Thursday Reads: A Mish-Mash of Stories

By Maugham Casorati, born 1897 in London, UK died 1982 in Turin, Italy

Good Morning!!

I wish we could go back to the days when we weren’t overwhelmed with breaking news every single morning. I’ve got a mish-mash of articles for your this morning.

The biggest news today will probably be what happens at Paul Manafort’s sentencing hearing at 3:30 this afternoon in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Courthouse News: Manafort Faces Decades in Prison at Virginia Sentencing.

Manafort, 69, faces up to 24 years in prison when he is sentenced by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. During his trial last August, spread over 12 rigorous days, prosecutors unfurled a complex web of fraud he coordinated in multiple countries with the help of his business associate, Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty to charges brought by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and testified against Manafort as the star witness.

Accused of failing to report roughly $16.5 million in income from his political lobbying work on behalf of Ukraine and its onetime President Viktor Yanukovych, the jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty on eight counts of bank and tax fraud after four days of deliberations….

By Bego Tojo

Though none of the charges Manafort faced in Virginia directly involved any of his work on President Donald Trump’s campaign, Mueller’s underlying task – to unearth American activity connected to Russian meddling in the election – placed the spotlight firmly on the president’s onetime campaign chairman….

Manafort will go before Judge Ellis on Thursday afternoon for his sentencing.

Federal sentencing guidelines in the Virginia case suggest Manafort should serve 19 to 24 years in prison but Judge Ellis can impose any sentence he sees fit – including one well below the guidelines. Mueller has recommended Manafort be sentenced in the upper range of the guidelines.

As you probably recall, Judge Ellis is kind of eccentric and usually makes very blunt remarks. Remember, he asked prosecutors whether they had considered charging Mike Flynn with treason and told him “You sold your country out.” Read Ellis quotes at CNN: Baked Alaska and birthday cake: Memorable lines from the Manafort trial judge, T.S. Ellis.

I really dislike the conservative site Axios, but they have a good piece today: The biggest political scandal in American history.

Historians tell Axios that the only two scandals that come close to Trump-Russia are Watergate, which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974, and the Teapot Dome scandal of the early 1920s, in which oil barons bribed a corrupt aide to President Warren Harding for petroleum leases.

Mueller has already delivered one of the biggest counterintelligence cases in U.S. history, author Garrett Graff points out — up there with Aldrich Ames (a former CIA officer convicted in 1994 of being a KGB double agent), or Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (executed in 1953 for spying for the Soviets).

By Guillermo Marti Ceballos (Barcelona 1958)

Watergate yielded more charges than Mueller has so far: A total of 69 people were charged in Watergate; 48 people and 20 corporations pleaded guilty. Mueller so far has indicted 27 people; seven have been convicted or pleaded guilty.

But historians say that both Watergate and Teapot Dome were more limited because a foreign power wasn’t a central player, and a much narrower band of potential offenses was under investigation.
A fourth notable scandal, the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-1980s — in which arms were traded for hostages held by Iran, with the money usRed to fund rebels in Nicaragua — also involved a more limited range of issues.

Read the rest at Axios. It’s actually quite a bit more comprehensive than most of their stories.

J.T. Smith, who was executive assistant to Attorney General Elliot Richardson under Nixon, has an op-ed at The New York Times today: What if the Mueller Report Demands Bold Action?

Most people take for granted that both Mr. Mueller and the new attorney general, William Barr, accept the current Justice Department legal position — reached in a 2000 opinion — that a sitting president cannot be indicted. In a June 2018 memo, Mr. Barr said that under “the Framers’ plan,” the “proper mechanism for policing the president’s” actions “is the political process — that is, the People, acting either directly, or through their elected representatives in Congress.”

Yet since 1973, the Justice Department has revisited its position five times on the question of indicting a sitting president and reached different conclusions. In fact, as executive assistant to President Richard Nixon’s attorney general, Elliot Richardson, I can speak to the circumstances that delivered that first opinion: The principal purpose of the 1973 Watergate-era legal opinion — which concluded that a sitting president cannot be indicted — was to aid in removal from office of a criminally tainted vice president, who, the memo concluded, could be indicted.

But it was not intended to set an ironclad precedent that would forever shape how a president might be treated.

By Jerry Weiss

My experience makes me believe that Attorney General Barr should reconsider Justice Department policy. If the evidence gathered by the Mueller investigation on the actions of the president and his advisers indicates a crime, an indictment might be the proper course to hold the president accountable. Further, the indictment policy does not stand in isolation: It has repercussions for a Mueller report and access to it for Congress and the American public.

