM A ‘RED LINE.’
Washington Post: Hill Republicans embrace building of border wall, despite cost.
NewJersey.com: N.J. aunt of Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting suspect: ‘He lost his mind’ in Iraq.
New York Times: Jared Kushner, a Trump In-Law and Adviser, Chases a Chinese Deal.
Now I have to get back to packing for my move. Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers!
Posted: December 12, 2016 Filed under: morning reads | Tags: CIA, Paul Krugman, Russia Hack, Senate Intelligence Committee, Trump, Van Jones
Just practicing my rusty college Russian which I’ve mostly forgotten so I’ll be able to keep up when they send me to the gulag for the intelligentsia. My selection of paintings today are from Archibald Motley who painted Black Americans during the jazz age. I’m celebrating uniquely American creativity while I can too … none of this derivative crap like the likes of Kid Rock who delivers ripped off riffs to his meth-headed mofos.
Motley was like many other Louisiana Black folks who moved up the river to Chicago with their families to find a better life. His father was a Pullman porter which was one of the better paying jobs that a black man could get during that period of time.
Though Motley received a full scholarship to study architecture at the Armour Institute of Technology (now the Illinois Institute of Technology) and though his father had hoped that he would pursue a career in architecture, he applied to and was accepted at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he studied painting. In 1917, while still a student, Motley showed his work in the exhibition Paintings by Negro Artists held at a Chicago YMCA. That year he also worked with his father on the railroads and managed to fit in sketching while they traveled cross-country.
Upon graduating from the Art Institute in 1918, Motley took odd jobs to support himself while he made art. An idealist, he was influenced by the writings of black reformer and sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois and Harlem Renaissance leader Alain Locke and believed that art could help to end racial prejudice. At the same time, he recognized that African American artists were overlooked and undersupported, and he was compelled to write “
The Negro in Art,” an essay on the limitations placed on black artists that was printed in the July 6, 1918, edition of the influential Chicago Defender, a newspaper by and for African Americans. The long and violent Chicago race riot of 1919, though it postdated his article, likely strengthened his convictions.
Motley was a WPA painter during the Great Depression. One of his murals hangs in the post office of Wood River Illinois. Wood River is part of the Greater St. Louis area. It’s painted in a distinctly different style from the beautiful, brightly colored paintings with so much energy that I’ve posted here.
Here are some links you may want to read.
A bipartisan group of electors led by Nancy Pelosi’s daughter Christine has asked for a briefing from the CIA on Russia’s interference in the election in support of Orangeholio. There is concern about how deep the connections go between the Trump Campaign and the country hostile to US interests.
The letter is signed by electors from five states and the District of Columbia. In addition to Christine Pelosi — a California elector — it includes a signature from one former members of Congress: New Hampshire’s Carol Shea-Porter.
Shea-Porter’s three other New Hampshire colleagues — Terie Norelli, Bev Hollingsworth and Dudley Dudley — also signed the letter. D.C. Councilwoman Anita Bonds, former Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Clay Pell and Maryland activist Courtney Watson round out the nine Democratic signatories. Colorado Democratic elector Micheal Baca, leader of an effort to turn the Electoral College against Trump, is also on the list. Texas’ Chris Suprun, an emergency responder who has been a vocal critic of Trump, is the only Republican elector to sign on.
“Yes, we the Electors should have temporary security clearance to perform our constitutional duty in reviewing the facts regarding outside interference in the US election and the intelligence agencies should declassify as much data as possible while protecting sources and methods so that the American people can learn the truth about our election,” said Pelosi.
Though the letter doesn’t explicitly endorse a separate effort by electors in Colorado, Washington and California to stop Trump from winning the presidency, it represents the latest effort by Democratic electors to look to the Electoral College as a possible bulwark against a Trump presidency. The letter follows on the heels of two Democratic congressmen — David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Jim Himes of Connecticut — who suggested this weekend that the Electoral College should consider whether to block Trump’s election.
