Lazy Caturday Reads: So Much Winning!

Maine Coon Cat

Good Morning!!

Trump threw a tantrum and forced a partial government shutdown that will force some government employees to work with out pay and others to be furloughed without pay. Merry Xmas from the fake “president.”

The Washington Post Editorial Board: Trump’s shutdown stunt is an act of needless stupidity.

As it became apparent Friday that no agreement could be reached on a stopgap spending measure, President Trump warned that a shutdown would “last for a very long time.” Affected is about a third of the government workforce — about 800,000 employees — in key departments, including Homeland Security, State and Justice. Because of the weekend and upcoming Christmas holidays, the impacts of a shutdown may not immediately be felt, but there should be no mistake that curtailment of these government agencies will impose costs across Washington and the country.

That seemed to be of little matter to Mr. Trump, who last week boasted he would be “proud” to shut down the government, glad to “take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down.” He changed his tune on Friday in trying to shift the blame to Democrats for not going along with his demand for money to build a border wall he once promised would be financed by Mexico. Nothing better illustrates the needless stupidity of the shutdown than Mr. Trump’s claim to be taking a stand for border security when one of the agencies being caught up is Customs and Border Protection.

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Any doubt that it is politics — not principle — driving Mr. Trump was erased when he flip-flopped this week on the stopgap spending bill. He signaled he would sign on to a measure, passed by both House and Senate, without wall funding, but then buckled to criticism from the conservative media.

The likes of Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh are determining Trump’s domestic policies. His foreign policy are being run out of Moscow and Istanbul and he is being celebrated by the Kremlin, Iran, and the Taliban for his decisions to pull troops out of Syria and Afghanistan.

Julia David at The Daily Beast: Russia Gloats: ‘Trump Is Ours Again.’

The Kremlin is awash with Christmas gifts from Washington, D.C. and every move by the Trump administration seems to add to that perception. On Wednesday, appearing on the Russian state TV show “The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev,” Director of the Moscow-based Center for Middle Eastern and Central Asian Studies Semyon Bagdasarov said that the U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is “struggling to keep up” with the flurry of unexpected decisions by the U.S. President Donald Trump. The news that Mattis decided to step down sent shock waves across the world, being interpreted as “a dangerous signal” by America’s allies.

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Meanwhile, the Mattis departure is being cheered in Russia. Konstantin Kosachev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Upper House of the Russian Parliament, has said that “the departure of James Mattis is a positive signal for Russia, since Mattis was far more hawkish on Russia and China than Donald Trump.” Kosachev opined that Trump apparently considered his own agenda in dealing with Russia, China and America’s allies to be “more important than keeping James Mattis at his post,” concluding: “That’s an interesting signal, and a more positive one” for Russia.

Jubilation was even more apparent on Russia’s state television, which adheres closely to the Kremlin’s point of view. The host of the Russian state TV show “60 Minutes,” Olga Skabeeva asserted: “Secretary of Defense Mattis didn’t want to leave Syria, so Trump fired him. They are leaving Syria.”

The Washington Post: U.S. troop withdrawal from Syria is ‘a dream come true for the Iranians.’

 One of the biggest winners of President Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria will be Iran, which can now expand its reach across the Middle East with Washington’s already waning influence taking another hit.

The abrupt reversal of U.S. policy regarding its small military presence in a remote but strategically significant corner of northeastern Syria has stunned U.S. allies, many of whom were counting on the Trump administration’s seemingly tough posture on Iran to reverse extensive gains made by Tehran in recent years.

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Instead, the withdrawal of troops opens the door to further Iranian expansion, including the establishment of a land corridor from Tehran to the Mediterranean that will enhance Iran’s ability to directly challenge Israel. It also throws in doubt Washington’s ability to sustain its commitment to other allies in the region and could drive many of them closer to Russia, an Iranian ally, analysts say.

“This is a dream come true for the Iranians,” said Riad Kahwaji, who heads the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, a defense consultancy in Dubai. “No longer will Iran take the Trump administration seriously. It’s an isolationist administration, it will no longer pose a threat, and Iran will become bolder in its actions because they know this administration is more bark than bite.”

NBC News: Taliban greets Pentagon’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan with cries of victory.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — News that the White House had ordered the Pentagon to draw up plans for a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan provoked widespread criticism that the move would kneecap efforts to broker a peace deal to end America’s longest war.

But there was one group on Friday celebrating the reports — the Taliban.

Senior members told NBC News the news was a clear indication they were on the verge of victory.

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“The 17-year-long struggle and sacrifices of thousands of our people finally yielded fruit,” said a senior Taliban commander from Afghanistan’s Helmand province. “We proved it to the entire world that we defeated the self-proclaimed world’s lone super power.”

“We are close to our destination,” added the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the group’s leadership had prohibited members from talking to the media about current events. He added that all field commanders had also been told to intensify training efforts to capture four strategic provinces in the run up to the next round of talks between the U.S. and Taliban, which are expected in January.

Are you tired of winning yet?

The Syria pullout has “Thwarted ‘Major’ Operation Targeting ISIS,” according to Bob Corker. From The Daily Beast:

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee revealed on Friday that the U.S. military was planning a “major clearing operation” targeting ISIS before President Donald Trump decided abruptly this weekto withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.

“One thing that hasn’t been reported is, we were six weeks away from a major clearing operation that has been planned for a long time. I got briefed on this a year ago—with ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) said Friday on Capitol Hill, referring to the area where ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is believed to be hiding.

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Trump’s decision, which at least partly led to the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, has rattled congressional Republicans, who have questioned the wisdom of withdrawing from Syria before ISIS is fully eradicated. In defending his decision, Trump claimed that the extremist caliphate has been defeated, but Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a top Trump ally, called that claim “fake news,” and said America’s adversaries will benefit from Trump’s order.

I’ll wrap this up with three opinion pieces:

Dana Millbank at The Washington Post: It’s official. We lost the Cold War.

Perhaps the timing of George H.W. Bush’s death last month was merciful. This way he didn’t have to see America lose the Cold War.

Bush presided over the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. But the triumph he and others earned with American blood and treasure over 71 years, defeating the Soviet Union and keeping its successor in check, has been squandered by President Trump in just two.

Trump’s unraveling of the post-war order accelerated this week when he announced a willy-nilly pullout from Syria, leaving in the lurch scores of allies who participated in the campaign against the Islamic State, throwing our Kurdish partners to the wolves, isolating Israel, and giving Russia and Iran free rein in the Middle East. Then word emerged that Trump is ordering another hasty withdrawal, from Afghanistan. Trump’s defense secretary, retired Gen. Jim Mattis, resigned in protest of the president’s estrangement of allies and emboldening of Russia and China.

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The TV series “The Man in the High Castle” imagines a world in which Nazis won World War II. But we don’t need an alternative-history show to imagine a Soviet victory in the Cold War. We have Trump.

David Rothkop at The Daily Beast: Mattis’ Message to the World: Trump Is Out of Control. The gist:

Mattis, who took his duty very seriously, came to the conclusion that the value of such checks was now gone. Repeatedly—in Helsinki with Putin, in Singapore with Kim, in his defense of Saudi Arabia’s murderous crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, in his attacks on the FBI and the intelligence community, in his rejection of facts obvious to all—Trump has shown he cannot be controlled from within the administration.

Now, we can expect even worse. The checks on his relations with Putin within the administration are gone. The experienced hands are few and far between and the policy process is non-existent, the most dysfunctional in U.S. history—which suits both Trump and Bolton. Bolton and Pompeo, Iran hawks and apologists for the Saudis, the Israelis, and other Gulf states, will have more freedom. Relations with the military, already bad, will sour. Stephen Miller will gain stronger control over our border and immigration policies which suggests more human rights abuses are ahead. Our allies will have few champions and even less trust in the administration.

All this will happen because today Trump’s most highly regarded aide sent a message to the world and in particular to those responsible for presidential oversight on Capitol Hill. The president is not only outside the mainstream in his thinking, he is out of control. The man who controls the world’s most powerful military and the resources of the world’s richest government, is beyond assistance, beyond redemption, beyond influence other than by our enemies and his greed and narcissism.

Susan Glasser at the New Yorker: The Year in Trump Freakouts.

