Thursday Reads: Donald Trump, the Worst Person in the World, and Other News

Good Afternoon!!

Every day I wake up to find that Trump has topped himself in terms of cruelty, ignorance, and selfishness. I guess if Hitler were alive, he’d be a worse person than Trump, but Trump is just beginning his attack on human decency from his powerful position.

The Washington Post: Trump threatens to abandon Puerto Rico recovery effort.

President Trump served notice Thursday that he may pull back federal relief workers from Puerto Rico, effectively threatening to abandon the U.S. territory amid a staggering humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Declaring the U.S. territory’s electrical grid and infrastructure to have been a “disaster before hurricanes,” Trump wrote Thursday that it will be up to Congress how much federal money to appropriate to the island for its recovery efforts and that relief workers will not stay “forever.”

Three weeks after Maria made landfall, much of Puerto Rico, an island of 3.4 million people, remains without power. Residents struggle to find clean water, hospitals are running short on medicine, and commerce is slow, with many businesses closed.

Trump on Thursday sought to shame the territory for its own plight. He tweeted, “Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes.” And he quoted Sharyl Attkisson, a television journalist, as saying, “Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.”

He also wrote: “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz comforts a hurricane survivor.

It has been three weeks, and the Federal Government response has been pathetic and incompetent. People in Puerto Rico have been for help, and Trump has interpreted their pleas as criticism of him personally. This is a very sick man, and he must be removed from power before he destroys our country.

Vox: Everything that’s been reported about deaths in Puerto Rico is at odds with the official count.

Death tolls are the primary way we understand the impact of a disaster. And for nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, as a humanitarian crisis was intensifying, the death toll was frozen at 16.

“Sixteen people certified,” Trump said on October 3 during his visit to the island, repeating a figure confirmed by the territory’s governor. “Everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.” ….

The death toll from the hurricane is now up to 45, according to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. But 90 percent of the 3.4 million American citizens on the island still don’t have power, and 35 percent still don’t have water to drink or bathe in. And given how deadly power outages can be, 45 deaths seems low, according to disaster experts.

At Vox, we decided to compare what the government has been saying with other reports of deaths from the ground. We searched Google News for reports of deaths in English and Spanish media from Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria. We found reports of a total of 81 deaths linked directly or indirectly to the hurricane. Of those, 45 were the deaths certified by the government. The remaining 36 deaths were confirmed by local public officials or funeral directors, according to the reports. We also found another 450 reported deaths, most of causes still unknown, and reports of at least 69 people still missing.

Please go read the rest if you can.

Donald Trump Jr. and Donald Trump during 1988 U.S. Open in 1988 (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

In case you imagined Trump ever had any human decency, here’s a little about what he did to his eldest son Donald Jr.

At The New York Times: Gail Collins discusses some revelations from Ivana Trump’s new book: The Trumps, the Poodle, the Sex Scandal.

The book is supposed to be about good parenting. But the most important thing you learn is that we can never say another mean thing about Donald Jr. again. Really, it sounds like the worst childhood ever. His story begins with Dad resisting the idea of naming the baby after him, in case his first born turned out to be “a loser.”

As a toddler, Don Jr. broke his leg due to a negligent babysitter. Then one day when Ivana was out of town, he and Eric called hysterically to report they had found their nanny unconscious in the basement. (She died.)

Wait, there’s more: During their infamous divorce, Dad sent a bodyguard from his office to get Junior, announcing: “You’re not getting him back. I’m going to bring him up myself.”

Ivana says she responded: “O.K., keep him. I have two other kids to raise.” Silence and 10 minutes later the bodyguard returned her son.

It was, Trump’s ex-wife concluded, “a tactic to upset me.” However for some reason, at around this time Don Jr. stopped speaking to his father and wound up getting shipped to boarding school.

After several more years of being the namesake of a man who was then famous for starring in the most sensational tabloid stories of the era, Don Jr. graduated from college, moved to Colorado and got a job bartending. Ivana said she made her disapproval clear by “cutting him off” until he gave up, returned to New York and joined the Trump Organization.

People Magazine recounts the stories told by a college classmate–I wrote about this when it first came out.

