Thursday Reads

Spring Tree, Georgia O’Keeffe

Good Morning!!

Another old white man joined the race for the Democratic presidential nomination today. Yes, Joe Biden is running, unfortunately. I won’t be turning my TV on today; I don’t want to listen to “savvy” pundits talk about how the Democrats’ savior is another old white man in his dotage. I’m already sick and tired of the 2020 campaign and the primaries are still 8 months away.

Some antidotes to the Biden media frenzy:

Truthdig: Joe Biden Is a Fraud, Plain and Simple.

Harper’s: No Joe! Joe Biden’s disastrous legislative legacy.

Payday Report: Union-Busting Lawyer to Host Biden’s 1st Fundraiser Thursday.

And this from Twitter is laugh out loud material:

I watched Biden’s announcement video so you don’t have to. He talked about Charlottesville and Trump’s response the white supremacist march and the murder of “a brave young woman” Heather Heyer (he didn’t say her name). You’d think Biden would be worried that this will inspire reporters to bring up his questionable past on race issues. I was surprised that he never mentioned the threat Russia still poses to our elections and our democracy. You’d think that would be stronger issue for him since he was an insider when the Russian attacks took place in 2015-16.

I’m glad to see that even older white man Bernie Sanders is finally getting vetted by the mainstream media. The latest examples:

CNN Politics: Bernie Sanders in 1970s Senate race called millionaire senators ‘immoral.’

Bernie Sanders harshly criticized the wealth of US senators during his first campaign for office in 1971, calling it “immoral” that half the members of the Senate were millionaires.

Sanders’ decades-old comments, which were picked up in December 1971 by the Bennington Banner, a local Vermont newspaper, are resurfacing as the US senator from Vermont has acknowledged that he is now a millionaire in large part due to his 2016 best-selling book, “Our Revolution.” [….]

A Walk in the Meadows at Argenteil, Claude Monet

Sanders made the comments when he was running for US Senate at the time under the banner of the Liberty Union Party, a self-described “radical political party” that advocated nationalization of industries and redistribution of wealth to tackle inequality.
The senators serving at the time, Sanders said, advocated “the interests of corporations and big business —- their fellow millionaires.”

In the same article, Sanders proposed eliminating the annual salary of members of Congress (which was $42,500 in 1971) and instead replacing their pay with whatever the average income was in their home state. At the time, Sanders said it would amount to $7,600 for representatives from Vermont.

CNBC took a look at Sanders’ tax returns: Bernie Sanders draws mayoral pension while running for president — his campaign co-chair Rep. Ro Khanna once blasted such ‘double-dipping.’

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, for years has drawn a pension for his eight-year stint in the 1980s as mayor of Burlington even has he received a salary as a member of Congress.

Sanders, who earns $174,000 as a senator, received $5,241 from Burlington’s pension system in 2018, according to his federal income tax return.

His total income with his wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, that year was $561,293, which was down from the more than $1 million they earned in the prior two years, largely as a result of his book about running for president in 2016.

Public financial disclosure records show that Sanders, who began serving in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1991 and in the Senate in 2007, has received nearly $62,000 in Burlington pension payouts since 2005.

Olive Trees at Collioure, Henri Matisse

And, in case you missed it, Bernie didn’t do very well at yesterday’s She The People Presidential Forum.

Bloomberg: Bernie Sanders Faces Skeptical Audience at Forum for Minority Women.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders faced a skeptical audience of minority women in Texas Wednesday, a group that will be critical in deciding the Democratic presidential nominee from a racially diverse field of candidates and a record number of women.

Pressed by multiple questioners to address why women of color should support him, Sanders leaned heavily on his economic message, drawing audible expressions of frustration from some of the more than 1,500 people attending the She the People forum in Houston.

“Black women will be an integral part of what our campaign and our administration is about,” he said after being prompted by a moderator of the event, which brought together eight Democratic presidential candidates for separate discussions about issues affecting minority women.

That comment came at the end of his response to a question about how he would appeal to the black women who predominantly backed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primaries, to which Sanders offered a long answer about supporting whomever ends up being the party’s nominee.

As usual, Bernie didn’t answer the question.

The Daily Beast: Bernie Sanders Met With Boos After Name-Dropping Martin Luther King at She the People Summit.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was met with audible groans from the audience Wednesday night at the She the People Presidential Forum in Houston for his response to a question on the rise of white nationalism. Sanders, one of eight Democratic contenders for 2020 featured at the summit, which described itself as “the first-ever presidential candidate forum focused on women of color,” prompted boos from the crowd after defaulting to his usual talking points about immigration reform and mentioning his attendance at the March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King when asked how he’d handle the issue of white-supremacist violence and what specifically he’d do for women of color. The questioner, former NYC Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs Sayu Bhojwani, later tweeted that Sanders “had a rough time” with the question but “came around.” Others were less forgiving. “Bernie was asked important questions and he answered none of them,” tweeted disability-rights advocate Stephanie Olarte. “It is so sad that the moderators ask the questions in different forms to get an answer Y NADA.”

Click the link to read more reactions.

Pink Peach Trees, Vincent Van Gogh

You probably read it already but The Washington Post published an op-ed by Hillary Clinton yesterday:

Hillary Clinton: Mueller documented a serious crime against all Americans. Here’s how to respond.