As Rachel Maddow reported recently, the 1973 policy was written when Nixon’s VP Spiro Agnew was being investigated for “bribery, extortion and tax evasion.” (he was subsequently indicted and forced to resign). You can read more details about the history at the link. Smith’s conclusion:

Mr. Mueller’s investigation has brought us to face similar questions of institutional integrity and transparency for the American public. If Mr. Barr determines that Mr. Mueller’s findings compel legal action, he should reconsider the policy against indictment of a sitting president.

But if Mr. Barr holds to the view that a president’s actions should be policed by the political and not criminal process, it will be imperative that he share a Mueller report with Congress and, to the extent practicable, with the public, redacting only information that is classified or otherwise prohibited by statute.

In light of the gravity of our circumstances, it would be timely and appropriate for the Justice Department to reconsider the shaky policy regarding indictability of a sitting president and provide Congress and the public with the Mr. Mueller’s full findings and conclusions. Only through sunlight and transparency can we preserve confidence in our national institutions and leadership.

Yesterday the DNC announced that they will not hold a primary debate in conjunction with Fox News, citing Jane Mayer’s New Yorker Article. This is nothing unusual; the Democrats have refused to work with Fox News since 2007, but mainstream journalists are criticizing the decision.

Now media critic Margaret Sullivan has weighed in at The Washington Post: It’s time — high time — to take Fox News’s destructive role in America seriously.

Chris Wallace is an exceptional interviewer, and Shepard Smith and Bret Baier are reality-based news anchors.

By Dibujo de Eduardo Estrada

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about the overall problem of Fox News, which started out with bad intentions in 1996 and has swiftly devolved into what often amounts to a propaganda network for a dishonest president and his allies.

The network, which attracts more viewers than its two major competitors, specializes in fearmongering and unrelenting alarmism. Remember “the caravan”?

At crucial times, it does not observe basic standards of journalistic practice: as with its eventually retracted, false reporting in 2017 on Seth Rich, which fueled conspiracy theories that Hillary Clinton had the former Democratic National Committee staffer killed because he was a source of campaign leaks.

Fox, you might recall, was a welcoming haven for “birtherism” — the racist lies about President Barack Obama’s birthplace. For years, it has constantly, unfairly and inaccurately bashed Hillary Clinton.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Jared Kushner recently traveled to the Middle East and met privately with Saudi prince MBS. Now he won’t tell anyone what went on in his meetings. The Daily Beast: Embassy Staffers Say Jared Kushner Shut Them Out of Saudi Meetings.

Officials and staffers in the U.S. embassy in Riyadh said they were not read in on the details of Jared Kushner’s trip to Saudi Arabia or the meetings he held with members of the country’s royal court last week, according to three sources with knowledge of the trip. And that’s causing concern not only in the embassy but also among members of Congress.

By Henry McGrane

On his trip to the Middle East, Kushner stopped in Riyadh. While there, he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and King Salman to discuss U.S.-Saudi cooperation, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and economic investment in the region, according to the White House.

But no one from the embassy in Riyadh was in the meetings, according to those same sources. The State Department did have a senior official in attendance, but he was not part of the State Department team in Saudi. He is a senior member of the department focused on Iran, according to a source with direct knowledge of the official’s presence in Riyadh.

“The Royal Court was handling the entire schedule,” one congressional source told The Daily Beast, adding that officials in the U.S. embassy in had insight into where Kushner was when in Saudi Arabia. “But that is normal for his past trips.”

Click the link to read the rest. A related article from the WaPo editorial board: Trump is covering up for MBS. The Senate must push for accountability.

New York Times gossip columnist Maggie Haberman relays former WH Chief of Staff John Kelly’s attempted cleanup of his mangled reputation following the revelations about Jared and Ivanka’s security clearances: John Kelly, Out of White House, Breaks With Trump Policies.

The former White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, on Wednesday declined to answer questions about the existence of a memo he wrote saying that President Trump had ordered officials to give his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a security clearance in May 2018.

By Mario Tozzi 1920

Mr. Kelly also broke with Mr. Trump on key aspects of his approach to immigration and the NATO alliance, and said that his top concern about decisions made by the president was whether they were objectively right for the country when divorced from political concerns.

Mr. Kelly, who kept his voice level during a 90-minute question-and-answer session at Duke University, would not specifically address Mr. Kushner’s clearance being ordered by Mr. Trump, which The New York Times reported last week.