Vanity Fair reported that Scott Melker, a Penn classmate, wrote on Facebook, “Donald Jr. was a drunk in college. Every memory I have of him is of him stumbling around on campus falling over or passing out in public, with his arm in a sling from injuring himself while drinking. He absolutely despised his father, and hated the attention that his last name afforded him.”

Melker also described an alleged incident in which Trump showed up to his son’s dorm room to take him to a Yankees game. Trump Jr. was dressed in a Yankees jersey and when he opened the door to his father, “without saying a word, his father slapped him across the face, knocking him to the floor in front of all of his classmates. He simply said, ‘Put on a suit and meet me outside,’ and closed the door.” A spokesperson for the Trump family told Vanity Fair this story is “completely false.”

The man in the White House is pure evil. There is so much horrifying news about him that it’s impossible to pay attention to all of it. Here’s more proof that Trump is not only evil, but he is a moron, just as Rex Tillerson said last summer.

CNBC: Trump just claimed stock market gains actually offset national debt.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday said that, “in a sense,” gains made by private financial markets reduce the national debt. The claim is incorrect on its face, but it does point to how the president views the economic interplay between the federal government and Wall Street.

“The country — we took it over and owed over $20 trillion,” Trump said in an interview on Fox News, referring to the total national debt, which has hovered near $20 trillion since early 2016.

“As you know, the last eight years, [the federal government] borrowed more than it did in the whole history of our country,” Trump said. “So they borrowed more than $10 trillion, right? And yet we picked up $5.2 trillion just in the stock market. Possibly picked up the whole thing in terms of the first nine months, in terms of value.”

“So you could say, in one sense, we’re really increasing values. And maybe in a sense we’re reducing debt. But we’re very honored by it,” Trump said.

WTF?!

For evidence that the two metrics have little to no bearing on one another, look no further than the eight years of the Obama presidency: Between 2009 and 2017, the S&P 500 returned 235 percent while the national debt soared.

And while Trump likes to talk about “reducing debt,” the economic policy proposals he’s unveiled so far, especially his tax reform plan, could easily add another trillion dollars to the debt, according to economists.

The Harvey Weinstein scandal continues as more women come forward every day. Oh, and have you heard that the whole thing is Hillary Clinton’s fault? I wonder was it also her fault when Trump said he liked to “grab them by the pussy?”

Sady Doyle at Elle: Harvey Weinstein and the Crisis of Complicity.

When giants fall, they fall fast. We haven’t even been living with the revelation of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment history for a week, yet the news has gotten worse every day. From the New York Times’ initial report — which specified the now-familiar details of hotel meetings, ulterior motives, and “massages” that were less than optional — the accusations have escalated to include masturbating in front of an actress, forced oral sex, and vaginal rape. (Weinstein’s spokesperson, Sallie Hofmeister, says ““Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.”) Weinstein’s accusers now include Gwyneth Paltrow, Asia Argento, Patricia Arquette, and Angelina Jolie. Meanwhile, a former New York Times reporter has now alleged that a story she was working on in 2004 related to Weinstein’s behavior was “gutted” after she received phone calls from Russell Crowe and Matt Damon vouching for a former Weinstein colleague. (Damon vigorously denies he knew anything about Weinstein’s behavior). Weinstein himself has been forced out of the Weinstein Company.

As always, with such a disturbing story, people are looking to assign blame. Whose fault is Harvey Weinstein?

Harvey Weinstein, apparently, is Hillary Clinton’s fault.

Click on the link to read the rest.

Actress Rose McGowan was suspended from Twitter after she accused actor Ben Affleck of having “prior knowledge of Harvey Weinstein’s misconduct, including toward her”.

From the New York Times:

Rose McGowan

In a sign that the controversy over the producer Harvey Weinstein could engulf other people in the film industry, the actress Rose McGowan accused Ben Affleck of lying on Tuesday about his knowledge of Mr. Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment and assaults of women.

Ms. McGowan, in a tweet and a subsequent email exchange with The New York Times on Tuesday night, said she had told Mr. Affleck that Mr. Weinstein had behaved inappropriately with her.

Mr. Affleck, who rose to stardom with help from Mr. Weinstein on the 1997 film “Good Will Hunting,” had said earlier Tuesday that he was “angry” over Mr. Weinstein’s alleged abuse of women, but he gave no indication of whether he knew about it. “I find myself asking what I can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to others,” Mr. Affleck said in a statement.