Hillary Clinton, her top advisers and former President Bill Clinton, who’s an elector from New York, have remained notably silent on the various Electoral College machinations.
Van Jones is launching an “army” to go after electors to stop Orangeholio.
Van Jones is now running a PR firm that is dead set on defeating Trump in the Electoral College. That’s right, Van Jones is actively courting Republican electors to vote against Trump on December 19th.
The firm, called Megaphone Strategies, is currently handling all media inquiries for the first official anti-Trump elector Chris Suprun. But the firm is also in working with other Republican electors, so while Trump has been helping his billionaire friends Van Jones has been raising an anti-Trump “army.”
“Tight around Trump is a little hate army — not every Trump voter — but tight around him is a little hate army of very cynical, nasty people who took over our government,” Jones said. “We have to build a massive Love Army that can take the country and the government back in a better direction.”
While Senator John McCain considers the Russian hacking to be an “form of warfare”, Mitch McConnell refuses to convene a Senate panel saying the Senate Intelligence Committee can handle any investigation.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
(R-Ky.) on Monday said recent findings by the CIA that the Russian government tied to influence the U.S. presidential election should be investigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Calling the allegations of Russian meddling “disturbing,” McConnell said the intelligence panel should take the lead, dismissing calls by Sen. John McCain
(R-Ariz.) and others for a special select committee to review the matter.
He said the Intelligence Committee is “more than capable of conducting a complete review of this matter.”
“We’re going to follow the regular order. It’s an important subject and we intend to review it on a bipartisan basis,” he said.
McConnell noted that he sits on the panel as an ex officio member and that incoming Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer
(N.Y.) will soon join it in the same capacity.
He also said that McCain will be conducting his own review of cybersecurity threats facing the nation as chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
“Sen. McCain and Sen. Burr will both be looking at this issue and doing it on a bipartisan basis,” he said, referring to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr
Jason Miller, a spokesman for President-elect Donald Trump
, said he was unsure of the last time Trump and McConnell spoke, but dismissed efforts to investigate Russian interference in the election as coming from “people who are bitter their candidate lost.”
This entire story and the weird conspiracy theories are unfolding minute by minute. Paul Krugman’s Op ed on the “Tainted Election” is a must read.
The C.I.A., according to The Washington Post, has now determined that hackers working for the Russian government worked to tilt the 2016 election to Donald Trump. This has actually been obvious for months, but the agency was reluctant to state that conclusion before the election out of fear that it would be seen as taking a political role.
Meanwhile, the F.B.I. went public 10 days before the election, dominating headlines and TV coverage across the country with a letter strongly implying that it might be about to find damning new evidence against Hillary Clinton — when it turned out, literally, to have found nothing at all.
Did the combination of Russian and F.B.I. intervention swing the election? Yes. Mrs. Clinton lost three states – Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania – by less than a percentage point, and Florida by only slightly more. If she had won any three of those states, she would be president-elect. Is there any reasonable doubt that Putin/Comey made the difference?
And it wouldn’t have been seen as a marginal victory, either. Even as it was, Mrs. Clinton received almost three million more votes than her opponent, giving her a popular margin close to that of George W. Bush in 2004.
So this was a tainted election. It was not, as far as we can tell, stolen in the sense that votes were counted wrong, and the result won’t be overturned. But the result was nonetheless illegitimate in important ways; the victor was rejected by the public, and won the Electoral College only thanks to foreign intervention and grotesquely inappropriate, partisan behavior on the part of domestic law enforcement.
This is getting interesting. Electors meet on the 19th. That’s not a lot of time. Whose hair is on fire? I do know this. We may be asking this question for some time: “Why Didn’t Obama Reveal Intel About Russia’s Influence on the Election? His decision may have cost Clinton the presidency.”
The CIA only shared its latest findings with top senators last week, the Postreported, but it’s not clear when the agency made the determination. In an interview with MSNBC on Saturday, however, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid—who is known for making bold accusations—said FBI Director Jim Comey has known about Russia’s ambitions “for a long time,” but didn’t release that information.