First, like in any time our nation is threatened, we have to remember that this is bigger than politics. What our country needs now is clear-eyed patriotism, not reflexive partisanship. Whether they like it or not, Republicans in Congress share the constitutional responsibility to protect the country. Mueller’s report leaves many unanswered questions — in part because of Attorney General William P. Barr’s redactions and obfuscations. But it is a road map. It’s up to members of both parties to see where that road map leads — to the eventual filing of articles of impeachment, or not. Either way, the nation’s interests will be best served by putting party and political considerations aside and being deliberate, fair and fearless.

Second, Congress should hold substantive hearings that build on the Mueller report and fill in its gaps, not jump straight to an up-or-down vote on impeachment. In 1998, the Republican-led House rushed to judgment. That was a mistake then and would be a mistake now.

Clinton argues that we should follow the example of Watergate, in which public hearings led to “a formal impeachment inquiry.”

Third, Congress can’t forget that the issue today is not just the president’s possible obstruction of justice — it’s also our national security. After 9/11, Congress established an independent, bipartisan commission to recommend steps that would help guard against future attacks. We need a similar commission today to help protect our elections. This is necessary because the president of the United States has proved himself unwilling to defend our nation from a clear and present danger….

Fourth, while House Democrats pursue these efforts, they also should stay focused on the sensible agenda that voters demanded in the midterms, from protecting health care to investing in infrastructure. During Watergate, Congress passed major legislation such as the War Powers Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973. For today’s Democrats, it’s not only possible to move forward on multiple fronts at the same time, it’s essential.

Now that’s leadership. If only she were president!

Some Mueller/Russia stories:

NBC News: Mueller report shows Trump campaign left itself wide open to Russians, officials say.

Alfred Sisley, The Small Meadows in Spring, 1880-1

The Mueller report’s narrative of secret meetings between members of Donald Trump’s orbit and Russian operatives — contacts that occurred both before and after the 2016 election — portrays a political campaign that left itself open to a covert Russian influence operation, former intelligence officials and other experts say….

“The Russians came up against a group of people who were not intelligence savvy and who were predisposed not to listen to the intelligence and counterintelligence community,” said Luis Rueda, who spent 27 years as a CIA operations officer. “The Russians made a very bold and aggressive attempt to take advantage of that — to try to compromise people, to try to leverage their access.”

The FBI, as part of its counterintelligence mission, is continuing to investigate Russian attempts to influence the Trump administration and assess the national security damage from Russia’s 2016 effort, current and former U.S. officials tell NBC News….

John Sipher, who served in Moscow and once helped run CIA spying operations against Russia, said, “It’s clear that the Russians had a pretty extensive full court press on this administration.” The full extent of how successful it was may never be known, he said.

“Being able to lock it down and prove in court? That only comes when you catch somebody red-handed, or when you have a source on the inside of your adversary who hands you documents.”

Good to know that the counterintelligence investigation is continuing.

The New York Times: Mueller Report Reveals Trump’s Fixation on Targeting Hillary Clinton.

Spring, Pablo Picasso, 1956

Attorney General Jeff Sessions had a tenuous hold on his job when President Trump called him at home in the middle of 2017. The president had already blamed him for recusing himself from investigations related to the 2016 election, sought his resignation and belittled him in private and on Twitter.

Now, Mr. Trump had another demand: He wanted Mr. Sessions to reverse his recusal and order the prosecution of Hillary Clinton.

“The ‘gist’ of the conversation,” according to the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, quoting Mr. Sessions, “was that the president wanted Sessions to unrecuse from ‘all of it.’”

Mr. Mueller’s report released last week brimmed with examples of Mr. Trump seeking to protect himself from the investigation. But his request of Mr. Sessions — and two similar ones detailed in the report — stands apart because it shows Mr. Trump trying to wield the power of law enforcement to target a political rival, a step that no president since Richard M. Nixon is known to have taken.

Read the rest at the NYT.

The New York Times: Trump Vows Stonewall of ‘All’ House Subpoenas, Setting Up Fight Over Powers.

The Trump administration escalated its defiance of Congress on Wednesday, as the Justice Department refused to let an official testify on Capitol Hill and President Trump vowed to fight what he called a “ridiculous” subpoena ordering a former top aide to appear before lawmakers.

“We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” Mr. Trump told reporters outside the White House. “These aren’t, like, impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020.” [….]

Mr. Trump’s flurry of moves this week to block multiple congressional investigations signaled a new phase of constitutional friction that could redefine long-murky boundaries of Congress’s power to conduct oversight of the executive branch — and the power of presidents to keep government affairs secret from lawmakers.

Are we in a Constitutional crisis yet?

So . . . what else is happening? What stories have you been following?


Thursday Reads: “They Are Not That Smart.”

Michelle Obama speaks at The Royal Festival Hall on December 3 in London. Jack Taylor, Getty

Good Morning!!

The title of this post is a quote from Michelle Obama. In an interview in London, Obama discussed “impostor syndrome,” that feeling many women struggle with that we are undeserving of success. From Newsweek:

The former first lady opened up about how the struggle with self-doubt “never goes away,” during a sold-out talk with Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in London, which drew lines of tens of thousands of people.

Asked at the event how Obama felt about being seen as a “symbol of hope,” she said: “I still have a little imposter syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me,” according to the BBC.

“It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”

“If I’m giving people hope then that is a responsibility, so I have to make sure that I am accountable,” Obama said.

But here’s the quote I just loved:

Obama offered a “secret” to young women everywhere: “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at nonprofits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the U.N.: They are not that smart.”

It’s so true. And as long as mediocre white men are promoted over smarter and more experienced women, we will continue to be ruled by people who “are not that smart.”