From Shakesville: This is Rape Culture.

Two things I’ve seen this morning are perfect, terrible illustrations of how the rape culture works.

First, there was the news that Twitter has suspended Rose McGowan for publicly stating that Ben Affleck had lied about what he knew regarding Harvey Weinstein.

Yesterday, Ben Affleck has to apologize for actually sexually assaulting someone, which trended on Twitter all day, but he isn’t suspended. Who is suspended is Rose McGowan, who merely contradicted Affleck’s claim not to have known about Weinstein’s sexual abuse, which she knows because she’s the one who told him. 

This, as I shouldn’t have to point out, couldn’t be a clearer case of the way institutions work to protect abusers and their abettors, while silencing survivors.

The second thing Melissa wrote about is this excerpt from a piece by Doree Shafrir at Buzzfeed: What To Do With “Shitty Media Men”?

I’ve never been assaulted or harassed by someone I worked with, and it’s only been lately that I’ve realized how messed up it is that I feel fortunate that’s the case. There have been a few uncomfortable incidents for me personally, like the editor who Gchatted me late at night, seemingly drunk, and propositioned me, or the art director who was way too interested in my intern experience and put his hand on my thigh at a party. But people whispered about the guys who were really bad, the ones who coerced young women into sex, the ones who were physically abusive. The ones to stay away from.

Back to Melissa’s piece:

Shafrir begins by saying she’s “never been assaulted or harassed,” only to then describe two instances of harassment. To be clear, I’m not auditing the way she feels about or identifies those experiences, but simply noting they meet the definition of workplace harassment.

The instinct to mitigate manifests in different ways: Here, Shafrir straightforwardly discounts her own experiences as harassment. My go-to strategy as a younger woman was always to turn incidents of sexual harassment and/or assault into “humorous” anecdotes, which allowed me to talk about what happened without really talking about what happened.

I hope you’ll go to Shakesville to read the rest.

I have so many more links saved up, but I’m out of time and space. Please post your thoughts and recommended links in the comment thread below.

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Lazy Saturday Reads: Trump Blames Puerto Rico for Hurricane Maria

 

A bicyclist rides down a damaged road in Toa Alta, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico. RICARDO ARDUENGO AFP GETTY IMAGES

Good Morning!!

The illustrations in this post are scenes of the devastation in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Yesterday Carmen Yulín Cruz, Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico begged for help from the “president” of the U.S. and/or anyone who could hear her plea. The transcript of her remarks from The Guardian:

“We are dying here. And I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles. So, mayday, we are in trouble.

“Fema [the Federal Emergency Management Administration] asks for documentation, I think we’ve given them enough documentation.”

“They had the gall this morning – look at this [gestures to two large binders filled with paper] – they had the gall this morning of asking me: ‘What are your priorities, mayor?’

“Well, where have you been?

“And I have been very respectful of the Fema employees. I have been patient but we have no time for patience any more.

“So, I am asking the president of the United States to make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives.

“They were up the task in Africa when Ebola came over. They were up to the task in Haiti [after the earthquake of 2010]. As they should be. Because when it comes to saving lives we are all part of one community of shared values.

“I will do what I never thought I was going to do: I am begging. I am begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying. And you are killing us with the inefficiency and bureaucracy.

“We will make it with or without you because what stands behind me is all due to the generosity of other people.

“Again, this is what we got last night: four pallets of water, three pallets of meals and 12 pallets of infant food. Which, I gave them to Comerío, where people are drinking out of a creek.

“So I am done being polite. I am done being politically correct. I am mad as hell because my people’s lives are at stake. And we are but one nation. We may be small, but we are huge in dignity and zealous for life.

“So I’m asking members of the press to send a mayday call all over the world. We are dying here. And if we don’t stop and if we don’t get the food and the water into people’s hands, what we we are going to see is something close to a genocide.

“So, Mr Trump, I am begging you to take charge and save lives. After all, that is one of the founding principles of the United States of North America. If not, the world will see how we are treated not as second-class citizens but as animals that can be disposed of. Enough is enough.”