If that’s true, why didn’t the Obama administration push to release it earlier?
For one, the White House was probably afraid of looking like it was tipping the scale in Hillary Clinton’s favor, especially in an election that her opponent repeatedly described as rigged. Though Obama stumped for Clinton around the country, the administration didn’t want to open him up to attacks that he unfairly used intelligence to undermine Trump’s campaign, the Post reported.
Instead, top White House officials gathered key lawmakers—leadership from the House and Senate, plus the top Democrats and Republicans from both houses’ intelligence and homeland security committees—to ask for a bipartisan condemnation of Russia’s meddling. The effort was stymied by several Republicans who weren’t willing to cooperate, including, reportedly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. (On Sunday morning, a bipartisan statement condemning the hacks came from incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Jack Reed, a Democrat, and Republicans John McCain and Lindsey Graham.)
It’s also possible that the administration, like most pollsters and pundits, was overconfident in its assessment that Clinton would win the election. Officials may have been more willing to lob incendiary accusations—and risk setting off a serious political or cyber conflict with Russia—if they had thought Trump had a good chance to win.
The silence from the White House and the CIA was a stark contrast to the Comey’s announcement just weeks before the election that it was examining new documents related to its investigation into Clinton’s emails.
I’m still really upset and I’m just going moment by moment and day by day. How can this being happening to us?
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Posted: December 1, 2016 Filed under: Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: anxiety and depression, CIA, Donald Trump, India, Iran deal, John Brennan, magic mushrooms, Pakistan, psilocybin, Russia, Tennessee wildfires, US Office of Government Ethics
Blue Girl Reading, Auguste Macke
Today is my birthday. I don’t feel much like celebrating, but I’m being lazy so I don’t know when this post will go up.
The wildfires in Tennessee are a real disaster. I’m hoping our beloved ANonOMouse and her family are still safe.
NBC News: Seven Deaths Confirmed as Smokies Wildfires Spread in Tennessee.
Officials were continuing to assess the damage Thursday from a ferocious wildfire that erupted across Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park more than a week ago, killing at least seven people and gutting over 700 structures.
Drenching rain on Wednesday helped firefighters beat back the massive blaze, which still burned more than 15,650 acres and was about 10 percent contained, according to the Southern Area Incident Management Team, which assumed command of the fire.
Rescue operations have been slowed by mud and rockslides caused by the wet weather.
“The rain we received may have slowed this fire for a day or two at a critical time, but the threat from this fire is still there,” the team said.
While large swaths of the national park were ravaged, the wind-whipped flames also reached the neighboring Appalachian tourist meccas of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.
Maid reading in a library, Edouard John Mentha
Efforts to pinpoint the cause of deadly wildfires that engulfed two popular tourist towns outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park and shut down one of the country’s most popular natural attractions focused Thursday on their devastating path through East Tennessee, where officials said at least seven people were dead and hundreds of buildings have burned.
Several people remained missing Thursday, and at least 53 people have been treated for injuries at hospitals, though their conditions were not known.
The fires are estimated to have damaged or destroyed more than 700 homes and businesses throughout Sevier County — nearly half of them in the city of Gatlinburg. Additionally, thousands of wooded acres have burned in the most-visited national park in America.
Park Superintendent Cassius Cash said that the first fires, spotted last week, were “likely to be human-caused.”
As people throughout Sevier County tried to return to their routines Thursday, some schools were still closed and access to Gatlinburg remained limited.
The story doesn’t give anymore information about the suspected causes of the fires.
Girl in grey, Louis le Brocquy
The psychedelic drug in “magic mushrooms” can quickly and effectively help treat anxiety and depression in cancer patients, an effect that may last for months, two small studies show.
It worked for Dinah Bazer, who endured a terrifying hallucination that rid her of the fear that her ovarian cancer would return. And for Estalyn Walcoff, who says the drug experience led her to begin a comforting spiritual journey.