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President Trump is ending the year as he began it: outraging Washington with a Twitter diktat, one that was cheered in Moscow and jeered on Capitol Hill. On Wednesday morning, the city awoke to an unexpected Presidential announcement that Trump was unilaterally pulling American forces out of Syria, despite having agreed this fall that U.S. troops would remain on the ground there indefinitely. Trump portrayed the decision as both a final victory over the Islamic State, which had overtaken much of the country from the Russia-supported regime of the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, and the fulfillment of a campaign promise to exit the Middle East. A full-scale bipartisan freakout ensued, culminating late Thursday with the long-awaited, long-feared news that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis would join the procession of Trump officials calling it quits. Was it a direct result of the abrupt about-face on Syria? “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis wrote in his resignation letter to the President, “because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.” What we do know is that all the chaos at year’s end is a powerful reminder that the manner in which the President operates is so outside of any normal parameters for governing, so disdainful of process, and so heedless of consequences that his decisions don’t resolve crises so much as create them.

It is, of course, possible to have a reasonable policy debate over whether U.S. forces belong in Syria, given the military’s small footprint (about two thousand troops), the haziness of American objectives, and the fact that there is no political appetite for an expanded intervention in the country’s long-running civil war. But it is not possible with Trump. The retired Admiral James Stavridis, the former commander of nato forces, called the President’s decision “geopolitically the worst move I have seen from this Administration.” Others disagreed, seeing in Trump’s move a disaster in process that otherwise resembled President Barack Obama’s desire to withdraw from the endless conflicts of the Middle East. “Trump is very capable of doing intelligent things in very stupid ways,” Ian Bremmer, the head of the geopolitical-analysis firm the Eurasia Group, said in an interview with CBS on Thursday morning.

It is hard to get past the stupid, though.

It certainly is “hard to get past the stupid” with Trump. I haven’t even scratched the surface of today’s news. What stories are you following? Please share.

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Monday Reads: Wow! Talk about a Twitter Meltdown!

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Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

I don’t even know where to start today other than to state that KKKremlin Caligula is seriously losing it as opposed to his normal state of mostly losing it.  The Trumpfest  storyline on Russia is falling apart as quickly as D’oh Hair Furor’s mental state.  I found Greg Sargent’s piece at WAPO  helpful. It contrasts the Dem v. Repug version of the FISA warrant on Carter Page and the Steele Dossier after the release of a redacted version of the FISA warrant went public over the weekend.

This morning, the New York Times’s Charlie Savage has a great piece on the White House’s decision over the weekend to release documents revealing the FBI’s application to a FISA court to run secret surveillance on former Trump campaign official Carter Page. The bottom line: The documents lay waste to much of the narrative about the FBI investigation pushed by Trump — and GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who enshrined that story line in his much-discussed memo — while largely confirming that Democratic efforts to correct that narrative have been offered accurately and in good faith.

The Trump/Nunes narrative rests heavily on the idea that the FBI probe into the Trump campaign was illegitimate, because it was triggered by the “Steele Dossier.” The Nunes memo in January charged that to spy on the Trump campaign, the FBI failed to disclose that former British spy Christopher Steele’s research had originally been funded for political purposes (which Trump and his allies maintain shows the probe had tainted origins). In his rebuttal memo at the time, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California — Nunes’s counterpart — disputed this, noting that the FBI’s application for the warrant did, in fact, disclose that Steele was hired by “politically motivated persons” to “discredit” the Trump campaign.

The newly released documents — in particular, the FBI’s FISA applications — show that Nunes was engaged in disingenuous parsing designed to deceive and that Schiff was telling the truth. The application contained a whole page detailing the FBI’s conclusion that Steele had been hired to do “research” to “discredit” the Trump campaign, and that the FBI deemed Steele credible anyway, having relied on his information in the past. As Savage puts it, the new release offers a “page-length explanation” that confirms what Democrats contended “at the time” about the research’s “politically motivated origins.”

The new documents also lay to rest another dispute. The Nunes memo claimed the FBI relied on a Yahoo News article to corroborate Steele’s account even though Steele was the source for that article. Schiff’s rebuttal pointed out that, in fact, the FBI had cited the Yahoo article to confirm a separate point. The new documents show that Schiff characterized the FBI claim accurately. As Savage notes: “The application dovetails with the Democrats’ account.”

In sum, the new documents show the FBI suspected that a top Trump official (Page) was collaborating with Russia to sabotage the 2016 election, perhaps along with others. As Julian Sanchez notes, there are extensive redactions following the Steele section that strongly suggest the FBI offered other information beyond the Steele Dossier to bolster those suspicions (which Democrats also claimed to be the case). Though those redactions mean this cannot be conclusively proved right now, the documents show that the FBI’s request for a wiretap and subsequent follow-up applications were greenlighted by judges appointed by GOP presidents, based on the info the FBI offered.

artist: Sadegh Tabrizi (Iranian, b. 1939 d. 1917) Fiancailles Oil and metallic paint on canvas

Right Wing media is try desperately to rescue the Nunes Memo.  Trump argues that it actually shows proves the Mueller investigation is a witch hunt.

President Trump on Monday made a fresh call to end the investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, citing the release over the weekend of a previously classified application to wiretap former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who was under suspicion by the FBI of being a Russian agent.

In a series of tweets, Trump falsely claimed that Mueller’s investigation was prompted by the surveillance. Trump and other Republicans have accused the FBI of relying too heavily on a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer to seek the surveillance order for Page from a federal judge, arguing that Trump was the real target.

In his tweets, Trump complained that the “Fake Dirty Dossier” compiled by Christopher Steele was paid for by Democrats and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, saying it “was responsible for starting the totally conflicted and discredited Mueller Witch Hunt!”

 

It seems clear Michael Cohen is trying to turn state’s witness and we’re approaching the first Manaford Trial.   Witnesses have been granted immunity to testify in the case.

With the criminal trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort just two days away, the judge in the case ordered the testimony of five witnesses granted immunity by special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis at a hearing Monday morning said he would unseal the documents that would reveal the identities of the immunized witnesses.

Ellis also heard arguments over Manafort’s request to delay Wednesday’s start of the trial. He said he would issue a ruling from the bench on the continuance as early as this afternoon when the hearing resumes after a short recess.

The judge had already denied Manafort’s request to move the trial to Roanoke, Virginia, to escape the widespread publicity about the case in the metro Washington area.

Downing, who took over Manafort’s defense in September 2017, revealed that Manafort’s previous law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering had not turned over the records to the new defense team. He also said that the bookkeeping company refused to give him the records unless Manafort reimbursed the company for the subpoena production, which Manafort did not do.

“Go to court and get the documents,” Ellis scolded Downing. “They belong to your client.”

“We thought we’d get them in discovery, your honor,” Downing responded. “It’s a lot cheaper.”

Tens of thousands of pages of discovery materials that Downing pointed to in requesting a delay in the trial were from devices owned by Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime business deputy who pleaded guilty this spring and is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.

Asonye said those materials were images from Gates’ devices and were not among the items on the government’s exhibit list. Downing said that they expected Gates to be a witness and thus the “heart” of the case, so they were entitled time to review all of the materials from his devices.

Manafort faces bank fraud and tax fraud charges related to his consulting work in the Ukraine for then-President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian Party of Regions. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to these charges and related charges in DC.

Qajir Noblewoman by Hojatollah Shakiba (b.1949)

Trump continues to get blowback from the severely botched #TreasonSummit in Helsinki.  More and more Republicans are speaking out.  Today it was Christine Todd Whitman writing an Op Ed in the LA Times stating “Trump is clearly unfit to remain in office”.

President Trump’s disgraceful performance in Helsinki, Finland, and in the days since is an indication that he is not fit to remain in office. Trump’s 2016 “America First” platform might be more aptly named “Russia First” after the disaster that occurred last week.

Trump’s turn toward Russia is indefensible. I am a lifelong Republican. I have campaigned and won as a member of the party, and I have served more than one Republican president. My Republican colleagues — once rightfully critical of President Obama’s engagement strategy with Russian leader Vladimir Putin — have to end their willful ignorance of the damage Trump is doing both domestically and internationally. We must put aside the GOP label, as hard as that may be, and demonstrate the leadership our country needs by calling on the president to step down.

And peak craziness comes in threating tweets to Iran. This out to be giving Bolton and the Dominists some form of hard on.  “Iran’s Rouhani warns Trump about ‘mother of all wars’ ” via Reuters.

 

Mihr Ali, Fath Ali Shah Standing with a Scepter, dated 1809-1810, oil on canvas

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday cautioned U.S. President Donald Trump about pursuing hostile policies against Tehran, saying “war with Iran is the mother of all wars”, but did not rule out peace between the two countries.

Iran faces increased U.S. pressure and looming sanctions after Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from a 2015 international deal over Iran’s nuclear program.