Early this morning the fake “president” sat in his gold-plated golf club and responded to her on Twitter.

Next he attacked the media for reporting what is actually happening on the ground in Puerto Rico.

If people around the world didn’t know by now what a heartless, self-involved monster Trump is, they certainly know it now. It’s difficult even to write about this horror, because thinking about him makes me sick to my stomach. The comparisons to Bush and Katrina are completely inadequate. This is a whole new level of incompetence and true evil. Responses from Twitter:

More responses to the behavior of the useless piece of human garbage the Russians stuck us with:

Eric Boelert at Shareblue: Trump attacks Puerto Rico: “They want everything to be done for them.”

Residents in Puerto Rico have no power and many may not have power until 2018. There’s a dangerous shortage of water, food, and fuel, and Trump is blaming these American citizens for not doing their part in fix the situation….

Obviously, Trump is lashing out in response to the mounting criticism that his administration hasn’t done enough to help Puerto Rico, more than one week after the story demolished the island, and that he has taken a passive, indifferent approach compared to the active one he took when hurricanes barreled into Texas and Florida this summer.

Specifically, Trump’s responding to the righteous indignation of San Juan’s mayor who on Friday pleaded for American assistance.

Even when people are dying for lack of water and food and he has to power to help, Trump only cares about how the situation affects him.

Sarah Kendzior at Fast Company yesterday: Why Puerto Rico is not Trump’s Katrina.

As the hurricane hit, Facebook and Twitter filled with warnings from Puerto Rican officials telling residents to evacuate or die, videos of palm trees snapping, and homes collapsing, and then an agonizing drop in live reports as the island’s power grid and many transmission lines were destroyed. More anguish followed: Many Puerto Ricans on the U.S. mainland are still wondering if their loved ones are alive, and the mayor of San Juan wept as she declared a humanitarian crisis amid “apocalyptic”conditions. U.S. politicians ranging from Hillary Clinton to John McCain urged the federal government to send aid, while Latinx celebrities like Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez pledged money and asked for help.

As this disaster played out on U.S. soil, President Trump said nothing. When he finally tweeted on September 25, it was seemingly to cast blame: “Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble,” hetweeted, adding that “Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”

That is what Donald Trump thought was sad about Puerto Rico, not the hospitals in rubble and the patients near death, not the shortage of food and water, not the millions of American citizens who lost their jobs and homes. Wall Street, not Puerto Ricans, won his pity. As president, he put this philosophy into practice, initially refusing to waive the Jones Act and allow supplies to be shipped to Puerto Rico unimpeded. The Jones Act was finally lifted on September 28. His rationale for the delay? “We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted,” he explained. Heaven forbid millions of desperate U.S. citizens disturb them.

Much as Hurricane Maria was a predictable catastrophe, so is Trump’s cruel reaction. It is what one would expect from a narcissist unable to detach an external crisis from his own reputation. Much as Trump invents fake threats–voter fraud, soaring crime, “The Bowling Green Massacre”–he denies real crises, often while fabricating fake triumphs. Even when dealing with a disaster that is, for once, not caused by him, Trump cannot fathom the suffering others experience as anything other than a potential blight on his image, and it appears that he attempts to remove that suffering from public view. On September 27, the White House announced that all U.S. lawmakers would be prohibited from visiting the island, thereby reducing oversight and official complaints about the botched recovery.

Please go read the rest if you haven’t already.

The Washington Post: Lost weekend: How Trump’s time at his golf club hurt the response to Maria.

As Hurricane Maria made landfall on Wednesday, Sept. 20, there was a frenzy of activity publicly and privately. The next day, President Trump called local officials on the island, issued an emergency declaration and pledged that all federal resources would be directed to help.

But then for four days after that — as storm-ravaged Puerto Rico struggled for food and water amid the darkness of power outages — Trump and his top aides effectively went dark themselves.

Trump jetted to New Jersey that Thursday night to spend a long weekend at his private golf club there, save for a quick trip to Alabama for a political rally. Neither Trump nor any of his senior White House aides said a word publicly about the unfolding crisis.

Trump did hold a meeting at his golf club that Friday with half a dozen Cabinet officials — including acting Homeland Security secretary Elaine Duke, who oversees disaster response — but the gathering was to discuss his new travel ban, not the hurricane. Duke and Trump spoke briefly about Puerto Rico but did not talk again until Tuesday, an administration official said.