You only need to look at the 2016 election, in which Hillary Clinton–a brilliant, experienced woman–was constantly denigrated in favor of two barely mediocre white men, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. And now that an ignorant, corrupt white man is “president,” that Hillary is repeatedly told to shut up and sit down, while mediocre, old white men like Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden–who have already failed in primary races–are promoted by the media.

I’ve avoided day-time cable news this week so I didn’t have to listen to the endless, over-the-top praise of the late George H.W. Bush. But I have to admit that Bush at least knew how to behave like a human being, unlike the current resident of the White House.

Trump attended Bush’s funeral, but he didn’t seem comfortable. Still he is being praised in some quarters for not making a complete fool of himself. Apparently he has been unhappy about having to go through an entire week when the media focus wasn’t on him. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Trump has been snappish with aides most of the week, according to administration officials, miffed in part by so many ceremonial events not related to him. He was impatient for the memorials to end but expressed pride in himself for remaining publicly civil. People close to the president called it a course correction after his peevish reaction to Mr. McCain’s death.

What a pathetic asshole. He did the bare minimum, didn’t sing hymns or recite the Apostle’s Creed, and was the only person in the room who didn’t put his hand over his heart when the coffin was carried out.

At The Washington Post, Rick Wilson writes that George W. Bush’s invitation to Trump to attend the funeral prevented the asshole from ruining the solemn event.

By insisting on his successor’s inclusion in the proceedings, Bush forced the current White House occupant to briefly abandon his unfrozen cave-man act, denying him the chance to further debase the office of president by siphoning the dignity out of 41’s final hours in D.C. — something 45 likely would have relished, given the opportunity.

We’ll still be hearing about Poppy Bush for a couple more days because there is going to be another funeral in Texas today.

Mike Pence didn’t look too happy at the funeral yesterday either. Maybe this is why.

Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair: “They’re Beginning to Think About Whether Mike Pence Should Be Running Again.” As the Mueller Fire Nears, Trump Ponders Jettisoning His Loyal V.P.

On Monday, Trump hosted a 2020 strategy meeting with a group of advisers. Among the topics discussed was whether Mike Pence should remain on the ticket, given the hurricane-force political headwinds Trump will face, as demonstrated by the midterms, a source briefed on the session told me. “They’re beginning to think about whether Mike Pence should be running again,” the source said, adding that the advisers presented Trump with new polling that shows Pence doesn’t expand Trump’s coalition. “He doesn’t detract from it, but he doesn’t add anything either,” the source said. Last month, The New York Times reported that Trump had been privately asking advisers if Pence could be trusted, and that outside advisers have been pushing Nikki Haley to replace Pence. One veteran of Trump’s 2016 campaign who’s still advising Trump told me the president hasn’t been focused enough on 2020. “What he needs to do is consider his team for 2020 and make sure it’s in place,” the adviser said. “He has to have people on his team that are loyal to his agenda.”

Trump’s doubts about Pence are surprising given Pence’s frequent public encomiums and professions of loyalty. “Trump waxes and wanes on everyone,” a prominent Republican close to the White House explained. Part of what’s driving the debate over Pence’s political value is Trump’s stalled search for a chief of staff to replace John Kelly. According to a source, Kelly has recently been telling Trump that Pence doesn’t help him politically. The theory is that Kelly is unhappy that Pence’s 36-year-old chief of staff, Nick Ayers, has been openly campaigning for Kelly’s job. “Kelly has started to get more political and he’s whispering to Trump that Trump needs a running mate who can help him more politically,” the source said. (The White House did not respond to a request for comment.)

I wonder how Evangelical voters would feel about pious Pence getting dumped?

There has been lots of Russia investigation news this week despite the wall-to-wall coverage of Bush’s passing. Some stories to check out:

David Ignatius at The Washington Post: Michael Flynn appears to have come full circle.

The Trump campaign warrior of 2016 who led chants of “lock her up” deriding Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, and then lied to the FBI after President Trump’s inauguration about his secret contacts with Russia, once again became an “exemplary” figure whose example, Mueller says, encouraged others to do the right thing.

“The defendant deserves credit for accepting responsibility in a timely fashion and substantially assisting the government,” writes Mueller in the sentencing memo. Mueller praises Flynn’s “early cooperation” as a spur to others. “The defendant’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming [with the special counsel’s office] and cooperate,” the memo notes.

This denouement, in which Flynn is once again on the side of law enforcement and truth-telling, is fascinating to me as someone who followed his career for more than a decade and remembers hearing his blisteringly honest briefings as a combat intelligence commander in Afghanistan. Flynn became disoriented during his years in Trump’s orbit, but the sentencing memo suggests that he recovered his balance and sense of duty after Mueller began his investigation.

There’s a bizarre irony here. Trump pleaded with James B. Comey, the FBI director at the time the investigation of Flynn began, to consider “letting this go.” That was a grossly improper attempt to interfere with the investigation and prosecution of Flynn’s false statements. How strange that it was Mueller, in the end, who decided in effect to “let this go” by recommending no jail time, after the investigation had run its course and Flynn had pleaded guilty and cooperated.

Frank Figliuzzi

Did Michael Flynn wear a wire for Mueller? MSNBC counterintelligence expert Frank Figliuzzi suggested as much yesterday. Hill Reporter.com:

MSNBC’s Morning Joe called on Frank Figluzzi to come in and help explain the memo. Figliuzzi was formerly an Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the FBI and is familiar with Robert Mueller’s methods.