The work released Thursday is preliminary and experts say more definitive research must be done on the effects of the substance, called psilocybin (sih-loh-SY’-bihn).
But the record so far shows “very impressive results,” said Dr. Craig Blinderman, who directs the adult palliative care service at the Columbia University Medical Center/New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He didn’t participate in the work.
Psilocybin, also called shrooms, purple passion and little smoke, comes from certain kinds of mushrooms. It is illegal in the U.S., and if the federal government approves the treatment, it would be administered in clinics by specially trained staff, experts say….
Psychedelic drugs have looked promising in the past for treating distress in cancer patients. But studies of medical use of psychedelics stopped in the early 1970s after a regulatory crackdown on the drugs, following their widespread recreational use. It has slowly resumed in recent years.
So people stop using drugs to recreational use, at least legally by the doctors, but the people still take all kind of drugs and supplements that help them with their body or gaining muscle or losing weight like plexus slim, which help them with all the above.
Griffiths said it’s not clear whether psilocybin would work outside of cancer patients, although he suspects it might work in people facing other terminal conditions. Plans are also underway to study it in depression that resists standard treatment, he said.
Have you heard about the conversation #tRump had with the prime minster of Pakistan? Yes, the president-elect is still talkingto foreign leaders on his personal phone without benefit of intelligence briefings or background information from the State Department.
Chair Car, Edward Hopper
Time Magazine: Donald Trump’s Phone Conversation With the Leader of Pakistan Was Reckless and Bizarre.
There are few foreign policy topics quite as complicated as the relationship between India and Pakistan, South Asia’s nuclear-armed nemeses. Any world leader approaching the issue even obliquely must surely see the “Handle With Care” label from miles away, given the possibility of nuclear conflict.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, however, doesn’t seem to have read the memo, injecting a pronounced element of uncertainty about the position of the world’s only remaining superpower on this most complex of subjects in a call with the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
According to a readout of the conversation from the Pakistani authorities, he apparently agreed to visit the country and said he was “ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.” He reportedly added: “You are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way.”
The hilarity of his hyperbole aside, Trump’s intervention could have serious consequences for both regional and global stability.
Do you suppose #tRump knows that both Pakistan and India have nukes and they hate each others’ guts? Anyway, read the rest at the link. Here’s the full readout of the call from Pakistan’s press information site. The Trump people don’t bother to provide any information about the god-emperor’s phone calls.
Girl Reading, Jacob Chapiro
Yesterday the CIA head John Brennan tried to give #tRump some foreign policy suggestions via an interview with the BBC. The New York Times reports: C.I.A. Chief Warns Donald Trump Against Tearing Up Iran Nuclear Deal.
LONDON — The director of the C.I.A. has issued a stark warning to President-elect Donald J. Trump: Tearing up the Iran nuclear dealwould be “the height of folly” and “disastrous.”
During the election campaign, Mr. Trump railed against the deal, calling it a disaster and pledging to “dismantle” the historic accord, reached in 2015, in which Tehran agreed to limits on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international oil and financial sanctions.
Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas, a Republican whom Mr. Trump has chosen to succeed John O. Brennan as head of the C.I.A., wrote in mid-November on Twitter, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”
But in an interview with the BBC that was published on its website on Wednesday, Mr. Brennan warned that scrapping the nuclear deal would undermine American foreign policy, embolden hard-liners in Iran and threaten to set off an arms race in the Middle East by encouraging other countries to develop nuclear weapons.
“First of all, for one administration to tear up an agreement that a previous administration made would be unprecedented,” Mr. Brennan said in the BBC interview, which the broadcaster said was the first by a C.I.A. director with the British news media. “I think it would be the height of folly if the next administration were to tear up that agreement.”
Mr. Trump has professed admiration for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, calling him a strong leader, and promised closer relations with Moscow, but Mr. Brennan, who was appointed by President Obama and will step down in January after four years, warned that the incoming http://Loanovao needed to be skeptical about the Kremlin.