“I couldn’t — and I’m not dodging — I couldn’t comment on that for a couple of reasons,” Mr. Kelly said, citing clearances being among the things that he could not discuss, and that conversations with the president “at that level would certainly” be kept confidential under executive privilege.

Some of what Kelly did talk about:

Mr. Kelly, who left at the end of December, also made clear he did not consider himself working for Mr. Trump, but doing his civic duty to serve. If Hillary Clinton had won, he said, he probably would have worked for her as well.

Mr. Kelly defended the utility of the NATO alliance, which Mr. Trump has often criticized as an unfair financial drain on the United States.

On a wall at the border with Mexico, Mr. Kelly said that there were specific areas where it could be effective but constructing one “from sea to shining sea” was a “waste of money.”

The issuance of the zero-tolerance policy for border crossings that resulted in family separations “came as a surprise” to him and to other officials, Mr. Kelly said, defending his replacement as secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, from criticism. He appeared to place most of the blame on the former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who announced the policy.

I have a few more links to share, but this post is getting long. I’ll put them in the comment thread. What stories have you been following?


Tuesday Reads: The Humiliation of the Fake “President”

Good Morning!!

 

As if the fake “president” didn’t have enough humiliations to deal with this morning, Time Magazine has delivered a crushing blow to his ego, announcing Jamal Khashoggi and other journalists as their “Person of the Year.”

The Washington Post: Time’s Person of the Year: ‘Guardians’ of the truth, including slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Time magazine has announced its 2018 Person of the Year is “The Guardians,” four individuals and one group — all journalists — who this year helped expose “the manipulation and the abuse of truth” around the world.

They are the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post contributing columnist who was killed inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul in October; the staff of the Capital Gazette newspaper in Maryland; journalist Maria Ressa, the CEO of the Rappler news website, who has been made a legal target in the Philippines; and journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who have been jailed in Myanmar for nearly a year for their work exposing the mass killing of Rohingya Muslims.

“As we looked at the choices, it became clear that the manipulation and the abuse of truth is really the common thread in so many of this year’s major stories, from Russia to Riyadh to Silicon Valley,” Time magazine editor Edward Felsenthal said on the “Today” show Tuesday morning, where the announcement was made.

“The manipulation and abuse of truth” is a pretty clear reference to Trump’s governing style.

Here’s Time’s cover story: The Guardians and the War on Truth.

The stout man with the gray goatee and the gentle demeanor dared to disagree with his country’s government. He told the world the truth about its brutality toward those who would speak out. And he was murdered for it.

Every detail of Jamal Khashoggi’s killing made it a sensation: the time stamp on the surveillance video that captured the Saudi journalist entering his country’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2; the taxiway images of the private jets bearing his assassins; the bone saw; the reports of his final words, “I can’t breathe,” recorded on audio as the life was choked from him.

But the crime would not have remained atop the world news for two months if not for the epic themes that Khashoggi himself was ever alert to, and spent his life placing before the public. His death laid bare the true nature of a smiling prince, the utter absence of morality in the Saudi-U.S. alliance and—in the cascade of news feeds and alerts, posts and shares and links—the centrality of the question Khashoggi was killed over: Whom do you trust to tell the story?

Khashoggi put his faith in bearing witness. He put it in the field reporting he had done since youth, in the newspaper editorship he was forced out of and in the columns he wrote from lonely exile. “Must we choose,” he asked in the Washington Post in May, “between movie theaters and our rights as citizens to speak out, whether in support of or critical of our government’s actions?” Khashoggi had fled his homeland last year even though he actually supported much of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s agenda in Saudi Arabia. What irked the kingdom and marked the journalist for death was Khashoggi’s insistence on coming to that conclusion on his own, tempering it with troubling facts and trusting the public to think for itself.

Such independence is no small thing. It marks the distinction between tyranny and democracy. And in a world where budding authoritarians have advanced by blurring the difference, there was a clarity in the spectacle of a tyrant’s fury visited upon a man armed only with a pen. Because the strongmen of the world only look strong. All despots live in fear of their people. To see genuine strength, look to the spaces where individuals dare to describe what’s going on in front of them.

Trump and his gullible son-in-law Jared Kushner won’t be happy about this. Plus, yesterday CNN published quotes from the transcript of the recording of the Kashoggi murder: ‘I can’t breathe.’ Jamal Khashoggi’s last words disclosed in transcript, source says.

“I can’t breathe.” These were the final words uttered by Jamal Khashoggi after he was set upon by a Saudi hit squad at the country’s consulate in Istanbul, according to a source briefed on the investigation into the killing of the Washington Post columnist.