He began the segment by explaining that the extensive redactions meant that the info inside was sensitive. After stating that redactions are out of character for Mueller, Figluzzi said, “We saw lots of redaction. You do that in the FBI either when you have classified information or you are at such a sensitivity level that you cannot expose it.”

Figluzzi also felt the light sentence and amount of redactions meant the investigation was aiming for convictions at the highest levels. He continued, “I think, in fact, that underneath these redactions, if we were to lift these black magic marker points out, we would see people with the last name Trump or Kushner.”

Finally, Figluzzi ended the segment with a bombshell suggestion; Flynn may have worn a wire. He told the panel, “We see reference here to quick cooperation by Flynn. What does that mean? Did it happen in what we call the golden hour, where you could even wire somebody up and have him share communications in real time?”

At The Guardian, Marcia Chambers and Charles Kaiser made the same suggestion.

The least-noticed sentence in Michael Flynn’s plea agreement with special counsel Robert Mueller may also be the most important one.

Section eight of the deal reached by Donald Trump’s former national security adviser in the inquiry into Russian meddling in the US election is entitled “cooperation”. It specifies that as well as answering questions and submitting to government-administered polygraph tests, Flynn’s cooperation “may include … participating in covert law enforcement activities”.

Long-time students of federal law enforcement practices agreed, speaking anonymously, that “covert law enforcement activities” likely refers to the possibility of wearing a concealed wire or recording telephone conversations with other potential suspects. It is not known whether Flynn has worn a wire at any time.

“If the other subjects of investigation have had any conversations with Flynn during the last few months, that phrase must have all of them shaking in their boots,” said John Flannery, a former federal prosecutor in the southern district of New York.

“The one who must be particularly terrified is [Trump son-in-law and adviser] Jared Kushner, if he spoke to the special counsel’s office without immunity about the very matter that is the subject of Flynn’s plea. I think he must be paralyzed if he talked to Flynn before or after the investigators debriefed him.”

More Russia reads, links only:

Garrett M. Graff at Wired: 14 Questions Robert Mueller Knows the Answers To.

Vox: The Mueller investigation has gotten closer to Donald Trump.

Renato Mariotti at Time: Don’t Expect Mueller to Charge a Grand Conspiracy.

The Atlantic: The White House Has No Plan for Confronting the Mueller Report.

Betsy Woodruff at The Daily Beast: Senate Intelligence Committee Grilled Steve Bannon About Cambridge Analytica.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Tuesday Reads

Garden at Sainte Adresse, Claude Monet

Good Morning!!

I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but the whole Kavanaugh thing has really triggered my PSTD. I haven’t been able to sleep much at night, I wake up early, and then I fall asleep in the afternoon. I feel disgusted and depressed by the entire ugly episode. It was bad enough that Republicans were determined to confirm a political operative whose main goal in life seems to be to curtail the rights of women and hand corporations the power to rip off and poison Americans, but now we may get a reprise of the Anita Hill hearings.

I’m glad that Christine Blasey Ford has come forward with her story of being nearly raped by Trump’s SCOTUS pick, but at the same time I wish the whole horrible thing would just go away.

Actually, I’m convinced that there won’t be a hearing next Monday. I think Kavanaugh will be forced to withdraw. It seems that Trump isn’t really all that enthused about him, and he can always nominate another evil right wing nut. In fact, he could solve the whole sexual abuse/assault issue by appointing a conservative woman, Amy Coney Barrett. She probably didn’t try to rape anyone when she was in high school, and she would likely vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Here’s the latest tick tock from the WaPo White house reporters: With Trump muted, White House leans on Kavanaugh to defend himself.

White House aides said they persuaded the president to refrain from tweeting a defense of Kavanaugh in the accusation’s immediate aftermath and deliberately worked to keep him from meeting personally with the nominee, even though the two men spent most of the day in proximity.

Don McGahn watches Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate testimony

Kavanaugh was hunkered down in the West Wing office of White House Counsel Donald McGahn, strategizing to save his nomination and calling senators to deny the claim against him….

One senior White House official said Trump thinks Kavanaugh can survive and told top advisers he thought the judge’s denial of wrongdoing was forceful. “The president’s thinking is, don’t get out there and defend him if he’s not defending himself,” this official said. “But he liked that he defended himself.”

But two Trump confidants Monday also underscored the president’s history of self-interested calculations amid political tumult. “He’s going to do what’s best for Trump,” said one of them, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “The president thinks it’s rough for Kavanaugh, and he’d decry the process as disgusting if he withdraws, but he’d nominate a carbon copy of Kavanaugh in a second if he goes down.”

Another reason why Kavanaugh might be thrown overboard, again from the WaPo: Republicans fear reversals in November due to accusation against Supreme Court nominee.

Republicans are bracing for political aftershocks from the sexual assault accusation against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh, with some expressing fear that the coming investigation will refocus the nation’s attention on an issue that could drive up the Democratic vote in the midterm elections.

The initial hope that the conservative Kavanaugh’s appointment would encourage turnout by grateful GOP voters this fall has been tempered by new fears that more voters, especially independent women, might head to the polls with fresh anger about Republican handling of sexual impropriety after a new round of public hearings.

Anita Hill testifying in 1991

“It’s not just about Kavanaugh but more about the midterms,” Rick Hohlt, a Republican lobbyist and veteran strategist, said of the party’s concerns. “With more women running for public office than ever before and the majority of them being Democrats, we could have a 1992 situation.”