Addressing a gathering of Iranian diplomats, Rouhani said: “Mr Trump, don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret,” the state new agency IRNA reported.

“America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars,” Rouhani said, leaving open the possibility of peace between the two countries, at odds since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

“You are not in a position to incite the Iranian nation against Iran’s security and interests,” Rouhani said, in an apparent reference to reported efforts by Washington to destabilize Iran’s Islamic government.

In Washington, U.S. officials familiar with the matter told Reuters that the Trump administration had launched an offensive of speeches and online communications meant to foment unrest and help pressure Iran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups.

I’m convinced this Bolton’s prize for letting Trump suck up to Putin.  The tweet was in all caps and released on Sunday night some time after the NFL and its players pushed Trump’s race baiting KneeGate into a conference room for discussion. His golf game was off and the media is certainly turned into dogs with teethe for a change.  Sunday news was full of discussions on how weak and servile he appeared in Helsinki.

President Trump threatened Iran late Sunday, warning of severe “consequences,” as rhetoric between the two countries’ presidents escalated dramatically.

Mr. Trump, in an all-caps message on Twitter addressed to President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, wrote that the country would face “CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED” if he continued to threaten the United States.

Trump may not be the craziest idiot in the beltway at Russia.  We always have  Aqua Buddha for a distraction too.  Twitter is just not a good platform for crazy Republicans. I liked it better when it was mostly beat journalists frankly.

In an unusual move, Paul wrote that he will meet with Trump on Monday to discuss allegations that Brennan is “monetizing his security clearance” and “making millions of dollars divulging secrets to mainstream media.” Paul added that he would ask Trump to revoke Brennan’s clearance.

That’s right libertarian demigod!  If all else fails, muzzle the press!

So, I’m going back with a bad dream  I had this morning still swirling in my mind’s eye. I was in a weird office off a long white hallway when a set of drone objects to my door to threaten me.  I grabbed them and threw them to the wall while spotting a third heading my way under the controls of this child-looking roly poly Trump in white pajamas. I woke up as I saw a secret service guy in dark glasses and black suit headed my way.  Eeesh …

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: tRump Against The World

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Good Morning!!

This post is illustrated with cute pics of cats and dogs from petinsurance.review, because I’m dealing with a very bad cold this morning; I’d like to just crawl back under the covers and zone out. On top of that, my patience with our rude and crude new “president” is quickly running out. This clueless man is destroying our reputation as a nation, alienating our oldest and closest allies around the world, and antagonizing our most dangerous opponents–except, of course, for Russia.

Yesterday tRump had nothing to say about Russia attacking Ukraine, but he had no problem with threatening to send U.S. troops into Mexico; sending Michael Flynn out to put Iran “on notice,” whatever that means; and “blasting” and insulting the prime minister of Australia, one of our closest and most loyal allies.

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I guess there’s now some disagreement on the Mexico threat. Here’s what the Associated Press reported yesterday: Trump to Mexico: Take care of ‘bad hombres’ or US might.

The phone call between the leaders was intended to patch things up between the new president and his ally. The two have had a series of public spats over Trump’s determination to have Mexico pay for the planned border wall, something Mexico steadfastly refuses to agree to.

“You have a bunch of bad hombres down there,” Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt given to AP. “You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.”

A person with access to the official transcript of the phone call provided only that portion of the conversation to The Associated Press. The person gave it on condition of anonymity because the administration did not make the details of the call public.

The Mexican website Aristegui Noticias on Tuesday published a similar account of the phone call, based on the reporting of journalist Dolia Estevez. The report described Trump as humiliating Pena Nieto in a confrontational conversation.

Mexico’s foreign relations department said the report was “based on absolute falsehoods.”

Americans may recognize Trump’s signature bombast in the comments, but the remarks may carry more weight in Mexico.

It certainly does sound like tRump, though, doesn’t it? Maybe the Mexico government is going to give us the benefit of the doubt for awhile, but I doubt if this will help public opinion south of the border.

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During yesterday’s White House press briefing, Michael Flynn issued a vague threat to Iran. CNN: White House national security adviser: Iran is ‘on notice.’

President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn condemned Wednesday Iran’s recent ballistic missile test launch, calling it a “provocative” breach of a UN Security Council resolution.

Flynn called the launch the latest in a series of provocative moves by Iran that have included backing Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have attacked US allies.
“As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” Flynn said from the White House briefing room.
Flynn did not say whether the US would take action beyond a verbal warning, and three senior administration officials, speaking on background, said Wednesday that they are still in the early stages of determining what action the US should take in response.
“We are considering a whole range of options. We’re in a deliberative process,” one of the officials said.

Iran may also be giving us the benefit of the doubt for now. NBC News reports: Iran Brushes Off Trump’s ‘Empty Threats’ Over Missile Tests.

A top aide to Iran’s supreme leader blamed the “inexperienced” Trump administration for apparent U.S. threats and vowed his country would continue testing ballistic missiles.

Ali Akbar Velayati, who advises Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on foreign affairs, said that Iran had not breached a nuclear deal reached with six major powers in 2015 or a U.N. Security Council resolution that endorsed the accord. The White House has accused Tehran of acting “in defiance” of a separate U.N. Security Council resolution on ballistic missiles, as opposed to the nuclear agreement.

“This is not the first time that an inexperienced person has threatened Iran,” Velayati said. “Iran is the strongest power in the region and has a lot of political, economic and military power … America should be careful about making empty threats to Iran.”

He added: “Iran will continue to test its capabilities in ballistic missiles and Iran will not ask any country for permission in defending itself.”

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The Washington Post reports on the call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull: No ‘G’day, mate’: On call with Australian prime minister, Trump badgers and brags.

It should have been one of the most congenial calls for the new commander in chief — a conversation with the leader of Australia, one of America’s staunchest allies, at the end of a triumphant week.

Instead, President Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refu­gee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.

At one point, Trump informed Turnbull that he had spoken with four other world leaders that day — including Russian President Vladi­mir Putin — and that “this was the worst call by far.”

Trump was upset about an agreement between the Obama administration and Turnbull to swap some refugees being held in the two countries.

“This is the worst deal ever,” Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honor its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center.

Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admission of refugees, complained that he was “going to get killed” politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.”

Trump returned to the topic late Wednesday night, writing in a message on Twitter: “Do you believe it? The Obama Administration agreed to take thousands of illegal immigrants from Australia. Why? I will study this dumb deal!”

U.S. officials said that Trump has behaved similarly in conversations with leaders of other countries, including Mexico. But his treatment of Turnbull was particularly striking because of the tight bond between the United States and Australia — countries that share intelligence, support one another diplomatically and have fought together in wars including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Australia has supported the U.S. in wars dating back to Vietnam and is one of the five trusted nations with whom we share intelligence. Why the hell can’t tRump stop his pathological bragging about winning the election? His behavior is an embarrassment to our country.

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Bloomberg Politics’ David Tweet addresses tRump’s disgraceful Twitter obsession: Trump Twitter Bursts Throw Decades-Old Alliances Into Disarray.

For the first time in decades, America’s oldest allies are questioning where Washington’s heart is.

This week, President Donald Trump and his deputies hit out at some of America’s closest friends, blasting a “dumb” refugee resettlement deal with Australia and accusing Japan and Germany of manipulating their currencies. Ties with Mexico have deteriorated to the point its government had to deny reports that Trump told President Enrique Pena Nieto he might send U.S. troops across the southern border.

The dilemma for officials globally is figuring out if Trump’s blunt style is simply a tactic to keep them off balance or the start of a move to tear up the rule book that has guided relations with the U.S. since World War II. In the mean time, allies have little choice but to prepare for the worst.

The latest attacks came against Australia and Japan, even with Trump’s new Pentagon chief in the region to offer assurances about the U.S.’s commitment to security ties.

“For those of us like Australia, Japan or Korea, who have been dependent on that continuity, we have got to start thinking about a situation where the U.S. is much more self interested, and more more capricious on what it might do,” said Nick Bisley, a professor of international relations at La Trobe University in Melbourne. “Countries in the region have got to sit down and say those old arrangements can’t last forever.”

tRump’s behavior is disgusting and dangerous.

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Meanwhile, federal employees are struggling to deal with tRump and are pushing back in unprecedented ways.

The Washington Post: Resistance from within: Federal workers push back against Trump.

Less than two weeks into Trump’s administration, federal workers are in regular consultation with recently departed Obama-era political appointees about what they can do to push back against the new president’s initiatives. Some federal employees have set up social media accounts to anonymously leak word of changes that Trump appointees are trying to make.