“I think President Trump and the new administration need to be wary of Russian promises,” he told the BBC, reiterating the widely held view that Russia had carried out hacking during the United States election and blaming Moscow for the deteriorating situation in Syria.
More at the link. #tRump supposedly reads the NYT; will he pay attention? Probably not.
Women reading, Robert Breyer
Some analysis from Vox: CIA Director John Brennan tells the BBC that Trump’s ideas are terrible.
On Wednesday morning, the BBC published excerpts from an interview with CIA Director John Brennan, the first time a serving head of America’s best-known spy agency has sat down with the British media, according to the BBC. Brennan’s comments are, unmistakably, a shot at Donald Trump. He calls Trump’s proposal to scrap the Iran deal “disastrous,” warns that “the overwhelming majority of CIA officers” oppose Trump’s call to bring back torture of suspected terrorists, and says the famously Putin-sympathetic Trump should “beware Russian promises.”
Brennan is stepping down from the CIA leadership on January 20, so he’ll never have to deal with President Trump directly. That means he’s free to do something as brazen as trash the incoming president on one of the world’s most-watched TV channels.
If you take a deeper look at Brennan’s comments, you start to realize that he’s expressing criticisms of Trump policies that are widely held in the foreign policy community.
Take his attack on Trump’s approach to the Iran deal, which Brennan calls “the height of folly.” He warns that doing so would allow Iran to simply restart its nuclear program.
This, as my colleague Zeeshan Aleem explains, is the consensus among even anti-deal experts and policymakers. That’s because of the way the deal is structured: Iran has already gotten the sanctions relief it was promised, but has yet to fully comply with the terms of the deal that dismantle its nuclear program. If Trump were to scrap the deal on day one, Iran would have everything it wanted without having to give up too much. It would have billions of new dollars as well, and a free hand to build a nuke without pesky international inspectors.
Brennan’s position on Russia is another good example. His argument is that the Obama administration’s negotiations with Russia have mostly failed to alter Moscow’s worst behavior — for example, its slaughtering of civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo and bombing of the moderate opposition looking to unseat Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.
Intelligence officials have been reduced to trying to communicate with a madman through the media. Please go over to Vox and read the rest.
Young lady reading, Mary Cassatt
You probably heard that #tRump drove someone at the Office of Government Ethics Office to nervous breakdown yesterday. Slate: Federal Ethics Agency Spent the Afternoon Sarcastically Praising Donald Trump.
The U.S. Office of Government Ethics, as its name suggests, interprets and advises federal officials on the ethics laws and rules designed to help keep them honest. “When government decisions are made free from conflicts of interest, the public can have greater confidence in the integrity of executive branch programs and operations,” its mission statement admirably declares. Given what likely awaits the agency in less than two months’ time, it understandably had some, um, thoughts on Donald Trump’s vague, predawn Twitter announcement that he will be “leaving his great business” to focus on the presidency….
Remarkably, those exclamation-filled tweets from a normally staid Twitter account don’t appear to be the result of a hack. “Like everyone else, we were excited this morning to read the President-elect’s twitter feed indicating he wants to be free of conflicts of interest,” agency spokesman Seth Jaffe said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. He added: “We don’t know the details of their plan, but we are willing and eager to help them with it.”
A few of the tweets (see the rest at Slate):
That’s it for me today. Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy the rest of your Thursday!
Posted: December 19, 2014 Filed under: Barack Obama, Foreign Affairs, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: "Team America, "The Interview", Andrew Pietrowski, Art Acevedo, Austin PD, CIA, cuba, cyber attacks, cyber warfare, FBI, Hillary Clinton, Hollywood cowardice, Joy Diaz, kim jong il, Kim Jong Un, North Korea, Secret Service, Sexism, Sony Pictures, World Police", Zero Dark Thirty
I’m quite a bit behind schedule this morning. I’m still in Indiana with my Mom, and we had to have some workmen come by this morning. I’m also trying to get organized for my drive back to Boston over the weekend, so I’m somewhat tired and stressed out.