The source, who has read a translated transcript of an audio recording of Khashoggi’s painful last moments, said it was clear that the killing on October 2 was no botched rendition attempt, but the execution of a premeditated plan to murder the journalist.
During the course of the gruesome scene, the source describes Khashoggi struggling against a group of people determined to kill him.

“I can’t breathe,” Khashoggi says.

“I can’t breathe.”

“I can’t breathe.”

The transcript notes the sounds of Khashoggi’s body being dismembered by a saw, as the alleged perpetrators are advised to listen to music to block out the sound.

And, according to the source, the transcript suggests that a series of phone calls are made. Turkish officials believe the calls were placed to senior figures in Riyadh, briefing them on progress.

Nick Ayers and John Kelly

In other humiliations, the fake “president” decided to humiliate Chief of Staff John Kelly by announcing his firing without any warning, and then the fake “president” was in turn humiliated by his choice to replace Kelly. Gabriel Sherman at Vanity Fair:

On Friday night, members of Donald Trump’s West Wing gathered for drinks at the Trump International Hotel following a holiday dinner at the White House. As they mingled in the lobby, Bill Shine, Stephen MillerKellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and others grappled with the latest West Wing upheaval: Trump had changed the plan and fired Chief of Staff John Kellyearlier that afternoon. “It got back to Trump that Kelly was bad-mouthing him and Trump had decided he’d had enough. His attitude was, ‘fuck him,’” an attendee told me.

Kelly’s defenestration surprised few people—Trump had wanted to fire him for months—but the lingering problem had been finding a replacement whom Trump felt comfortable with (and who wanted the job). “The president really wanted someone he knows. He didn’t want to gamble,” a former West Wing official said. After weeks of lobbying by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Trump had been convinced that Mike Pence’s 36-year-old chief of staff, Nick Ayers, was the best candidate. On Friday afternoon, Trump met with Ayers, Pence, and Kelly and finalized the transition, a source briefed on the meeting said. A press release announcing Ayers’s hiring was reportedly drafted and ready to go for when Trump planned to announce Kelly’s departure on Monday.

But Trump’s frustration with Kelly boiled over after Kelly pressed him to name his deputy Zachary Fuentes interim chief of staff. “Trump didn’t like how Kelly was trying to dictate the terms of his departure,” a Republican briefed on the discussions told me. Trump blew up the carefully orchestrated announcement and told reporters on Saturday as he walked to Marine One that Kelly would be leaving by the end of the year. “John wanted to announce his own departure. This was a humiliation,” a former West Wing official said.

Trump’s impulsive announcement quickly became an even bigger problem when it turned out that Kelly’s replacement was not sewn up; Ayers surprised Trump later that day by insisting that he only wanted the job short term. “Trump was pissed, he was caught off guard,” a former West Wing official briefed on the talks said.

And to make sure the humiliation of the fake “president” was complete, Ayers announced his departure on Twitter.

Now Trump is left with no one to humiliate in the formerly prestigious Chief of Staff job. The Washington Post: ‘There was no Plan B’: Trump scrambles to find chief of staff after top candidate turns him down.

After announcing the exit of his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, and being turned down by his pick to replace him, Nick Ayers, Trump found himself Monday in an unexpected predicament — scrambling to recruit someone to help run the executive branch of the federal government and guide the administration through the political tumult and possible legal peril ahead.

“Will you be my Chief of Staff?”

In any White House, the chief of staff is arguably the most punishing position. But in this White House — a den of disorder ruled by an impulsive president — it has proved to be an especially thankless job. The two people to hold the job were left with their reputations diminished after failing to constrain the president, who often prefers to function as his own chief of staff.

Three members of Trump’s Cabinet who have been discussed inside the West Wing as possible chiefs of staff — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer — each signaled Monday that they were not interested in the position.

Considerable buzz has centered on two other contenders. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) noted his interest in the job by issuing a statement saying that “serving as Chief of Staff would be an incredible honor.”

“It is not something I have been campaigning for,” Meadows told reporters Monday on Capitol Hill, adding that his phone “blew up” after the Ayers news broke. “The president has a good list of candidates. I’m honored to be one of those.”

And acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, who traveled with Trump to Kansas City, Mo., last week , is seen by the president and his allies as a loyalist.

But Trump’s advisers and aides cautioned that there was not yet a front-runner.