That’s a reference to the elections in 1992, dubbed the “Year of the Woman” after the number of women elected to the House nearly doubled, to 47, and the number of women elected to the Senate tripled, to six. The election came one year after Justice Clarence Thomas was confirmed to the Supreme Court despite allegations that he had sexually harassed a subordinate, Anita Hill, in the workplace.

Even before the accusation against Kavanaugh surfaced, polls showed women preferred Democrats more than men did and were more likely to disapprove of President Trump, who faced accusations of sexual misconduct by 19 women before his 2016 election. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in late August found 58 percent of female registered voters intended to cast a ballot for a Democrat for Congress, compared with 45 percent of men.

Remember Mitch McConnell never wanted Trump to appoint Kavanaugh. It’s a long time until next Monday’s scheduled hearing. A lot can happen in that time. My guess is the Republicans will cut Kavanaugh loose. Certainly, if another woman comes forward, he will be dead in the water.

Meanwhile, FEMA’s threatened presidential emergency alert system rollout has been postponed because of all the protests. NBC News:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the wireless emergency alert (WEA) system, announced that the test that had been scheduled for Thursday will be pushed back to Oct. 3, citing the “ongoing response efforts to Hurricane Florence.”

Postponed, thank goodness!

The initial announcement was met with concerns from social media users who stated that a direct message from President Donald Trump to the nation could be used for political purposes, similar to how he uses his official Twitter page.

Many also went on to raise the issue of the alert being mandatory, with no way to opt of it. One user even messaged Verizon Wireless, one of the 100 wireless service companies that have agreed to provide the alert to their network, asking how she can avoid receiving it.

Some users even threatened to cancel their cellphone service, while others said they would protest the test by turning their phones off, creating the hashtag #GoDark920 in response to the original test date.

Stephen Cobb, a security researcher at ESET, a technology security company, tweeted via his verified account that the blowback against the test indicated the broader frustration with the president.

“This POTUS is so bad that folks are prepared to forgo the potential benefits of a national alert system – which already exists on radio and TV – because it is hard to believe Trump will not abuse it.”

As long as we’re talking about the sexual predator in the White House, I might as well include this creepy info from The Guardian on Stormy Daniels’s tell-all book:

Trump’s bodyguard invites Daniels to dinner, which turns out to be an invitation to Trump’s penthouse, she writes, in a description of alleged events that Daniels has disclosed previously but which in the book are rendered with new and lurid detail. She describes Trump’s penis as “smaller than average” but “not freakishly small.”

“He knows he has an unusual penis,” Daniels writes. “It has a huge mushroom head. Like a toadstool…

“I lay there, annoyed that I was getting fucked by a guy with Yeti pubes and a dick like the mushroom character in Mario Kart…

“It may have been the least impressive sex I’d ever had, but clearly, he didn’t share that opinion.”

Ugh. Still, I’d love to be a fly on the wall when someone reads this to Trump.

Finally, if you haven’t already done so, you should read Hillary Clinton’s new essay at The Atlantic: American Democracy Is in Crisis.

It’s been nearly two years since Donald Trump won enough Electoral College votes to become president of the United States. On the day after, in my concession speech, I said, “We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.” I hoped that my fears for our future were overblown.

They were not.

Hillary Clinton photographed by Annie Leibovitz

In the roughly 21 months since he took the oath of office, Trump has sunk far below the already-low bar he set for himself in his ugly campaign. Exhibit A is the unspeakable cruelty that his administration has inflicted on undocumented families arriving at the border, including separating children, some as young as eight months, from their parents. According to The New York Times, the administration continues to detain 12,800 children right now, despite all the outcry and court orders. Then there’s the president’s monstrous neglect of Puerto Rico: After Hurricane Maria ravaged the island, his administration barely responded. Some 3,000 Americans died. Now Trump flatly denies those deaths were caused by the storm. And, of course, despite the recent indictments of several Russian military intelligence officers for hacking the Democratic National Committee in 2016, he continues to dismiss a serious attack on our country by a foreign power as a “hoax.”

Trump and his cronies do so many despicable things that it can be hard to keep track. I think that may be the point—to confound us, so it’s harder to keep our eye on the ball. The ball, of course, is protecting American democracy. As citizens, that’s our most important charge. And right now, our democracy is in crisis.

I don’t use the word crisis lightly. There are no tanks in the streets. The administration’s malevolence may be constrained on some fronts—for now—by its incompetence. But our democratic institutions and traditions are under siege. We need to do everything we can to fight back. There’s not a moment to lose.

Read the rest at the Atlantic link.


Lazy Saturday Reads: Caturday and Kavanaugh

Good Afternoon!!

I’m getting a slow start today because I’ve been having stabbing pain in my right eye from falling asleep with my face in the pillow. I don’t know why this happens. It might be because I have surgically inserted lenses in my eyes. Anyway, that’s my excuse for being so late.

You’ve probably seen this by now, but when I read it last night everything about fell into place for me. Brett Kavanaugh is the culmination of the “vast right wing conspiracy” that Hillary Clinton warned us about so long ago.

NBC News: I knew Brett Kavanaugh during his years as a Republican operative. Don’t let him sit on the Supreme Court, by David Brock

Twenty years ago, when I was a conservative movement stalwart, I got to know Brett Kavanaugh both professionally and personally.

Brett actually makes a cameo appearance in my memoir of my time in the GOP, “Blinded By The Right.” I describe him at a party full of zealous young conservatives gathered to watch President Bill Clinton’s 1998 State of the Union address — just weeks after the story of his affair with a White House intern had broken. When the TV camera panned to Hillary Clinton, I saw Brett — at the time a key lieutenant of Ken Starr, the independent counsel investigating various Clinton scandals — mouth the word “bitch.”