Anyway, I’m working on a post that I will put up either later today or when I get back home. For now, here’s a TGIF link dump/open thread.
Today’s top stories
The Sony Hack is getting lots of attention.
NYT editorial, Sony and Mr. Kim’s Thugs. Here’s the gist:
Corporations, even large ones like Sony, cannot stand up to a rogue state and shadowy hacker armies all by themselves. That’s why the Obama administration needs to take a strong stand on this and future attacks. Officials said on Thursday that they were considering a “proportional response.”
Retaliation by the Obama administration over this attack would risk escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and between North Korea and Japan, where Sony’s corporate parent is based. However, there are things the United States can do. Although there are already heavy sanctions on North Korea, there may be ways to inflict more economic pain.
Washington could seek an international panel to investigate the attack and demand condemnation by the United Nations Security Council. The United States also needs to work with Japan and South Korea, two other regular targets of North Korean hacking, to improve their defenses and develop common responses like imposing sanctions.
China, North Korea’s main ally and benefactor, remains the best check on the Kim regime; experts say most North Korean hackers are based in China. But China has its own history of hacking American government and industry computers and has resisted Washington’s requests for talks on how to handle hacking attacks and their aftermath.
The international community needs to speed up work on norms on what constitutes a cyberattack and what the response should be. If China and the United States are unable to work together in this critical area, the Internet will become a free-for-all and everyone will pay the price.
CNN, Watch out world: North Korea deep into cyber warfare, defector says.
Jang Se-yul, who defected from North Korea seven years ago, told CNN that he thinks there are 1,800 cyberwarriors in the agency stationed around the world. But he says even the agents themselves don’t know how many others work for the secretive group, called Bureau 121, whose mission is to “conduct cyberattacks against overseas and enemy states.”
The South Korean government thinks Bureau 121 is the agency at the heart of numerous cyberattacks from North Korea against elements in foreign countries, a government official who requested to be anonymous told CNN on Thursday.
North Korea’s hacking capabilities have become a global talking point recently, after a massive hack of Sony Pictures — the studio behind “The Interview,” a comedy depicting the assassination of Pyongyang’s leader, Kim Jong Un. That was followed by warnings that the movie not be shown in theaters…
CNN, Washington outraged over Sony decision.
From Hollywood to Washington, the outrage is spreading over Sony Pictures’ decision to cancel a movie release following a cyber attack and threats from a group of North Korea-backed hackers.
Politicians urged Sony not to back down in the face of threats tied to the release of the controversial comedy “The Interview,” and then began lashing out when the studio made it clear it has no further plans to release the film, which depicts an assassination plot against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un….
FBI investigators tracked the hackers who broke into Sony’s servers, published private information and threatened moviegoers back to the North Korean regime, U.S. law enforcement officials told CNN on Wednesday. The North Korean regime slammed the movie this summer as “terrorism and a war action.”
And despite the hackers’ threat to attack movie theaters, the Department of Homeland Security has said “there is no credible intelligence” supporting an active plot against movie theaters.
Deadline Hollywood, Hollywood Cowardice: George Clooney Explains Why Sony Stood Alone In North Korean Cyberterror Attack.
EXCLUSIVE: As it begins to dawn on everyone in Hollywood the reality that Sony Pictures was the victim of a cyberterrorist act perpetrated by a hostile foreign nationon American soil, questions will be asked about how and why it happened, ending with Sony cancelling the theatrical release of the satirical comedy The Interviewbecause of its depiction of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. One of those issues will be this: Why didn’t anybody speak out while Sony Pictures chiefs Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton were embarrassed by emails served up by the media, bolstering the credibility of hackers for when they attached as a cover letter to Lynton’s emails a threat to blow up theaters if The Interview was released?
Read the interview with Clooney at the link.
The Daily Beast, Paramount Bans Showing ‘Team America’.