Although aides said the president is committed to finding a replacement for Kelly before the Christmas holiday, they said he has been vacillating — casting about in all corners for potential picks and frustrated by news coverage depicting his White House as a place where talented people do not want to work.

Why would anyone want to work for Trump? I guess it will have to be someone whose reputation is already in tatters. I can’t imagine anyone who has hopes for a future career being interested. That description could apply to Whitaker, but how could he get a security clearance when he’s associated with a company that is under investigation for fraud?

Of course Trump is claiming he has multiple applicants for the job.

Hahahahahahahaha!

That’s it for me today. What stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: 9/11 Anniversary, Hurricane Florence, and Political Storm Woodward

Good Morning!!

Today is the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

There’s a memorial ceremony going on in New York City, but Trump is in Shanksville, Pennsylvania for a Flight 93 event. I suppose he figured he wouldn’t be welcome in New York and he might get more votes out Pennsylvania. Anyway, this is a photo of his embarrassing behavior on arrival there.

This buffoon is not capable of acting appropriately in any situation. Remember when we had a dignified president?

Trump started the day with a series of tweets about his obsession with the Russia investigation and his campaign to destroy his own Department of Justice. NBC News:

President Donald Trump began the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by tweeting about the FBI, claims of possible collusion between his presidential campaign and Russia, and former Attorney General Eric Holder.

The tweets, apparently rehashing reports on Fox Business Network and Fox News, came as the president was traveling to a scheduled appearance at the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania — the site where one of the planes hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, crashed into a field.

First, right after 7:00 a.m., Trump, appearing to quote from a Fox Business Network segment, tweeted, “‘We have found nothing to show collusion between President Trump & Russia, absolutely zero, but every day we get more documentation showing collusion between the FBI & DOJ, the Hillary campaign, foreign spies & Russians, incredible.’ @SaraCarterDC @LouDobbs.”

Lou Dobbs is a Fox Business anchor, while Sara Carter is a Fox News contributor. She posted an article Monday night alleging that officials from the FBI and Justice Department leaked information to the media.

Peter Strzok (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

The “leak strategy” That the moron in chief and other idiots complained about was an effort by Peter Strzok to stop leaks from the FBI.

“The term ‘media leak strategy’ in Mr. Strzok’s text refers to a Department-wide initiative to detect and stop leaks to the media. The President and his enablers are once again peddling unfounded conspiracy theories to mislead the American people,” Goelman said.

Read the tweets and more at the link. This is the “president.” he spends most of his time sitting around watching TV and tweeting ignorant nonsense and the rest ranting at his staff or at paid audiences at his Hitler-style rallies.

USA Today on the 9/11 ceremonies:

Seventeen years out from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the nation comes together Tuesday to mourn and remember a day that changed history.

The country watched in horror as hijacked airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The attack killed 2,996 people, making it the deadliest foreign attack ever on U.S. soil.

Ceremonies begin in New York City on the 9/11 Memorial plaza at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. Family members of victims of the 2001 and 1993 attacks, and they have been invited to participate in this year’s reading of the names.

President Donald Trump will pay tribute to the victims at a ceremony in western Pennsylvania. First lady Melania Trump will accompany her husband to the event.

The Shanksville ceremony will include the sounds of the Tower of Voices, a 93-foot-tall concrete and steel structure featuring a wind chime for each person on board with its own distinctive sound. The tower is the final phase of the 2,200-acre Flight 93 National Memorial.

The site is live streaming both events.

In other news, a powerful category 4 hurricane is bearing down on the mid-Atlantic coast and and another is bearing down on the Trump White House in the form of Bob Woodward’s book, which was released today.

From the ABC News 11 (Raleigh, Durham, Fayetteville, NC area): Hurricane Florence remains dangerous Cat 4 storm as it heads toward the Carolinas.

Hurricane Florence continues to be a dangerous Category 4 storm as it steams toward the U.S. East Coast, but a new wrinkle in the Gulf could affect its path.

It’s too early to know for sure, but a disturbance in the Gulf could form into Tropical Storm Joyce and potentially push Florence’s track northward — good news for many parts of North Carolina.

That’s just a possibility at this point, according to Chief Meteorologist Chris Hohmann.

So the situation is still fluid.

The Washington Post: Hurricane Florence: Watches posted as “extremely dangerous” storm churns toward Carolinas.

Large and violent Florence is continuing on a beeline toward the East Coast as an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 hurricane. Catastrophic flooding and destructive winds are becoming very likely in the eastern Carolinas.