And a few government workers are pushing back more openly, incurring the wrath of a White House that, as press secretary Sean Spicer said this week about dissenters at the State Department, sends a clear message that they “should either get with the program, or they can go.”

At a church in Columbia Heights last weekend, dozens of federal workers attended a support group for civil servants seeking a forum to discuss their opposition to the Trump administration. And 180 federal employees have signed up for a workshop next weekend, where experts will offer advice on workers’ rights and how they can express civil disobedience.

At the Justice Department, an employee in the division that administers grants to nonprofits fighting domestic violence and researching sex crimes said the office has been planning to slow its work and to file complaints with the inspector general’s office if asked to shift grants away from their mission.

“You’re going to see the bureaucrats using time to their advantage,” said the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Through leaks to news organizations and internal complaints, he said, “people here will resist and push back against orders they find unconscionable.”

The resistance is so early, so widespread and so deeply felt that it has officials worrying about paralysis and overt refusals by workers to do their jobs.

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And check out this quote from the article:

Asked whether federal workers are dissenting in ways that go beyond previous party changes in the White House, Tom Malinow­ski, who was President Barack Obama’s assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, said, sarcastically: “Is it unusual? . . . There’s nothing unusual about the entire national security bureaucracy of the United States feeling like their commander in chief is a threat to U.S. national security. That happens all the time. It’s totally usual. Nothing to worry about.”

According to Politico, some federal employees have begun using encryption to “thwart Trump.”

Federal employees worried that President Donald Trump will gut their agencies are creating new email addresses, signing up for encrypted messaging apps and looking for other, protected ways to push back against the new administration’s agenda.

Whether inside the Environmental Protection Agency, within the Foreign Service, on the edges of the Labor Department or beyond, employees are using new technology as well as more old-fashioned approaches — such as private face-to-face meetings — to organize letters, talk strategy, or contact media outlets and other groups to express their dissent.

The goal is to get their message across while not violating any rules covering workplace communications, which can be monitored by the government and could potentially get them fired.

At the EPA, a small group of career employees — numbering less than a dozen so far — are using an encrypted messaging app to discuss what to do if Trump’s political appointees undermine their agency’s mission to protect public health and the environment, flout the law, or delete valuable scientific data that the agency has been collecting for years, sources told POLITICO.

Fearing for their jobs, the employees began communicating incognito using the app Signal shortly after Trump’s inauguration. Signal, like WhatsApp and other mobile phone software, encrypts all communications, making it more difficult for hackers to gain access to them.

We are truly in uncharted territory. Unpresidented!

What stories are you following today?


Friday Reads: The Iran Deal

tumblr_mgybvytJ5h1qjtdngo1_500Good Afternoon!

I’m running late again!  My schedule is just upside down now and DST just double whammed me on the same weekend I started my late night work.  Still getting used to the weird hours.  I also wanted to spend some time on the negotiations with Iran over its nuke program so I had to catch up with the news.  I’m glad BB’s post was so good because I can see you’ve spent a lot of time commenting on what’s going on in Indiana with its so-called “religious freedom” bill.

Obviously, there are going to be several sides to the “deal” depending on your views and their connections to US/Israel policy. So, I thought I’d highlight a few. Max Fisher–writing for VOX–says the deal is “astonishingly good.”

When Aaron Stein was studying nuclear non-proliferation at Middlebury College’s Monterey graduate program, the students would sometimes construct what they thought would be the best possible nuclear inspection and monitoring regimes.

Years later, Stein is now a Middle East and nuclear proliferation expert with the Royal United Services Institute. And he says the Iran nuclear framework agreement, announced on Thursday, look an awful lot like those ideal hypotheticals he’d put together in grad school.

“When I was doing my non-proliferation training at Monterey, this is the type of inspection regime that we would dream up in our heads,” he said. “We would hope that this would be the way to actually verify all enrichment programs, but thought that would never be feasible.

“If these are the parameters by which the [final agreement] will be signed, then this is an excellent deal,” Stein concluded.

The framework nuclear deal establishes only the very basics; negotiators will continue to meet to try to turn them into a complete, detailed agreement by the end of June. Still, the terms in the framework, unveiled to the world after a series of late- and all-night sessions, are remarkably detailed and almost astoundingly favorable to the United States.

Like many observers, I doubted in recent months that Iran and world powers would ever reach this stage; the setbacks and delays had simply been too many. Now, here we are, and the terms are far better than expected. There are a number of details still to be worked out, including one very big unresolved issue that could potentially sink everything. This is not over. But if this framework does indeed become a full nuclear deal in July, it would be a huge success and a great deal.

The NYT editorial board calls the deal “promising.”images

Iran would shut down roughly two-thirds of the 19,000 centrifuges producing uranium that could be used to fuel a bomb and agree not to enrich uranium over 3.67 percent (a much lower level than is required for a bomb) for at least 15 years. The core of the reactor at Arak, which officials feared could produce plutonium, another key ingredient for making a weapon, would be dismantled and replaced, with the spent fuel shipped out of Iran.

Mr. Obama, speaking at the White House, insisted he was not relying on trust to ensure Iran’s compliance but on “the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program.”

There is good reason for skepticism about Iran’s intentions. Although it pledged not to acquire nuclear weapons when it ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1970, it pursued a secret uranium enrichment program for two decades. By November 2013, when serious negotiations with the major powers began, Iran was enriching uranium at a level close to bomb-grade.

However, Iran has honored an interim agreement with the major powers, in place since January 2014, by curbing enrichment and other major activities.

By opening a dialogue between Iran and America, the negotiations have begun to ease more than 30 years of enmity. Over the long run, an agreement could make the Middle East safer and offer a path for Iran, the leading Shiite country, to rejoin the international community.

According to Reuters, Iranians were celebrating in the street as the deal was announced yesterday.  The country has been living under harsh embargoes which have obviously hurt ordinary people.

Iranians celebrated in the streets after negotiators reached a framework for a nuclear accord and U.S. President Barack Obama hailed an “historic understanding”, but senior global diplomats cautioned that hard work lies ahead to strike a final deal.

The tentative agreement, struck on Thursday after eight days of talks in Switzerland, clears the way for a settlement to allay Western fears that Iran could build an atomic bomb, with economic sanctions on Tehran being lifted in return.

It marks the most significant step toward rapprochement between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Iranian revolution and could bring an end to decades of Iran’s international isolation.

But the deal still requires experts to work out difficult details before a self-imposed June deadline and diplomats said it could collapse at any time before then.

tumblr_n8ny4i9nX51txy642o1_500We have reaction to the deal from the GOP and from former SOS Hillary Clinton as reported by CNN.

The backlash from likely Republican presidential contenders to thepotential nuclear deal with Iran trumpeted Thursday by President Barack Obama came swift and hard. A more optimistic response came from likely 2016 Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the deal — aimed at reining in Iran’s nuclear capabilities — “will only legitimize those activities.”

“Nothing in the deal described by the administration this afternoon would justify lifting U.S. and international sanctions, which were the product of many years of bipartisan effort,” Bush said. “I cannot stand behind such a flawed agreement.”

Clinton, meanwhile, held up the tentative agreement as an “important step” in preventing a nuclear Iran.

“Getting the rest of the way to a final deal by June won’t be easy, but it is absolutely crucial. I know well that the devil is always in the details in this kind of negotiation,” Clinton said in a statement. “The onus is on Iran and the bar must be set high. It can never be permitted to acquire a nuclear weapon.”

But the former secretary of state allowed leeway for herself in case things go awry in the coming months, stating, “There is much to do and much more to say in the months ahead, but for now diplomacy deserves a chance to succeed.”

The rest of the Republican field, however, coalesced around rejecting the deal.

Making his first trek to Iowa as an announced presidential candidate, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz contended the President must bring Congress into the process.

“The very first step for any deal, good or bad, should be submitting it to Congress, and the President making the case both to Congress and to the American people why this advances the national security interests of the United States,” Cruz told reporters after a town hall in Cedar Rapids. “Now everything President Obama has said up to this date has suggested that he is going to do everything he can to circumvent Congress.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described the early details of the agreement as “very troubling” and said “this attempt to spin diplomatic failure as a success is just the latest example of this administration’s farcical approach to Iran.”

Obama pushed to quiet skeptics of the framework during his remarks in the White House Rose Garden Thursday, asking, “Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?”

69844c5ef8afa2721165c08a7842db7fPeter Baker–writing for the NYT–calls the deal a “foreign policy gamble”.