Three movie theaters say Paramount Pictures has ordered them not to show Team America: World Police one day after Sony Pictures surrendered to cyberterrorists and pulled The Interview. The famous Alamo Drafthouse in Texas, Capitol Theater in Cleveland, and Plaza Atlanta in Atlanta said they would screen the movie instead of The Interview, but Paramount has ordered them to stop. (No reason was apparently given and Paramount hasn’t spoken.)Team America of course features Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il, as a singing marionette.
Apparently, both Team America: World Police and The Interview are chock full of racist memes about Asians.
North Korea Is Not Funny. Let’s be clear: The Interview isn’t a courageous act of defiance against a dictator, by Adrien Hong at The Atlantic.
In recent months, the uproar over The Interview, a comedy about assassinating North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has triggered an escalating set of reactions: retaliatory threats from North Korean officials; a sophisticated cyberattack on Sony Pictures, reportedly orchestrated by North Korea; a pledge by the hackers to physically attack theaters showing the film; and now, on Wednesday, Sony’s decision to cancel the movie’s December 25 release altogether, as movie-theater chains began backing out of screenings. The latest development is an act of craven self-censorship and appeasement—a troubling precedent by the Free World’s leading culture-makers. But rightful calls to defend freedom of expression and go ahead with the movie are also mixing with a far more dubious strain of thinking: that the film itself is a form of defiance against a dictatorial regime. It is not.
Kim Jong Il puppet from “Team America World Police.”
In The Interview, directed by the Canadian comics Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, a celebrity journalist (James Franco) and his producer (Rogen), tired of producing meaningless content, score a major scoop: an interview with Kim Jong Un (Randall Park). The CIA learns about the trip and recruits the two to kill the leader—a task that, judging from reports and leaked footage, someone eventually succeeds in doing.
This film is not an act of courage. It is not a stand against totalitarianism, concentration camps, mass starvation, or state-sponsored terror. It is, based on what we know of the movie so far, simply a comedy, made by a group of talented actors, writers, and directors, and intended, like most comedies, to make money and earn laughs. The movie would perhaps have been better off with a fictitious dictator and regime; instead, it appears to serve up the latest in a long line of cheap and sometimes racism-tinged jokes, stretching from Team America: World Police to ongoing sketches on Saturday Night Live.
It’s a thoughtful article. I need to go back and give it a careful read.
In other news . . .
Bloomberg View, Hillary Clinton Secretly Pushed Cuba Deal for Years, by Josh Rogin.
Although President Barack Obama is taking the credit for Wednesday’s historic deal to reverse decades of U.S. policy toward Cuba, when Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, she was the main architect of the new policy and pushed far harder for a deal than the Obama White House.
From 2009 until her departure in early 2013, Clinton and her top aides took the lead on the sometimes public, often private interactions with the Cuban government. According to current and former White House and State Department officials and several Cuba policy experts who were involved in the discussions, Clinton was also the top advocate inside the government for ending travel and trade restrictions on Cuba and reversing 50 years of U.S. policy to isolate the Communist island nation. Repeatedly, she pressed the White House to move faster and faced opposition from cautious high-ranking White House officials.
After Obama announced the deal Wednesday, which included the release of aid contractor Alan Gross, Clinton issued a supportive statement distributed by the National Security Council press team. “As Secretary of State, I pushed for his release, stayed in touch with Alan’s wife Judy and their daughters, and called for a new direction in Cuba,” she said. “Despite good intentions, our decades-long policy of isolation has only strengthened the Castro regime’s grip on power.”
But according to the progs, Hillary is a triangulating warmonger. Hmmmmm . . .
ABC News, 5 Sweeping Changes Recommended for Secret Service After Fence Jumper Enters WH.
A bipartisan, independent panel scrutinizing the U.S. Secret Service after a man with a small knife in his pocket jumped the perimeter fence and made it deep inside the White House is recommending sweeping changes at the agency.