Administration officials would not say whether the president spoke with any other top officials involved in the storm response while in Bedminster, N.J. He spent much of his time over those four days fixated on his escalating public feuds with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with fellow Republicans in Congress and with the National Football League over protests during the national anthem.

Click on the link to read the rest.

Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: Trump doesn’t get it on Puerto Rico. He just proved it by lashing out at San Juan’s mayor.

President Trump is facing growing — but still measured — criticism of the federal response to the devastation in Puerto Rico. So what does he do? Lash out at the mayor of a hurricane-ravaged city, naturally.

Trump responded Saturday morning to harsh critiques from San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz by targeting her personally. The president accused the mayor of playing politics and succumbing to pressure from fellow Democrats to attack his administration. He also, remarkably, directly attacked her and other Puerto Rican officials’ leadership….

Anybody who is surprised at this from a president who attacked a former prisoner of war for being a prisoner war, criticized a Gold Star family and made fun of a reporter’s physical disability has a short memory. This is who Trump is. He doesn’t accept criticism and move on; he brings a bazooka to a knife fight — even when those wielding the knife are trying to save lives.

But it’s also hugely counterproductive. In three tweets, Trump has moved a simmering, somewhat-negative story for his administration to the front burner. He decided to attack a sympathetic character and turn this into a partisan political debate. Cruz is pleading for help by saying, “We are dying.” Trump essentially told her to stop complaining. He’s also arguing that somebody who is in charge of saving lives is somehow more interested in politics. That’s a stunning charge.

I wonder how the Republicans are going to defend their sorry-ass “president” this time?

That’s all I have the strength for this morning. What stories are you following?


Thursday Reads: Russia News and Natural Disasters

Goldie Hawn reading a newspaper

Good Morning!!

Naegeli court reporters investigation is getting closer and closer to Trump. Here are the stories that broke just last night, with brief excerpts:

The New York Times: Mueller Seeks White House Documents Related to Trump’s Actions as President.

In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s office sent a document to the White House that detailed 13 areas in which investigators are seeking information. Since then, administration lawyers have been scouring White House emails and asking officials whether they have other documents or notes that may pertain to Mr. Mueller’s requests.

One of the requests is about a meeting Mr. Trump had in May with Russian officials in the Oval Office the day after James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, was fired. That day, Mr. Trump met with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak, along with other Russian officials. The New York Times reported that in the meeting Mr. Trump had said that firing Mr. Comey relieved “great pressure” on him.

Mr. Mueller has also requested documents about the circumstances of the firing of Michael T. Flynn, who was Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser. Additionally, the special counsel has asked for documents about how the White House responded to questions from The Times about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. That meeting was set up by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son,Th to get derogatory information from Russians about Hillary Clinton.

Jane Fonda

The Washington Post: Manafort offered to give Russian billionaire ‘private briefings’ on 2016 campaign.

Less than two weeks before Donald Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, his campaign chairman offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Paul Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past, these people said.

“If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email, portions of which were read to The Washington Post along with other Manafort correspondence from that time.

Interesting Twitter posts on this subject:

Isn’t that fascinating? Trump and Putin are obviously still collaborating.

One more from the NYT last night: Manafort Working on Kurdish Referendum Opposed by U.S.

Paul J. Manafort, the former campaign chairman for President Trump who is at the center of investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, is working for allies of the leader of Iraq’s Kurdish region to help administer and promote a referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq.

The United States opposes the referendum, but Mr. Manafort has carved out a long and lucrative career advising foreign clients whose interests have occasionally diverged from American foreign policy. And he has continued soliciting international business even as his past international work has become a focus of the investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into ties between Russia and Mr. Trump and his associates, including possible collusion between them to influence the presidential election.

In fact, the work for the Kurdish group appears to have been initiated this summer around the time that federal authorities working for Mr. Mueller raided Mr. Manafort’s home in Virginia and informed him that they planned to indict him.

Catherine Deneuve

Manafort is in serious trouble. It’s hard to believe he’s still refusing to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. It also looks like Trump is royally f**cked at least in terms of obstruction of justice, thanks to his own loose lips in the Lester Holt interview and his chummy Oval Office meeting with the Russians.