Forecasts generally project the storm to make landfall between northern South Carolina and North Carolina’s Outer Banks as a strong Category 3  on Thursday, although shifts in the track are possible and storm impacts will expand great distances beyond where landfall occurs.

The National Hurricane Center is warning of an “extremely dangerous” triple threat in the Carolinas and Virginia:

1) A “life-threatening storm surge” at the coast — a rise in ocean water over normally dry land.

2) “Life-threatening freshwater flooding from a prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall event” from the coast to interior sections.

3) “Damaging hurricane-force winds” at the coast and some distance inland.

Like Hurricane Harvey, which stalled over Texas in 2017, Florence could linger over the Southeast for several days after landfall unloading 15 to 20 inches of rain and isolated amounts to 30 inches. The Hurricane Center said this “could produce catastrophic flash flooding.” […..]

More than 1.5 million people have already been ordered to evacuate coastal areas ahead of the storm, due to both destructive winds and storm surge which could place normally dry land under at least 10 feet of water.

Read more at the WaPo.

On the Woodward book, I highly recommend this review at Slate by Isaac Chotiner: Nobody’s Heroes: Bob Woodward’s new book presents Trump staffers as our last line of defense. We’re doomed.

Nearly 300 pages into Bob Woodward’s new book, Fear: Trump in the White House, a West Wing aide named Zach Fuentes cautions fellow staffers. With depressingly familiar words, Fuentes informs his colleagues, “He’s not a detail guy. Never put more than one page in front of him. Even if he’ll glance at it, he’s not going to read the whole thing. Make sure you underline or put in bold the main points … you’ll have 30 seconds to talk to him. If you haven’t grabbed his attention, he won’t focus.” Some subjects, such as the military, do engage him, but the overwhelming picture is worrying and dire. Still, one could finish this passage and feel at least slightly relieved that people like Fuentes are aware of the reigning deficiencies in the White House, and doing their best to mitigate them.

Fuentes is merely an assistant to John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, but Kelly and James Mattis, the secretary of defense, are presented throughout Woodward’s book as being cognizant of the president’s extreme limitations and authoritarian instincts, and rather boldly willing to push back against their boss. This is why it’s probably worth mentioning that Fuentes wasn’t talking about Donald Trump; no, he was talking about John Kelly. And Woodward’s book—which arrived at around the same time as the already infamous, still-currently anonymous New York Times op-ed about the men and women in the executive branch supposedly working to protect America from Donald Trump—is as much a portrait of the craven, ineffective, and counterproductive group of “adults” surrounding Trump as it is a more predictable look into the president’s shortcomings. It’s not entirely clear how aware Woodward is of what he has revealed about the people he’s quoting at length. (Sources tend to come off well in his books.) But intentionally or not, Fear will make plain to the last optimist that, just as Republicans in Congress are unlikely to save us, neither are the relative grown-ups in the Trump administration.

(Emphasis added.) It’s a frightening but important read.

One more on Trump’s reactions to the book from Politico’s Annie Karni:  Trump’s assault on Woodward riddled with contradictions.

President Donald Trump has called journalist Bob Woodward’s book on his administration a work of “fiction” and a “scam,” claiming that quotes in the book are “made up” and that the author is a “liar.”

At the same time, sources familiar with his thinking said he is livid at his former economic adviser, Gary Cohn, and his former staff secretary, Rob Porter, for “leaking” to Woodward.

It’s difficult to rationally argue that the book could be both: fiction dreamed up by Woodward, and a betrayal by former top stewards of the administration, who shared with the famed journalist alarming details about how the White House functions.

But it’s not hard for Trump, who often spouts two opposing views intended for different audiences. And his supporters often soak up the contradictory claims just as readily as he spits them out, taking it all in stride.

More Trump insanity at the link.I’ll add a few more links in the comment thread. What stories are you following today?


Sunday Reads: Happy Motherhood is a Pre-existing Condition Day!

Happy Mother’s Day….

Or as one person in the Twitterverse puts it:

 

(If you aren’t following @OhNoSheTwitnt you should…)

 

 

It is a strange Mother’s Day for me, I am not sure how to approach the day. My mom’s results from her latest CT scan were not good. The chemo treatment has not been working, there is new tumor and it looks like she has run out of options. So today, on this Mother’s Day, I am faced with the reality that eventually I will be spending a Mother’s Day without my Mama. I don’t want that. And this sense of eminent loss is so overwhelming, that my days are becoming a cycle of playbacks. When she is up, I want to watch a movie with her…whatever she wants to watch. I want to spend that time laughing at funny scenes, or enjoying a film that we both appreciate. It is the same thing daily, and believe me…we have seen some of these films many times, but I want to capture those feelings once more. I don’t want to lose them. That is what it comes down to this Mother’s Day. Grasping those hours so that I can recycle them later…it is all I can do.