The Secret Service’s “paramount mission” of protecting the president and other high-ranking officials “allows no tolerance for error,” and a “single miscue, or even a split-second delay, could have disastrous consequences for the nation and the world,” warns the panel’s final report, commissioned by DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson after the September breach.
Read the recommendations at the link.
The New Yorker, The Unidentified Queen of Torture, by Jane Mayer.
The NBC News investigative reporter Matthew Cole has pieced together a remarkable story revealing that a single senior officer, who is still in a position of high authority over counterterrorism at the C.I.A.—a woman who he does not name—appears to have been a source of years’ worth of terrible judgment, with tragic consequences for the United States. Her story runs through the entire report. She dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.
Had the Senate Intelligence Committee been permitted to use pseudonyms for the central characters in its report, as all previous congressional studies of intelligence failures, including the widely heralded Church Committee report in 1975, have done, it might not have taken a painstaking, and still somewhat cryptic, investigation after the fact in order for the American public to hold this senior official accountable. Many people who have worked with her over the years expressed shock to NBC that she has been entrusted with so much power. A former intelligence officer who worked directly with her is quoted by NBC, on background, as saying that she bears so much responsibility for so many intelligence failures that “she should be put on trial and put in jail for what she has done.”
Instead, however, she has been promoted to the rank of a general in the military, most recently working as the head of the C.I.A.’s global-jihad unit. In that perch, she oversees the targeting of terror suspects around the world. (She was also, in part, the model for the lead character in “Zero Dark Thirty.”)
According to sources in the law-enforcement community who I have interviewed over the years, and who I spoke to again this week, this woman—whose name the C.I.A. has asked the news media to withhold—had supervision over an underling at the agency who failed to share with the F.B.I. the news that two of the future 9/11 hijackers had entered the United States prior to the terrorist attacks. As I recount in my book “The Dark Side,” the C.I.A. got wind that one of these Al Qaeda operatives, Khalid al-Mihdhar, had obtained a multiple-entry visa into the United States eighteen months before 9/11. The agency also learned, months before the attacks, that another Al Qaeda operative, Nawaf al-Hazmi, had flown into Los Angeles. Yet the C.I.A. appears to have done nothing. It never alerted the F.B.I., which had the principle domestic authority for protecting the U.S. from terror attacks. Its agents had, in fact, been on the trail of at least one of the hijackers previously, but had no way of knowing that he had entered the United States. Nor did the C.I.A. alert the State Department, which kept a “TIPOFF” watch list for terror suspects.
KUT.org, Austin TX, Sexist Comment by Austin Police Officer: Isolated Incident or Part of Broader Culture?
Police Chief Art Acevedo suspended two officers in November for making jokes about rape victims. The Austin Police Association said at the time that the respective three-day and five-day suspensions were “fair and appropriate.” The incident took place after a local attorney had released a video in which the two Austin police officers are laughing and one of the officers comments: “Go ahead and call the cops. They can’t un-rape you.”
Recently, offensive comments were made to KUT’s reporter Joy Diaz, while she was covering a police-related story….
Just to set the scene, this reporter was at the police union’s building waiting to interview the head of the union. That’s when veteran officer [Andrew] Pietrowski approached me and started talking about the media fall-out over the video tape of NFL running back Ray Rice punching and knocking out his then-fiancé in a hotel elevator. Rice was suspended by the NFL and was released by his team.
Pietrowski says the event was blown out of proportion by the media. That’s when he explained.
“Now, stop and think about this. I don’t care who you are. You think about the women’s movement today, [women say] ‘Oh, we want to go [into] combat,’ and then, ‘We want equal pay, and we want this.’ You want to go fight in combat and sit in a foxhole? You go right ahead, but a man can’t hit you in public here? Bulls–t! You act like a whore, you get treated like one!”
Pietrowski retired from the force after learning that KUT planned to reveal his comments on the air.
S0 . . . . what else is happening? Please post links to the stories that interested you in the comment thread, and Happy Friday!