More Russia-related stories from this morning:

Politico: Manafort used Trump campaign account to email Ukrainian operative.

Former Donald Trump aide Paul Manafort used his presidential campaign email account to correspond with a Ukrainian political operative with suspected Russian ties, according to people familiar with the correspondence.

Manafort sent emails to seek repayment for previous work he did in Ukraine and to discuss potential new opportunities in the country, even as he chaired Trump’s presidential campaign, these people said….

In the emails to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Manafort protégé who has previously been reported to have suspected ties to Russian intelligence, the longtime GOP operative made clear his significant sway in Trump’s campaign, one of the people familiar with the communications said. He and Kilimnik also met in the United States while Manafort worked for the Trump campaign, which he chaired until an August 2016 shake-up.

Mike Allen at Axios: Another potential Mueller honey pot: Spicer’s notebooks.

Now we can tell you about another potential honey pot for Mueller. Former colleagues of Sean Spicer tell Axios that he filled “notebook after notebook” during meetings at the Republican National Committee, later at the Trump campaign, and then at the White House.

When Spicer worked at the RNC, he was said to have filled black books emblazoned with the party’s seal. Spicer was so well-known for his copious notes that underlings joked about him writing a tell-all.
  • One source familiar with the matter said that the records were just to help him do his job.
  • “Sean documented everything,” the source said.
  • That surprised some officials of previous White Houses, who said that because of past investigations, they intentionally took as few notes as possible when they worked in the West Wing.

Allen texted Spicer about this story and Spicer flipped out, telling Allen to stop contacting him or he would “report to the appropriate authorities.” What authorities? Spicer thinks it’s illegal to text another private citizen–Allen says he has been on friendly terms with Spicer for “more than a dozen years.”

Marlon Brando

Axios also has a terrific timeline of Manfort’s activities beginning in 2006: How the Russia probe closed in on Paul Manafort.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Littman at the LA Times: Trump will fire Robert Mueller eventually. What will happen next?

Here’s predicting flat out that yes, at some point Trump will try to oust Mueller.

As the probe advances, the likelihood increases that Mueller will uncover evidence of a serious offense by Trump. With the recent search of former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s home, Mueller has shown his willingness to follow the money trail aggressively. (The latest reports suggest that Mueller’s team is planning to indict Manafort for possible tax and financial crimes.) And Mueller has begun to negotiate interviews with up to a dozen White House aides as well as former White House officials. Trump likely fears that Mueller will zero in on something sleazy or criminal whose revelation could cripple his presidency. Each turn of the screw of the Mueller investigation — and there will be many — increases the pressure on Trump to act preemptively.

The odds also seem great that the erratic, power-consumed and thin-skinned Trump, who every week launches a new Twitter attack on a real or imagined enemy, will be unable to stay his hand month after month as the Mueller investigation unfolds. Like the fabled scorpion who stings the frog even though it dooms him, Trump, being Trump, won’t be able to endure domination by Mueller over the long term. Of course, Trump likely fails to appreciate that it is not Mueller personally, but the law, that is asserting its dominance.

Let’s say Trump snaps.

Angelina Jolie

To fire Mueller, Trump would need to order Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein to remove him. But Rosenstein, a career prosecutor with a strong dedication to the values of the Department of Justice, would likely resign his office rather than comply with the order, as would the department’s third-ranking official, Rachel Brand.

Eventually Trump, moving down the hierarchy, would find someone willing to fire Mueller (as Nixon found Robert Bork, the then-solicitor general, to fire Archibald Cox).

From there, Mueller could launch a legal challenge to the ouster (potentially with the support of the Department of Justice). It’s by no means clear that Mueller, an ex-Marine of legendary rectitude, would choose to sue. Assuming he did, though, he would need to overcome a series of constitutional arguments by the president’s lawyers that any restrictions on the president’s ability to terminate him would impinge on presidential power under Article II.

Click on the link to read the rest.

The natural disasters continue as Hurricane Maria devastates Puerto Rico and moves on the fresh destruction and Mexico City struggles to recover from the recent earthquake.

NBC News: Hurricane Maria Leaves Puerto Rico Facing Months Without Power.