As Mr. Obama stepped into the Rose Garden to announce what he called a historic understanding, he seemed both relieved that it had come together and combative with those in Congress who would tear it apart. While its provisions must be translated into writing by June 30, he presented it as a breakthrough that would, if made final, make the world a safer place, the kind of legacy any president would like to leave. “This has been a long time coming,” he said.

Mr. Obama cited the same John F. Kennedy quote he referenced earlier in the week when visiting a new institute dedicated to the former president’s brother, Senator Edward M. Kennedy: “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” The sense of celebration was captured by aides standing nearby in the Colonnade who exchanged fist bumps at the end of the president’s remarks.

But Mr. Obama will have a hard time convincing a skeptical Congress, where Republicans and many Democrats are deeply concerned that he has grown so desperate to reach a deal that he is trading away American and Israeli security. As he tries to reach finality with Iran, he will have to fend off legislative efforts, joined even by some of his friends, to force a tougher posture.

The WAPO Editorial Board was critical of the deal.

THE “KEY parameters” for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program released Thursday fall well short of the goals originally set by the Obama administration. None of Iran’s nuclear facilities — including the Fordow center buried under a mountain — will be closed. Not one of the country’s 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled. Tehran’s existing stockpile of enriched uranium will be “reduced” but not necessarily shipped out of the country. In effect, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, though some of it will be mothballed for 10 years. When the accord lapses, the Islamic republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.

That’s a long way from the standard set by President Obama in 2012 when he declared that “the deal we’ll accept” with Iran “is that they end their nuclear program” and “abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place.” Those resolutions call for Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium. Instead, under the agreement announced Thursday, enrichment will continue with 5,000 centrifuges for a decade, and all restraints on it will end in 15 years.

Mr. Obama argued forcefully — and sometimes combatively — Thursday that the United States and its partners had obtained “a good deal” and that it was preferable to the alternatives, which he described as a nearly inevitable slide toward war. He also said he welcomed a “robust debate.” We hope that, as that debate goes forward, the president and his aides will respond substantively to legitimate questions, rather than claim, as Mr. Obama did, that the “inevitable critics” who “sound off” prefer “the risk of another war in the Middle East.”

The proposed accord will provide Iran a huge economic boost that will allow it to wage more aggressively the wars it is already fighting or sponsoring across the region. Whether that concession is worthwhile will depend in part on details that have yet to be agreed upon, or at least publicly explained. For example, the guidance released by the White House is vague in saying that U.S. and European Union sanctions “will be suspended after” international inspectors have “verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear related steps.”

Obviously, Bibi is beside himself.images (1)

“I just came from a meeting of the Israeli cabinet. We discussed the proposed framework for a deal with Iran.

The cabinet is united in strongly opposing the proposed deal.

This deal would pose a grave danger to the region and to the world and would threaten the very survival of the State of Israel.

The deal would not shut down a single nuclear facility in Iran, would not destroy a single centrifuge in Iran and will not stop R&D on Iran’s advanced centrifuges.

On the contrary. The deal would legitimize Iran’s illegal nuclear program. It would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure. A vast nuclear infrastructure remains in place.

The deal would lift sanctions almost immediately and this at the very time that Iran is stepping up its aggression and terror in the region and beyond the region.

In a few years, the deal would remove the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, enabling Iran to have a massive enrichment capacity that it could use to produce many nuclear bombs within a matter of months.

The deal would greatly bolster Iran’s economy. It would give Iran thereby tremendous means to propel its aggression and terrorism throughout the Middle East.

Such a deal does not block Iran’s path to the bomb.

Is he the little boy that has cried wolf too often?

Anyway, I hope you’ll read up on the situation since it stands to be one of the biggest foreign policy agreements for quite some time.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Tuesday Reads: Netanyahu Speech, Hillary-Hate, and Nonsensical SCOTUS Case that could Hurt 8 Million Americans

coffee-break2

Good Afternoon!!

I wanted to touch on a couple of issues this afternoon: the latest Hillary Clinton “scandal,” and the upcoming Supreme Court case that could doom Obamacare once and for all.

But before I get to those stories, I want to share this good article by James Fallows on the possible motivations behind Netanyahu’s speech to Congress this morning.

The Mystery of the Netanyahu Disaster, and a Possible Explanation.

Fallows enumerates the possible motivations for the Netanyahu slap in the face to President Obama:

“Was it simple tin ear on his side, and Ambassador Ron Dermer’s?” Fallows asks? That’s not likely according to Fallows, because Netanyahu is far too sophisticated and knowledgeable about U.S. politics. Fallows also discounts the theory that it was only about “election-year politicking” in Israel. Perhaps that’s part of it. Is it because Netanyahu has so often been right in his previous predictions?

Hardly. I can’t believe that he’s fooled even himself into thinking that his egging-on of war with Iraq looks good in retrospect. And for nearly two decades Netanyahu has been arguing that Iran was on the verge of developing nuclear weapons. When you’re proven right, you trumpet that fact—and when you’re proven wrong, you usually have the sense to change the topic. Usually.

Was it because Netanyahu “has a better plan?”

No. His alternative plan for Iran is like the Republican critics’ alternative to the Obama healthcare or immigration policies. That is: It’s not a plan, it’s dislike of what Obama is doing. And if the current negotiations break down, Iran could move more quickly toward nuclear capacity than it is doing now—barring the fantasy of a preemptive military strike by Israel or the U.S.

Fallows also doesn’t buy the argument that Netanyahu actually believes that Iran “faces an “existential threat” if Iran develops a nuclear weapon?

Let me explain. No person, nation, or community can define what some other person (etc) “should” consider threatening….But from the U.S. perspective I can say that the “existential” concept rests on two utterly unsupportable premises. One is that Iran is fundamentally like Nazi Germany, and the world situation of 2015 is fundamentally like that of 1938. Emotionally you can say “never forget!” Rationally these situations have nothing in common—apart from the anti-Semitic rhetoric. (To begin with: Nazi Germany had a world-beating military and unarmed Jewish minorities within its immediate control. Iran is far away and militarily no match for Israel.) The other premise is that Iran’s leaders are literally suicidal. That is, they care more about destroying Israel than they care about their country’s survival. Remember, Israel has bombs of its own with which to retaliate, so that any attack on Israel would ensure countless more Iranian deaths.

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What then? Fallows refers to an article at The National Interest by Paul Pillar.

Pillar’s assessment is that the ramped-up “existential” rhetoric is a screen for the real issue, which is a flat contradiction between long-term U.S. and Israeli national interests as regards Iran. It is in American interests (as I have argued) to find some way to end Iran’s excluded status and re-integrate it with the world, as happened with China in the 1970s. And it is in Israel’s interests, at least as defined by Netanyahu for regional-power reasons, that this not occur. As Pillar writes:

The prime objective that Netanyahu is pursuing, and that is quite consistent with his lobbying and other behavior, is not the prevention of an Iranian nuclear weapon but instead the prevention of any agreement with Iran. It is not the specific terms of an agreement that are most important to him, but instead whether there is to be any agreement at all. Netanyahu’s defense minister recently made the nature of the objective explicit when he denounced in advance “every deal” that could be made between the West and Tehran. As accompaniments to an absence of any agreements between the West and Iran, the Israeli government’s objective includes permanent pariah status for Iran and in particular an absence of any business being done, on any subject, between Washington and Tehran.

That is, as long as Netanyahu keeps the attention on nukes and “existential” threats, he’s talking about an area where the U.S. and Israel might differ on tactics but agree on ultimate goals. Inflammatory as that topic is, it’s safer than talking about re-integrating Iran as a legitimate power, where U.S. and Israeli interests may ultimately differ.

I thought that was pretty good food for thought.

Before I get to the Clinton e-mails issue, here’s an interesting piece at the Washington Post on Hillary’s relationship with Netanyahu.

The phone call between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lasted 45 minutes. For 43 of them, she talked and he listened.

The U.S. secretary of state lectured the Israeli leader, accusing him of trying to do an end run around American opposition to settlement-building and embarrassing Vice President Biden during a visit to Israel, according to interviews with people present during the 2010 call or who were briefed on it afterward. She read from a script for part of the lecture, so as not to miss any key points.

“The word ‘humiliation’ appeared very prominently,” recalled Michael Oren, then the Israeli ambassador in Washington. “As in ‘You have humiliated the United States of America.’ ”

There probably aren’t many times in Netanyahu’s professional life when he has listened to anyone for 43 minutes. Netanyahu prefers to do the lecturing….And there aren’t many people who could make Netanyahu sit still for a tongue-lashing. Clinton is one of them.