So, with all that being said, the disasters of the day seem to pass by me…until I watch Maddow, then I am back into my mood where I am unable to focus on anything. Here are some news stories for you this morning, my commentary on them will be minimal at best. Basically, the shit has gone beyond my comprehension of what kind of corruption and scandal it takes to bring a politician down. tRump could kill someone on Fifth Avenue, and get away with it…and still remain in the White House as President. I don’t think anything is going to happen, it is over. We are all fucked.

Now for the news:

 

Take a look at this thread on twitter:

 

 

 

Now, check this out:

Trump Compared to Cyrus the Great – Talking Points Memo

Fox Host Jeanine Pirro says Donald Trump fulfilled biblical prophecy by moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

Full video at the link.

Here is the quote:

Trump fulfilling ‘Biblical prophecy’ by moving embassy to Jerusalem says Judge Jeanine Pirro in bonkers rant

The move, she said, “Sent a huge signal to Iran, and Shiite Muslims, that we stood with the more moderate Sunnis.” (ISIS and Al Qaida are both Sunni; there has never been a major terrorist attack on the United States led by a Shiite group.)

“Trump has assured the world that his word is worth more than any former U.S. president,” she said. “His word is more than any treaty, and stronger than any UN resolution.”

And then she got Biblical.

“Jerusalem is the one and only capital of Israel,” she said. “By Trump putting his impermada on what has been history for the last 3,000 years—and that’s it has been the people’s capital of one people’s country or one kingdom. That people is the Jews and that country is Israel.”

She said that Israel is the foundation of our Judeo-Christian nation.

“Donald Trump recognized history, he like King Cyrus before him, fulfilled the Biblical prophecy of the God worshipped by Jews, Christians and, yes, Muslims, that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state and that the Jewish people finally deserve a righteous, free and sovereign Israel.”

With Fox peddling these “coins” that have the tRump is King Cyrus symbolism propoganda…it adds to the rest of the big picture.

 

Former Trump campaign aide is helping Russian firm shed sanctions – CNNPolitics

A former senior campaign and transition aide to President Donald Trump recently inked a deal to help a Russian oligarch’s conglomerate shed sanctions the Trump administration slapped on them last month.

Bryan Lanza, who is in regular contact with White House officials, is lobbying on behalf of the chairman of EN+ Group, an energy and aluminum firm presently controlled by Oleg Deripaska, according to several sources. Deripaska is a billionaire who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and was the target of US sanctions imposed last month. Lanza is also a CNN contributor.
Lanza is representing the chairman of EN+ Group, but not Deripaska directly. The company is seeking to reduce Deripaska’s ownership in the company enough to be freed from US sanctions. Deripaska is expected to maintain a substantial stake in the company.

You can read about more tRump lobby connections at the link. Names like Corey Lewandowski, Brian Ballard, Jason Miller have all opened up their own DC firms. All the while, keep in mind:

 

 

 

But…it is all just a normal day in Washington:

Oh, this also happened on the quiet:

Perry Halts Nuclear Arms-Into-Fuel Project

Energy Secretary Rick Perry has formally ended construction of a facility meant to reprocess weapons-grade plutonium and uranium into fuel for reactors, a key element of the nation’s commitment to containing the global nuclear threat.

Perry executed a waiver Thursday to terminate construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

A day earlier, Perry called it a “historically questionable” expenditure in testimony before Congress about the Trump administration’s 2019 budget proposal, which includes $220 million toward closing the project, and $59 million toward replacing it with a so-called “dilute and dispose” approach to surplus nuclear material.

Yeah, King Cyprus…I mean tRump is gonna need all those nukes to “dilute and dispose” of over there in Iran…right?

Iran nuclear deal: Iranians worry about impact of US sanctions | Iran News | Al Jazeera

Iran’s parliament is expected to debate emergency legislation, after US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull America out of the nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign minister is in China as part of a whirlwind diplomatic tour, to rescue the agreement.

Inside Iran, people are bracing themselves for the possibility of more hardship from sanctions.

Video report at the link.

 

Just one more thought on hardship…and motherhood…

 

John Kelly’s ‘Family Separation’ Recalls Slave Era Practice of Selling Parents Down the River – Truthdig

John Kelly, White House chief of staff, is an immigrant-hating bigot, as demonstrated by a long series of Draconian statements and measures that would have embarrassed most normal people into a lifetime vow of silence in their wake.