Millions of people across Puerto Rico woke up Thursday to a grim new reality.

Hurricane Maria, the most powerful storm to hit the U.S. territory in almost a century, ravaged the island, demolishing homes and knocking out all electricity. It could take half a year to restore power to the nearly 3.5 million people who live there.

The eye of the storm moved offshore overnight, but the danger remained Thursday: Intense flooding was reported, particularly in San Juan, where many residential streets looked like rushing rivers.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said the devastation in the capital city was unlike any she had ever seen.

“The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there,” Cruz told MSNBC. “We’re looking at 4 to 6 months without electricity.”

Elizabeth Taylor

The Washington Post: Mexico anxiously awaits the fate of a 12-year-old schoolgirl after deadly earthquake.

 A sprawling earthquake recovery effort spanning several states turned intensely personal Thursday as Mexicans were riveted by an effort to save a 12-year-old girl who was pinned in the rubble of her elementary school.

The drama played out live late Wednesday and early Thursday on the major news channels here, with television cameras tracking every movement of the Mexican marines and others who sought to rescue the girl now known as “Frida Sofia.” Under a soft rain, the work was delicate and painstaking, relying on thermal cameras and other technology to try to locate and remove young children trapped for more than 30 hours after their school collapsed on Tuesday afternoon.

At one dramatic point in Wednesday night’s broadcast, Televisa reporter Danielle Dithurbide learned from the marine admiral leading the recovery effort that Frida Sofia — which may not be her real name — was able to tell rescuers that five other students were possibly trapped with her. It was unclear whether they were alive.

I’ll end with this from Grist, via Mother Jones: This Is the Hurricane Season Scientists Tried to Warn Us About.

There is evidence that we are emerging from an era of messy meteorological data, where we were blind to warming seas strengthening hurricanes because the really damaging ones were rare. If that’s true, weather historians may look to this year as the beginning of a frightening new phase of superstorms.

About 85 percent of all damage done by hurricanes is attributable to “major” storms—those stronger than Category 3, so roughly one-quarter of all storms. While relatively infrequent, they are by far the most destructive—a Category-5 cyclone has 500 times the power of a Category 1. Globally, major hurricanes have become slightly more common in recent decades, even as overall numbers have held steady.

Haley Mills

Further, there’s nothing in recorded history that resembles what Irma and Maria have inflicted on Caribbean islands in recent days. Since Sept. 6, the two hurricanes have made six separate landfalls at Category-5 strength. Before this month, just 18 such landfalls had happened in the previous 165 years (and never more than three in a single year). Clearly there’s something happening here—and there’s a developing consensus among scientists about what factors are responsible.

There have been only 33 Category 5 storms in the Atlantic since hurricane records began in 1851. Twenty-three of them have formed since 1961; 11 in only the last 14 years. Part of that uptick comes from better weather monitoring equipment, like satellites that help us spot hurricanes before they make landfall. But even since we developed satellite technology, there’s been a measurable increase in major storms.

The strongest hurricanes require an exceptionally warm ocean to intensify, and with water temperatures currently near record highs in the Caribbean, it’s providing conditions ripe for Category 5s. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, since 1970, the oceans have retained more than 90 percent of the excess energy generated from global warming. That’s a lot of extra fuel for stronger storms.

Read the rest at Mother Jones.

So . . . what else is happening? What stories are you following today?


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

Sofia Loren playing pool, circa 1950s

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Dean signing autographs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three reactions to these stories:

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

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

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

Helen Keller meets Charlie Chaplin 1919

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

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

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

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

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

Washing day in NYC, 1934

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook is facing an unusual degree of scrutiny as Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors makes the social network a central focus of the Justice Department’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including how the platform was used to disseminate foreign propaganda and misleading news stories. Earlier this month, Facebook told congressional investigators that it sold about $100,000 worth of ads to a pro-Kremlin Russian troll farm that targeted U.S. voters. But while some lawmakers appeared frustrated by Facebook’s overly general answers to their inquiries, Mueller isn’t asking nicely.

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

More at the link.

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

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

Miles Davis defining cool in 1947.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pablo Picasso & Brigitte Bardot, 1956

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

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

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

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

Read the reasons at the NYT link.

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