But there’s a lot more to know about Kavanaugh than just his Pavlovian response to Hillary’s image. Brett and I were part of a close circle of cold, cynical and ambitious hard-right operatives being groomed by GOP elders for much bigger roles in politics, government and media.

Call it Kavanaugh’s cabal: There was his colleague on the Starr investigation, Alex Azar, now the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Mark Paoletta is now chief counsel to Vice President Mike Pence; House anti-Clinton gumshoe Barbara Comstock is now a Republican member of Congress. Future Fox News personalities Laura Ingraham and Tucker Carlson were there with Ann Coulter, now a best-selling author, and internet provocateur Matt Drudge.

Brock details how Kavanaugh became the “designated leaker” in the Starr investigation and how used his position to weaponize right wing conspiracy theories.

Another compatriot was George Conway (now Kellyanne’s husband), who led a secretive group of right-wing lawyers — we called them “the elves” — who worked behind the scenes directing the litigation team of Paula Jones, who had sued Clinton for sexual harassment. I knew then that information was flowing quietly from the Jones team via Conway to Starr’s office — and also that Conway’s go-to man was none other than Brett Kavanaugh.

That critical flow of inside information allowed Starr, in effect, to set a perjury trap for Clinton, laying the foundation for a crazed national political crisis and an unjust impeachment over a consensual affair.

Please read the rest if you haven’t already.

The New York Times Editorial Board weighs in on Kavanaugh: Confirmed: Brett Kavanaugh Can’t Be Trusted. A perfect nominee for a president with no clear relation to the truth.

In a more virtuous world, Judge Brett Kavanaugh would be deeply embarrassed by the manner in which he has arrived at the doorstep of a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

He was nominated by a president who undermines daily the nation’s democratic order and mocks the constitutional values that Judge Kavanaugh purports to hold dear.

Now he’s being rammed through his confirmation process with an unprecedented degree of secrecy and partisan maneuvering by Republican senators who, despite their overflowing praise for his legal acumen and sterling credentials, appear terrified for the American people to find out much of anything about him beyond his penchant for coaching girls’ basketball.

Perhaps most concerning, Judge Kavanaugh seems to have trouble remembering certain important facts about his years of service to Republican administrations. More than once this week, he testified in a way that appeared to directly contradict evidence in the record.

Read numerous examples of Kavanaugh’s mendacity at the link.

Kavanaugh received and used stolen Democratic emails when he worked in the Bush White House, and he’s not the least bit sorry. The Washington Post: Leahy says Kavanaugh was ‘not truthful’ about Democratic documents.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said Friday that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was “not truthful” when he denied knowing that he had received documents that Leahy said had been “stolen” from him and other Democrats.

Leahy said that emails disclosed during Kavanaugh’s nomination hearing this week buttress his case that Kavanaugh knew, or should have known, that he had received documents that Republican staffers took from a computer jointly shared with Democrats.

“There were numerous emails sent to him that made it very clear this was stolen information, including a draft letter from me,” Leahy said in an interview….

Leahy’s charge stems from an infamous episode between 2001 and 2003 when a Republican counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Manuel Miranda, learned that Democrats on the panel had put documents on a computer server shared with Republicans. Miranda said in an interview that he read them to learn about the party’s strategy on judicial nominations coming before the committee.

At the time, Kavanaugh was associate counsel in the White House and was responsible for helping to vet judicial nominees who would appear before the Judiciary Committee.

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Kavanaugh lied about this affair in previous confirmation hearings.

Mother Jones: Five Times Brett Kavanaugh Appears to Have Lied to Congress While Under Oath.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has made declarations under oath during his current and past confirmation hearings that are contradicted by documents from his time as a counsel to the president and staff secretary in the George W. Bush White House. Newly released documents have undermined Kavanaugh’s declarations to the Senate Judiciary Committee, contradictions that are drawing close scrutiny from many Democrats. Kavanaugh has denied making any misleading or false statements.

His role in accessing stolen documents: In 2002, a GOP aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Manuel Miranda, stole thousands of documents belonging to the committee’s Democratic staff. At the time, Kavanaugh was a White House lawyer working on judicial nominations, which included working alongside Miranda. In 2003, President Bush nominated Kavanaugh to his current position on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals and his confirmation hearing was held in 2004—though he was not confirmed until two years later. During his 2004 hearing, Kavanaugh denied ever receiving any of the documents Miranda stole. Asked if he “ever come across memos from internal files of any Democratic members given to you or provided to you in any way?” he replied, “No.” In 2006, also under oath, he again denied ever receiving stolen documents….

Warrantless wiretapping: At a 2006 confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh told Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) that he knew nothing of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, launched under President George W. Bush, until the New York Times revealed it publicly in 2005. Kavanaugh insisted he’d heard “nothing at all” about the program before that, even though he was a senior administration aide. But a September 17, 2001 email provided to the New York Times this week shows that Kavanaugh was involved in at least initial discussions about the widespread surveillance of phones that characterized the NSA program….

Torture: During the same 2006 confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh told Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) that he “was not involved” in legal questions related to the detention of so-called enemy combatants. But Durbin said Thursday that records show that there are at least three recorded examples of Kavanaugh participating in discussions of Bush administration detainee policy. Kavanaugh stood by his prior answer.

Please read the rest of the examples and explanations at Mother Jones.