Starry-Night-Mocha-Latte-Coffee-House-Series-Sold

The story of the phone call comes from Clinton’s book on her time as Secretary of State, Hard Choices. Read more about it at the link. It would seem that experiences like this would stand Clinton and the U.S. in good stead if she ends up in the White House.

On the latest “scandal” about Hillary using a private e-mail as Secretary of State, I’m not sure what to think. It certainly does give ammunition to Republicans and to potential Democratic opponents like Martin O’Malley.

Here’s the NYT Story that started the fuss: Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules. You’ll need to read it at the link, because the Times has fixed their website so that I, at least, can’t copy and paste any excerpts. Here are some reactions to the story. First, the debunkers:

From USA Today, Clinton aide: State Department e-mails preserved.

A spokesman for Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that while she used a personal e-mail account during her years as secretary of State, those records have been maintained pursuant to federal rules.

“Both the letter and spirit of the rules permitted State Department officials to use non-government email, as long as appropriate records were preserved,” said Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill. “As a result of State’s request for our help to make sure they in fact were, that is what happened here.”

Merrill responded to a New York Times story saying that Clinton, a prospective presidential candidate in 2016, used a personal e-mail account during her four years at the State Department and “may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.”

The Times reported that Clinton’s “expansive use of the private account was alarming to current and former National Archives and Records Administration officials and government watchdogs, who called it a serious breach.”

From Media Matters, The New York Times‘ Deceptive Suggestion That Hillary Clinton May Have Violated Federal Records Law: It Was Only After Clinton Left The State Department That The Law Concerning Private Emails Was Changed.

Yes, the president signed the new law two years after Clinton left the State Department. The NYT wants to punish her retroactively. Not surprising, considering the Times’ longstanding hatred for and sliming of the the Clintons. Please go read the whole Media Matters post. It won’t stop the Clinton haters from using this, but it’s the truth. Arm yourself.

Coffee, Leon Zernitzky

Coffee, Leon Zernitzky

Bob Cesca at The Daily Banter: That Story About Hillary Clinton’s Private Email Account Isn’t as Awful as It Seems.

Again, please go read the whole thing, and prepare yourself for the coming onslaught. This is only the beginning.

A few more links to folks who either don’t know or don’t care about the time of the law and the fact that Clinton preseved all her emails.

A fairly Hillary-friendly post from Charles Pierce, Hillary Finds A Rake To Step On: The First Clinton Bombshell.

LA Times, Hillary Clinton used personal email while serving as secretary of state.

Mashable, Clinton email revelation: You did what, Hillary?

Incidentally, I was shocked to see this from Joseph Cannon:

Hillary’s secret email account. Let’s be honest: If a Republican did this, we’d be worried. Actually, Republicans have done exactly that.

The most important point here is sub-textual: If the NYT has turned against Hillary Clinton, then we should suspect that she has privately revealed to her closest aides that, if elected, she will do things that she cannot now state out loud. Of course, nothing is truly private these days.

“If the times as turned against Hillary Clinton”??!!! Joseph, why aren’t you aware that the NYT –brave champion of Dubya’s Iraq war–has always loathed the Clintons and has published innumerable attacks on them?

Finally a few links to prepare you for tomorrow’s SCOTUS hearing on King v. Burwell, during which the justices will consider whether to throw about 8 million Americans off their health care plans.

Charles Pierce, The Tell: What This Week’s Attack On Obamacare Is Really About.

…the Nine Wise Souls on Tuesday will hear King v. Burwell, the highly imaginative, if constitutionally laughable, attack on the grammar and punctuation in the Affordable Care Act, which the NWS should have laughed off months ago….

It is the Universal String Theory Of Wingnut Conjuring Words in full view, the complete text of one of the spells. A fake scandal being used to excuse the shabby underpinning of a fake lawsuit that will have real and devastating consequences to thousands of people.

coffee-break-1200-4

That’s it in a nutshell. But here are more links to check out for more details.

Slate: Exchanges No One Can Use? We rely on courts to interpret laws impartially. When it comes to Obamacare, they don’t always oblige.

Politico: No easy fix if Supreme Court halts Obamacare cash. (No sh$t Sherlock.)

Republicans are getting nervous about what will happen if they get their wish. From The Hill: GOP fears grow over ObamaCare challenge.

Ezra Klein at Vox: Republicans say they have a plan if the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare. They don’t.

Stephen Brill at Reuters: The Supreme Court hears an Obamacare fairytale.

US News (not known for liberal views): The Silliest Obamacare Challenge Yet. The King v. Burwell case could cause 8 million to lose health insurance.

SCOTUS should never have agreed to hear this case, but they did. Is John Roberts okay with going down in history as a buffoon? We’ll find out in June.

Please share your views along with the stories you’re following today in the comment thread.

 


Monday Reads

childe-hassam-french tea garden 1910

 

Good Morning!!

 

Things are not going well in Iraq, to put it mildly. John Kerry arrived in Iraq this morning and is currently meeting with Iraqi leaders, according to CNN: John Kerry holds talks in Iraq as more cities fall to ISIS militants.

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) — As radical Sunni militants snatch city after city in their march toward Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Iraq on Monday during the country’s tensest time since the U.S. withdrawal of troops in 2011.

Kerry is meeting with Iraqi leaders. He met Monday with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the man who some observers say needs to step down.

With al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government losing more ground to militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, Kerry has implored the leader to rise above “sectarian motivations” to become more inclusive and make the government more representative of Iraq’s population.

“I’m here to convey to you President Obama’s and the American people’s commitment to help Iraq,” Kerry said when greeting Iraq’s speaker of parliament, Osama al-Nujayfi. “The principal concern is the integrity of the country, its borders, its sovereignty,” he said. ISIS “is a threat to all of us.”

Kerry will also meet with Iraq’s foreign minister as well as Shiite and Sunni leaders.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US Secretary of State John Kerry meet at the Prime Minister's Office in Baghdad. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US Secretary of State John Kerry meet at the Prime Minister’s Office in Baghdad. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The discussions with the Maliki government are not likely to be particularly congenial. According to NPR:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Baghdad on Monday to personally urge the Shiite-led government to give more power to political opponents before a Sunni insurgency seizes more control across the country and sweeps away hopes for lasting peace.

The meeting scheduled between Kerry and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was not expected to be friendly, given that officials in Washington have floated suggestions that the Iraqi premier should resign as a necessary first step toward quelling the vicious uprising. Nor will it likely bring any immediate, tangible results, as al-Maliki has shown no sign of leaving and Iraqi officials have long listened to — but ultimately ignored — U.S. advice to avoid appearing controlled by the decade-old specter of an American occupation in Baghdad.

Still, having suffered together through more than eight years of war — which killed nearly 4,500 American troops and more than 100,000 Iraqis — the two wary allies are unwilling to turn away from the very real prospect of the Mideast nation falling into a fresh bout of sectarian strife.

“This is a critical moment where, together, we must urge Iraq’s leaders to rise above sectarian motivations and form a government that is united in its determination to meet the needs and speak to the demands of all of their people,” Kerry said a day earlier in Cairo. He was there in part to meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to and discuss a regional solution to end the bloodshed by the insurgent Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

Good luck with that. I wish Hillary were still in charge at State.

From Jay Solomon at The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Faces Opposing Regional Interests in Bid to Blunt Insurgency in Iraq.

AMMAN, Jordan—As the Obama administration’s top diplomat arrived in the Middle East to gather support to blunt a Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the U.S. was colliding with the region’s ethnic, tribal and sectarian divisions.

Deep gaps between U.S. and Arab views over the crisis have grown more obvious in recent days, say American and regional officials, hampering Washington’s response to the onslaught by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, which this month seized control of territories straddling Iraq and Syria.

The task gained new urgency on Sunday when ISIS swept through new Iraq towns and overran two border crossings with Jordan and Syria, blocking the Iraqi government’s access to its western frontier, security officials said.

President Barack Obama raised the stakes on Sunday, telling CBS News that ISIS threatens American interests if it turns to global terrorism, two days after he announced plans to send U.S. military advisers and supplies to Iraq and called for a new, more inclusive government in Baghdad.

The crisis in Iraq has exposed contradictions in traditional Mideast alliances, in some ways placing the U.S. alongside its sworn enemy, Shiite-ruled Iran, in a joint effort to halt ISIS, while in other ways putting Washington at odds with longtime Sunni allies in the Persian Gulf, who want to weaken Iran’s sway over Iraq.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei in 2009

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei in 2009

Meanwhile, yesterday, according to Reuters:

Iran’s supreme leader accused the United States on Sunday of trying to retake control of Iraq by exploiting sectarian rivalries, as Sunni insurgents drove towards Baghdad from new strongholds along the Syrian border.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s condemnation of U.S. action came three days after President Barack Obama offered to send 300 military advisers to help the Iraqi government. Khamenei may want to block any U.S. choice of a new prime minister after grumbling in Washington about Shi’ite premier Nuri al-Maliki.