Kelly bizarrely defended Confederate slave drivers of the 1860s as having lived at a time before the evils of slavery were apparent to moral people. Haiti abolished slavery in 1804, Mexico in 1824 and Tunisia in 1846. But Kelly’s assertion becomes a little more understandable in view of his NPR interview on May 11.

On undocumented immigration, Kelly’s interview went like this:

Kelly: “But a big name of the game is deterrence.

NPR: “Family separation stands as a pretty tough deterrent.”

Kelly: “It could be a tough deterrent — would be a tough deterrent. A much faster turnaround on asylum seekers.

NPR: “Even though people say that’s cruel and heartless to take a mother away from her children?”

Kelly: “I wouldn’t put it quite that way. The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever. But the big point is they elected to come illegally into the United States and this is a technique that no one hopes will be used extensively or for very long.

Kelly’s doctrine of “deterrence” of undocumented immigration into the US through family separation is undergirded by a special kind of sadism and ignorance combined. First of all, villagers in Honduras are not going to know about Kelly’s policy. Second, they are so desperate that many will take the risk anyway. Third, it is wrong to pounce and take US citizen children away from their mothers and fathers all of a sudden, giving them no time to make alternate arrangements. As for foster homes, with all due respect to the dedicated people who often run them, social science has proven that they are the biggest producer of a criminal class in the US. Children growing up without strong parental role models have a much greater chance of ending up in prison. Yes, that’s right. Social science says that if you want a safe society, don’t deport the parents of US citizen children.

Under Trump, ICE (which was only created recently and should be decommissioned) has been routinely doing things like traumatizing families by arresting undocumented parents when they come to pick up their children at school, in front of the eyes of the children, and leaving the latter unattended. The agents are not wrong to enforce the law, but this sort of tactic is clearly the result of instructions from Kelly and his successor, and is deliberate psychological warfare on American citizens.

Kelly’s self-satisfaction with getting rid of unwanted adults and putting their children, our fellow US citizens, in “foster care or whatever” (!!!) can only be compared to one phenomenon in American history.

Back in the days of slavery, white slave owners in the mid-Atlantic states like Kentucky used to separate fathers and sometimes mothers from their children and “sell them down the river” to the big plantation owners of the deep south.

Brown and black slaves were, like undocumented immigrants, not citizens and so they were not conceived by white elites as fully human persons. Hence, their families could be divided at will and parents could be sent far away, never to see their children again. They were treated like thoroughbred animals.

Kelly went on to slam these immigrants for not knowing English and for being unassimilable and having no skills. In fact, as conservative godfather Milton Friedman argued, they wouldn’t come here if they weren’t finding jobs that locals would not or could not fill. As for language and assimilation, Kelly’s own Italian-American side of the family came without English and remained here without citizenship for decades.

Cole then proceeds to quote the tweets showing Kelly’s own family background, which proves John Kelly’s own family members is one of those “illiterate” immigrants “and could not speak English 10 years after arrival.”  Yeah, these people…wtf is it with them?

And while all that is sinking in…this tweet should really be the icing on the Mother’s Day cake:

I don’t want to end on a bad note…

So, I have pictures.

First some fun ones:

DragCon is happening this weekend:

Those kick ass heels…a bit of marginalia to ring in the occasion? Quinn Cummings has been posting some awesome pictures on her Instagram feed:

View this post on Instagram

@bufffaye #dragcon2018

A post shared by Quinn Cummings (@quinncummings) on

So please click the link up top and enjoy!

Sticking with the Medieval times a bit:

Elvis…he was a style icon…before he became a style icon!

 

Smooth huh?

 

And lastly, I wanted to share a few pictures from my daughter’s wedding, they are in a slideshow below.

 

Have a good day, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you!

This is an open thread.

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Lazy Saturday Reads

Woman Reading by a Window Gari Melchers – circa 1905

Good Afternoon!!

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

Exclusive: Trump begins informal prep for potential Mueller interview.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the AP article:

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

Adolfe Monet reading in the garden, by Claude Monet

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

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

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

Ultimately, Trump chose that option anyway.

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

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

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

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

Oscar Bluhm In the Pergola, 1892

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reading in the garden, 1915 – Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky

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

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

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

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

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

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

The numbers from Axios:

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

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

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

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

Reading Man in Park — August Macke 1915

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woman Reading in a Garden by Harold Harvey

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

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

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

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