More interesting reads, links only:

Lisa Graves at Slate: I Wrote Some of the Stolen Memos That Brett Kavanaugh Lied to the Senate About. He should be impeached, not elevated.

Just Security: Judge Kavanaugh’s Testimony on His Constitutional View of Presidential Immunity is Misleading—and It Also Clinches the Case for Recusal.

Bloomberg: DNC Lawyers Raise Prospect That Papadopoulos’s U.K. Contact May Be Dead.

The Daily Beast: We Found the ‘Plaid Shirt Guy’ Who Trolled Trump’s Rally With Hilarious Faces.

The Atlantic: ‘The Separation Was So Long. My Son Has Changed So Much.’U.S. border guards took a 6-year-old Honduran boy from his mother, and ultimately returned a deeply traumatized child.

The New York Times: Trump Administration Discussed Coup Plans With Rebel Venezuelan Officers.

New York Review of Books: ‘Bless Nixon for Those Tapes’: An Interview with John Dean.

What stories have you been following?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Russia News

The Athenaeum – Thérèse Reading in the Park at Meric (Jean Frederic Bazille)

Good Afternoon!!

Remember Peter Smith, the guy who was trying to help the Trump campaign get Hillary Clinton’s emails? He ended up supposedly committing suicide in a Minnesota hotel room in July, 2017, shortly after he was interviewed by Shane Harris of The Wall Street Journal. After the story broke, Matt Tait published an article at Lawfare about his involvement in the story. Today Buzzfeed News reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier have a new story on Smith: GOP Operative Made “Suspicious” Cash Withdrawals During Pursuit Of Clinton Emails.

In one of the most intriguing episodes of the 2016 presidential campaign, Republican activist Peter W. Smith launched an independent effort to obtain Hillary Clinton’s emails to help defeat her and elect Donald Trump. His quest, which reportedly brought him into contact with at least two sets of hackers that he himself believed were Russian, remains a key focus of investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

Now, BuzzFeed News has reviewed documents showing that FBI agents and congressional investigators have zeroed in on transactions Smith made right as his effort to procure Clinton’s emails heated up. Just a day after he finished a report suggesting he was working with Trump campaign officials, for example, he transferred $9,500 from an account he had set up to fund the email project to his personal account, later taking out more than $4,900 in cash. According to a person with direct knowledge of Smith’s project, the Republican operative stated that he was prepared to pay hackers “many thousands of dollars” for Clinton’s emails — and ultimately did so….

Maxwell Doig

The money trail, made public here for the first time, sheds new light on Smith’s effort, in which he told people he was in touch with both Russians on the dark web and Trump campaign officials — particularly Michael Flynn, who was then a top adviser to the Trump campaign and later served as national security adviser before having to resign after misleading White House officials about his meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Intelligence agencies have given the FBI information that Russian hackers talked about passing Clinton’s emails to Flynn through a cutout, according to two law enforcement officials with direct knowledge of the matter. It is not known if that cutout was in any way connected to Smith.

Smith claimed that the Russians had hacked Hillary’s private server and he was determined to get his hands on the emails.

Smith assembled a group of people including experts in technology, lawyers, and even a Russian-speaking investigator to figure out how to obtain Clinton’s emails, according to the Journal. On the Friday before the Labor Day weekend, Smith incorporated a company called KLS Research. In a proposal Smith put together describing the effort to obtain the emails, he named the company as the “preferred vehicle” for the research into Clinton’s email, and Smith would tell Tait that KLS Research would also help “avoid campaign reporting.”

Smith and his longtime business partner, John Szobocsan, were the two signers for a bank account linked to KLS Research….

Soon after Labor Day, Smith appears to have finished an operational plan, which included the names of top Trump campaign officials, some of whom have denied speaking with Smith anytime during the campaign. Smith’s report is dated Sept. 7.

Girl in Green by Sara Hayden (1862–1939), American

The next day, Smith withdrew $9,500 from the KLS Research account and deposited it into his personal bank account, both held at Northern Trust. From there, Smith took out a little more than $4,900 in cash and sent checks to an accountant and an LLC controlled by a private real estate company. Later in September, Smith made withdrawals of $500 and $700 from KLS Research.

These transactions came to light after Northern Trust received a subpoena from the FBI for Smith’s records last December. The subpoena specifically sought information about the $9,500 withdrawal from KLS Research’s account.

After scouring nine accounts that Smith controlled, Northern Trust turned over documents showing 88 suspicious cash withdrawals totaling about $140,000 between January 2016 and April 2017, including a $3,000 withdrawal six days after the election. Northern Trust found these transactions suspicious because officials could not determine the purpose of the withdrawals and because some of them took place over the time Smith was engaged in his project to obtain Clinton’s emails. Many of the cash transactions, the bank noted, were less than $10,000, small enough not to trigger an automatic alert to the government. After receiving the subpoena, the bank sent a report to Treasury’s financial crimes unit, which shared its findings with the FBI, special counsel Robert Mueller, and Senate Intelligence Committee investigators.

The story reports that “three US law enforcement officials” confirmed that Smith is still “an important figure” in the investigation and that Mueller’s investigators have interviewed people involved with Smith. I wonder if Mike Flynn is helping out with this aspect of the investigation?

Head over to Buzzfeed News to read the rest of the story.