The supreme leader did not mention the Iranian president’s recent suggestion of cooperation with Shi’ite Tehran’s old U.S. adversary in defense of their mutual ally in Baghdad.

On Sunday, militants overran a second frontier post on the Syrian border, extending two weeks of swift territorial gains as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) pursues the goal of its own power base, a “caliphate” straddling both countries that has raised alarm across the Middle East and in the West.

“We are strongly opposed to U.S. and other intervention in Iraq,” IRNA news agency quoted Khamenei as saying. “We don’t approve of it as we believe the Iraqi government, nation and religious authorities are capable of ending the sedition.”

Will we ever be rid of these insane wars started by Dick Cheney and his puppet George W. Bush? At least Bush has the decency to keep quiet, but Cheney just won’t shut up even though he has no answers for the current crisis. From Raw Story: Dick Cheney doesn’t ‘intend any disrespect’ by suggesting Obama ‘guilty of treason’

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday insisted that he did not “intend any disrespect” when he suggested that President Barack Obama was guilty of treason by trying to undermine the United States before leaving office.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, Cheney — and his daughter Liz — said that the president was “determined to leave office ensuring he has taken America down a notch.”

He went on to suggest that Obama was a “fool” if he intended to work with Iran to prevent violence in Iraq.

“In this op-ed, you suggest the president is a fool,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl pointed out during a Sunday interview with Cheney. “That is the word you used, ‘only a fool would take the approach he’s taking in Iraq right now.’”

“It almost seems like you’re accusing the president of treason, that he’s intentionally bringing America ‘down a notch,’” Karl noted.

Cheney did not deny that he had accused the commander-in-chief of the United States of treason, but he insisted that he had not just called Obama a “fool” over the violence in Iraq.

“It referred to the fact that we’ve left a big vacuum in the Middle East by our withdrawal from Iraq with a no stay-behind agreement,” the former vice president said. “By the commitment that he made just a few weeks ago, that we are going to completely withdraw from Afghanistan with a no stay-behind agreement.”

See also, Dick Cheney’s amazing chutzpah on Iraq, by Paul Waldman (CNN)

Cheney needs to STFU and go on a hunting trip or something. Maybe he could take Tony Scalia with him.

 

In other news . . .

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Right wing nut and birther Ed Klein has a new Hillary hate book out, and the New York Post has been publishing laughable excerpts. The trouble is, the wingnuts will believe the lies and the media won’t counter them. Be sure to read what Joseph Cannon has to say about the De-KLEIN of journalism.

Why does anyone still print or read right-wing pseudojournalist Edward Klein?

A while back, this fictioneer published a book alleging a lesbian relationship between Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin — a work which one critic called “the sleaziest, most derivative, most despicable political biography ever.” Klein’s revelations always come from anonymous “informants” — one of whom, I’ve heard, is Slender Man.

Klein has a new book out and the NY Post is pushing it, even though the folks running the NY Post must know that they’re peddling garbage….

Anyone who takes this nonsense seriously must also believe that wrestling is real. Nevertheless, the right-wing propagandists are pretending to accept Klein’s work at face value. (See also here, especially the telling piece of “Hildebeest” research.)

This is a horrible story from the AP via Fox News: Researchers discover mass graves with bodies of immigrants in South Texas cemetery.

Volunteer researchers have uncovered mass graves in a South Texas cemetery that they believe contain the bodies of immigrants who died crossing into the U.S. illegally, according to published reports Saturday.

The discovery at Sacred Heart Burial Park in Falfurrias came in the last two weeks, as Baylor University anthropologist Lori Baker and Krista Latham, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Indianapolis, and their students worked as part of a multi-year effort to identify immigrants who’ve died in the area near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Teams unearthed remains in trash bags, shopping bags, body bags or without a container at all, according to the Corpus Christi Caller Times (http://bit.ly/1qqH7CZ ). In one burial, bones of three bodies were inside one body bag. In another, at least five people in body bags and smaller plastic bags were piled on top of each other. Skulls also were found in biohazard bags placed between coffins.

They exhumed 110 unidentified people from the cemetery in 2013. This summer, researchers have performed 52 exhumations, but because some remains were stored together, further study will be needed to determine exactly how many bodies have been recovered, Baker said.

These people just suddenly dropped dead as they crossed the border? Apparently this is the work of a local funeral home, Funeraria del Angel Howard-Williams, which the state has been paying $450 each to deal with bodies of immigrants that have been discovered all over Texas. The funeral home has been paid for this service for at least 16 and as long as 22 years! Were there any autopsies? Did anyone determine whether any of these deaths were homicides?

USA_PFC_BoweBergdahl_ACU_Cropped

We haven’t heard much about Bowe Bergdhal lately. Via The Boston Globe, the AP reports this morning that he has been “Shifted to Outpatient Care.”

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been a prisoner of war in Afghanistan for five years, has been shifted to outpatient care at a Texas military base, the U.S. Army said in a statement Sunday.

Bergdahl, 28, had been receiving inpatient treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston. He is now receiving outpatient care on the base in San Antonio, according to the statement. The Army said his ‘‘reintegration process’’ is proceeding with exposure to more people and a gradual increase in social interaction.

He arrived at the Texas medical center on June 13 after nearly two weeks recuperating at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. Army officials said then that Bergdahl was in stable condition and was working daily with health care providers to regain a sense of normalcy and move forward with his life.

The Army statement Sunday said Bergdahl is receiving counseling from ‘‘Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape’’ psychologists’’ to ‘‘continue to ensure he progresses to the point where he can return to duty.’’

The Army said specifics of Bergdahl’s location would not be made public.

That’s it for me for today, except that I’ve become a World cup fan and I might even watch some of the games the US team isn’t participating in. Ralph’s enthusiasm has sucked me in!

What stories are you following today? Please let us know in the comment thread.

 

 


Saturday Reads: Winter Solstice Edition

Beaghmore Stone Circles, Sperrin Mountains, County Tyrone, North Ireland

Beaghmore Stone Circles, Sperrin Mountains, County Tyrone, North Ireland

Good Morning!!

Today is the Winter Soltice, the shortest day of the year. In the eastern U.S. the solstice will take place around noon, according to blogger Scott Dance at the Baltimore Sun.

The Earth’s axis tilts at a 23.5-degree angle, which is what brings the seasons, and at the point of the winter solstice, the North Pole is tilted furthest from the sun. Starting Saturday afternoon, the tilt will begin shifting upright until the Vernal Equinox.

The solstice marks the start of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, of course. Although the hemisphere reaches its furthest from the sun Saturday, the coldest weather lags a month or two, with January and February, on average, colder than December here.

At the solstice, the Arctic circle is in 24-hour darkness, while it Antarctica is in full sunlight.

The moment of transition to winter has already been welcomed with a traditional ceremony at Stonehenge. BBC News:

Kate Davies, who manages Stonehenge for English Heritage, said: “We were delighted to welcome over 3,500 people to Stonehenge to celebrate winter solstice.

“The wind and the rain did not dampen the celebration. And the ancient stone circle was filled with the sound of song, drumming and chanting….

Claire, a pagan from Bristol, attended the event with her seven-year-old daughter. She said: “We arrived at 5.30am – it’s a wonderful place. You don’t have to be pagan to enjoy it – even the weather won’t put you off.”

Newgrange is a neolithic burial mound, older than the pyramids, located in Ireland. Photograph: Alamy

Newgrange is a neolithic burial mound, older than the pyramids, located in Ireland. Photograph: Alamy

From the Irish Independent: Hundreds gather at Newgrange for winter solstice celebration.

John Cantwell, (49), a healer and member of Sli an Chri or “Pathway of the Heart”, from Dublin, heralded the first ray of sun by blowing on handmade horn fashioned from a bull and ram’s horn as part of a large group of New Age and pagan celebrants who formed human circles linking hands at the base of the monument.

“Our ancestors who built this temple thousands of years ago were great astronomers and they knew something about the sun. I’ve been coming here for years and the majority of times, irrespective of the weather in Dublin or Belfast, the horizon is clear and we get an extraordinary experience of the sun like we do right now,” he said.

“It’s difficult to feel in any way negative about anything right now,” he told the Sunday Independent.

Sun coming up the passage during the winter solstice at Newgrange Tomb. Photograph: National Monuments Service

Sun coming up the passage during the winter solstice at Newgrange Tomb. Photograph: National Monuments Service

Here’s some background on Newgrange from the Guardian:

Compared to the vast crowds of druids and pagans expected to gather at Stonehenge on Saturday 21 December to celebrate the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice event at Newgrange tomb in County Meath, Ireland is a rather exclusive affair. Just 120 people get the privilege of standing inside the monument to witness the remarkable illumination that occurs when a beam of sunlight shoots down into the narrow corridor that leads into the chamber, flooding the entire 19-metre stone passage in a warm orange light.

The people who built this neolithic structure over 5,000 years ago were evidently keen timekeepers. Above the entrance to the Newgrange tomb, which takes the form of a large grass-covered mound, is a small “roof box” that is aligned to the rising sun, a piece of design believed to have functioned in the past as an indicator of the new year. And for six days each year, around the winter solstice, the effect is at its peak.

The article lists some other sites where the Solstice is celebrated, including the Great Serpent Mound in Southern Ohio.

Finally, in Iran the winter solstice is marked by an “ancient tradition” linked to Mithra, the sun god. LA Times:

The winter solstice may mark the longest night of the year, but for Iranians, it’s also known as Shab-e Yalda, a celebration with ancient ties that commemorates the triumph of Mithra, the Sun God, over darkness.

Feasting on fresh fruits from the summer season and reciting works by 14th century Persian poet Hafez, Iranians all around the world stay up to mark the start of winter.

“It’s not an official holiday in Iran, but similar to many other ancient traditions, it has become a significant cultural celebration observed by all Iranians,” said Bita Milanian, executive director of Farhang Foundation, a nonprofit that celebrates Iranian art and culture in Southern California.

The celebration, which translates to “Night of Birth,” has come to symbolize many things for Iranians, said Touraj Daryaee, a UC Irvine professor of Iranian studies.

“This is part of Iranian tradition where evil will run havoc on the longest night of the year,” he said. “So people gather to be together until evil is gone… it’s an old idea where you need protection from evil.”

When the sun rises, light shines and goodness prevails, he said.

In other news,

President Obama said yesterday that the revelations about NSA surveillance programs have “damaged America’s security and intelligence gathering capabilities.”

The president’s year-end press conference was sprinkled with laughter and seasonal well-wishing and covered Obamacare’s poor rollout, the health-care program overall, reasons for his planned absence from the Olympic Games in Sochi – and whether his sagging poll numbers reflected his “worst year” as president. But questions about surveillance and privacy resurfaced throughout.

Obama was asked how he viewed the NSA’s mass surveillance programs after a momentous week in which a presidential panel recommended scores of major changes, CEOs of Internet companies implored him to rein in the NSA, and a federal judge ruled that an NSA program that collects “metadata” on every American phone call likely is unconstitutional.

Referring specifically to the NSA’s metadata program, which stores data on every phone call made in America for five years, Obama defended the program while also promising to change it….

“It’s important to note that in all the reviews of this program that have been done, in fact, there have not been actual instances where it’s been alleged that the NSA in some ways acted inappropriately in the use of this data,” he continued. “But what is also clear is from the public debate, people are concerned about the prospect, the possibility of abuse. And I think that’s what the judge and the district court suggested. And although his opinion obviously differs from rulings on the FISA Court, we’re taking those into account.”

Obama is now on vacation in Hawaii.

J.J. sent me some weather news this morning: Big storm hitting U.S. this weekend. Once again, the bad weather is mostly in the South and Midwest. From EarthSky:

A monster storm system will affect millions of people in the United States during the weekend of December 21-22, 2013. It’s expected to produce a wide range of nasty weather – including severe thunderstorms, flooding, snow, and ice. If you’re in the eastern half of the United States, you will feel the full force of this storm either at home or if you plan on traveling this weekend. A potential severe weather outbreak is also possible across the U.S. Southeast from Louisiana into Mississippi and Arkansas. Meanwhile, Oklahoma has already been hit hard with significant icing across Oklahoma City and into Tulsa.

The local National Weather Service offices have been busy issuing plenty of watches and warnings all across the United States. Flood watches extend from the U.S. mid-South all the way into the Ohio River Valley.

There are four threats with this storm system. One of those threats has already occurred overnight across parts of Oklahoma as freezing rain fell (and as of Saturday morning, continues to fall) across a large part of Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

Read more at the link.

The amborella flower hides a family history of sex and gluttony, according to an analysis of its mitochondrial DNA. (Sangtae Kim / Sungshin Women's University )

The amborella flower hides a family history of sex and gluttony, according to an analysis of its mitochondrial DNA. (Sangtae Kim / Sungshin Women’s University )

Here’s an interesting science story for you. From the LA Times: Sex, gluttony and hoarding marked evolution of flowering plants.

Never mind the selfish gene – the cellular family history of the oldest living species of flowering plants is marked by enough sex and gluttony to earn a place in Shakespeare’s folio.

The powerhouse organelles inside cells of Amborella trichopoda, a woody shrub that grows only in the humid jungles of New Caledonia in the South Pacific, gobbled up and retained the entire genome from the equivalent organelles of four different species, three of algae and one of moss, according to a study of the plant’s mitochondrial DNA published this week in the journal Science.

The results are the product of a years-long effort to sequence the full genome of the plant, a crucial step in solving what Charles Darwin once called “the abominable mystery” — the sudden flourishing long ago of several hundred thousand species of flowering plants.

An analysis of the nuclear DNA of the species, published in the same edition of Science, revealed that the plant is the equivalent of the animal kingdom’s duck-billed platypus — a solitary sister left behind more than 100 million years ago by what became a panoply of flowering, or fruiting, plants.

Read the rest at the link. More from Science Recorder: Oldest flowering plant genome explains Darwin’s ‘abominable mystery’

One question that plagued Darwin was why flowers suddenly proliferated on Earth millions of years ago. He referred to it as an “abominable mystery.” A new study published in Science by the Amborella Genome Sequencing Project decodes the DNA of the oldest living relative of those flowers, the Amborella. It grows natively in 18 spots and its reproductive organs are closed in by tepals, a hybrid between petals and sepals, Nature explains. It is also the only species in its genus, family and order, making it unique specimen to study.

The flower is the only link to the ancient flowers that covered the planet and is helping scientists understand the evolutionary processes that led to the 300,000 species of flowers that currently cover Earth.

“In the same way that the genome sequence of the platypus — a survivor of an ancient lineage — can help us study the evolution of all mammals, the genome sequence of Amborella can help us learn about the evolution of all flowers,” said Victor Albert of the University at Buffalo in a press release.

By comparing the genome of Amborella with other plants scientists were able to determine that about 200 million years ago a genome doubling event occurred that allowed the plants to take on new functions, such as flowering. They believe that the genome doubling may also have led to the diversification and spread of different species of flowers.

I’ll wrap this up with a couple of reactions to the Duck Dynasty kerfluffle.

This one from ABC News goes in the “Duh!” file: Phil Robertson and A&E Fight Not About 1st Amendment, Expert Says.

Kermit Roosevelt, a constitutional law professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said the issue is not actually a First Amendment violation.

“The First Amendment, like the constitution generally, only applies to the government, so if the government stops someone from talking or punishes them, that’s a First Amendment issue. If a private person says I won’t hire you or let you be on TV anymore, that’s not,” Roosevelt said.

“The idea is we don’t let the government decide what’s a good opinion, but we do let individuals decide what they think is offensive and what should be rewarded and what should be discouraged. That’s the way the marketplace of ideas is supposed to work,” he said.

Roosevelt also pointed out that the U.S. has anti-discrimination laws that bar a company from firing someone for their race or religion, but allow it to fire someone if they have opinions the company doesn’t like.

“There’s a line that is difficult to draw between religious beliefs and religiously motivated conduct, but what the Supreme Court has said is you can’t treat people differently because of their beliefs but if those beliefs lead them to engage in certain actions, you can treat them like someone who had engaged in those actions for a nonreligious belief,” he said.

It’s really too bad that people like Bobby Jindal and Sarah Palin need an expert to explain how the first amendment works.

And from Darren Leonard Hutchinson at Dissenting Justice: Duck Dynasty and Discrimination: Firing Phil Robertson Will Not Advance Gay Rights Or Racial Justice! I’ll let you read Hutchinson’s argument at his blog.

Those are my offerings for today. What stories are you focusing on? Please post your recommended links in the comment thread.

Happy Winter Solstice!!