Lawfare has a lengthy post up about the Buzzfeed story: Peter Smith’s Search for Hillary Clinton’s Emails: The Subplot Thickens. Here’s just a taste:

On its own, the Buzzfeed story might not be a groundbreaking development. But the article doesn’t stand alone. It comes in the wake of Mueller’s indictments of Russians involved in the Kremlin’s social media manipulation operation and, more importantly for present purposes, the hacking and leaking of Democratic Party materials during the 2016 campaign. In that context, it is highly significant that Buzzfeed reports that Smith’s efforts are actively being investigated by the special counsel’s team. Not only has Mueller’s team interviewed “people who Smith tried to recruit and others who worked on his operation to obtain Clinton’s emails,” it has also “tried to determine if [former national security adviser Michael] Flynn assisted Smith in his operation”—a question that Smith’s possible payments to hackers are “key” to answering, Buzzfeed writes.

Louis Buisseret (1888-1956, Belgian) Contemplation 1938

So how do the facts reported in the Peter Smith stories, particularly Buzzfeed’s latest, line up with Mueller’s indictments? Mueller’s allegations describe, in detail, a complex Russian conspiracy to shape the 2016 U.S. elections—a conspiracy that involved an influence operation conducted on social media, the publication of hacked information, and outreach to a person in contact with the Trump campaign, reportedly Roger Stone.

The Peter Smith stories—between the Journal’s reporting, Tait’s Lawfare account and the latest report from Buzzfeed—describe another plot, one that took shape on this side of the Atlantic. Whether this second plot amounts to a conspiracy is a legal question beyond the scope of this post, but it appears to have involved, at a minimum, an agreement among a number of actors to obtain illegally hacked emails, perhaps by buying them. Tait wrote that he specifically warned Smith that the person purporting to have Clinton’s emails was likely part of Russia’s campaign against the United States and that Smith didn’t care about the source, as long as he got the emails. So it’s certainly plausible that the Smith operation also involved a conspiracy of some sort.

Meanwhile, Russian state TV is getting more and more blatant about Putin’s influence on Trump. Raw Story: Russian state TV warns Trump to ‘do what we say’ if you want ‘support in the elections.’

Julia Davis, who runs the Russian Media Monitor website, reports via Twitter that news show “60 Minutes” this week held a panel discussion about actions Russia should take to retaliate against the latest round of American sanctions.

Vitaly Tretyakov, the dean of the Moscow State University’s School of Television, argued that the Russian government should use whatever leverage it had over Trump to bend the president to its will.

“Let’s turn this into a headache for Trump,” he said, according to Davis’ translation. “If you want us to support you in the elections, do what we say.”

At The Washington Post, Anne Applebaum asks if American institutions are really strong enough to stop Trump: Are you still sure there’s no need to worry?

William Moore Davis (1829 – 1920, American)

“Don’t worry, the institutions will stop him.” Or: “Don’t worry, he hasn’t done any real damage yet, the institutions have stopped him.” How many times have you heard some version of this analysis since the election of President Trump? Sometimes, the speaker is an optimist, someone with faith in the U.S. Constitution. Sometimes, the speaker is a skeptic, someone who dislikes the alleged “hysteria” of those who think Trump’s corrupt habits, autocratic language and authoritarian behavior are doing lasting damage. Either way, they are reassured, and reassuring: Congress will stop him. The judiciary will stop him. The FBI, the Republican Party, the Constitution will stop him. Don’t worry.

But America’s federal institutions are not the only ones designed to prevent someone like Trump from undermining the Constitution. We have other kinds of institutions, too — legal organs, regulatory bodies, banks — that are supposed to prevent men like Trump from staying in business, let alone acquiring political power. The truth is that many of these equally important American institutions failed a long time ago. Trump is not the cause of their failure. He is the result.

One example: Paul Manafort.

Here is a man who is alleged to have declared income as “loans,” concealed foreign bank accounts and lied about money that Ukrainian oligarchs were paying him via shell companies in Cyprus. For decades, in other words, U.S. law enforcement institutions were unable to spot the money-laundering, tax evasion and fraud that his partner Rick Gates spent several hours describing, even when carried out by a prominent person. As long ago as 1985, Manafort’s name featured in Jacob Weisberg’s still-famous New Republic cover story about Roger Stone, then his consulting partner. The headline: “The State-of-the-Art Washington Sleazeball.”

Summer (c.1958). Donald Moodie (British, 1892-1963)

For decades, Manafort’s “political consultancy” has helped crooks and autocrats retain power. But even leaving aside the question of morality: Why wasn’t Manafort put out of business for suspected fraud years ago? Did the police not have the resources? The motivation? Whatever the reason, here, for the optimists and skeptics, is a clear institutional failure: A society allegedly obsessed with “law and order,” so much so that it has the highest incarceration rates in the world, couldn’t be bothered to investigate a famously sleazy man who was spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on antique rugs and men’s suits in Northern Virginia.

And what about Trump’s career?

Nearly 40 years ago, in 1980, Trump employed 200 illegal Polish workers to destroy the Bonwit Teller department store, a historic building on Fifth Avenue, to make way for what would become Trump Tower. The men earned half the union wage and worked 12-hour shifts without hard hats; at one point, their contractor stopped paying them. Eventually they sued. In 1998, Trump paid $1.375 million to settle the case.

Trump broke immigration law and employment law, and he violated union rules, too. Yet neither immigration authorities nor employment regulators nor union bosses put him out of business. Why not? Why were the terms of that settlement kept confidential? Why, with his track record, was he allowed to get a casino license? Building permits? Wall Street banks did, it is true, stop lending to him. But when he began looking abroad for cash — doing extremely dodgy deals in Georgia and Azerbaijan, for example — no one stopped him.

Read the whole thing at the Post.

What else is happening? What stories are you following?