Thursday Reads

Gustave Courbet, Le Desperere,1845

Good Morning!!

I admit it. I’m obsessed with the Trump/Russia investigation, and I think my posts have become boring because of my obsession; so today, I’m going to try avoiding the subject and hope I’ll get more readers. This post is illustrated with “selfies” from  before we had cell phones, just because. I hope you enjoy them.

Have you been getting a lot of annoying calls lately? I have. I usually don’t answer calls that come in from people I don’t know or area codes where I don’t know anyone; but once in awhile, I’ll pick up a call and it’s usually a recorded message. It turns out you can find out which numbers are robocalling your area.

From the Arlington Patch: Here’s Who Keeps Robocalling Your Area Code.

If you think you’re receiving robocalls now more than ever, you’re not wrong. According to the robocall blocker YouMail, pre-recorded phone messages are at an all-time high.

There were 3.36 billion robocalls last month in the U.S., 6.5 percent higher than the previous record and a whopping 34 percent higher than April 2017….

Mary Cassatt, Self portrait

Here are the states that received the most robocalls, as well as how many they received:

  1. California, 384.4 million
  2. Texas, 363.3 million
  3. Florida, 261.1 million
  4. Georgia, 213.6 million
  5. New York, 207.8 million
  6. Illinois, 134.6 million
  7. Ohio, 115.8 million
  8. Pennsylvania, 115.4 million
  9. North Carolina, 111 million
  10. Louisiana, 97.6 million
  11. Michigan, 89.7 million
  12. Tennessee, 88.3 million
  13. New Jersey, 84.3 million
  14. Virginia, 83 million
  15. Maryland, 79 million
  16. Alabama, 77.9 million
  17. South Carolina, 64.4 million
  18. Arizona, 60 million
  19. Missouri, 51.7 million
  20. Indiana, 51 million

Atlanta received the dubious honor of most robocalled city in America for the 29th straight month. People in that city received nearly 148 million robocalls last month and three Atlanta area codes cracked the top 20 most robocalled area code list.

Here are the top 10 most robocalled cities:

  1. Atlanta, GA
  2. Dallas, TX
  3. New York, NY
  4. Los Angeles, CA
  5. Chicago, IL
  6. Houston, TX
  7. Baltimore, MD
  8. Philadelphia, PA
  9. San Francisco Bay Area, CA
  10. Newark, NJ

M.C. Escher, Hand With Reflecting Sphere, 1935

The company says 47 of the 50 most robocalled cities in the country saw a higher robocalling volume in April. The increase comes even as lawmakers, consumer groups, telecommunications carriers and device makers pay closer attention to illegal calls.

“Despite the best efforts of regulators, industry groups, service providers, and app developers, we are warning consumers to remain vigilant by not picking up any calls from unfamiliar numbers, using robocall blocking apps, and researching numbers before calling them back,” YouMail CEO Alex Quilici said in a release.

Click here and enter an area code to see the full results.

I’m glad to know it’s not just me getting all these annoyance calls. Unfortunately, I’ve found that even when I block the numbers, they just call back from slightly different ones.

The media is currently obsessed with lecturing Democrats about how we need to be kinder and more understanding of Trump voters. Here’s a response to that from Osita Nwanevu at Slate: Liberals, It’s Not About Being Nice.

Over the weekend, the New York Times published an op-ed titled “Liberals, You’re Not As Smart As You Think.” In it, University of Virginia political science professor Gerard Alexander accuses American liberals of arrogance and warns them against making broad negative generalizations about large swaths of the population. “Liberals often don’t realize how provocative or inflammatory they can be,” he writes. “In exercising their power, they regularly not only persuade and attract but also annoy and repel.” Alexander cites a few particular examples of recent annoying and repulsive liberal behavior, including comedian Michelle Wolf’s performance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, but the heart of the piece is a broad indictment of identity politics as practiced by liberals and the left. “Racist is pretty much the most damning label that can be slapped on anyone in America today, which means it should be applied firmly and carefully,” Alexander writes. “Yet some people have cavalierly leveled the charge against huge numbers of Americans—specifically, the more than 60 million people who voted for Mr. Trump. In their ranks are people who sincerely consider themselves not bigoted, who might be open to reconsidering ways they have done things for years, but who are likely to be put off if they feel smeared before that conversation even takes place.”

Jean Cooke, self portrait, 1972

The piece was the latest in an unending stream of commentary attributing Democrats’ electoral misfortunes to conservative cultural backlash—a variation on a theme in punditry that was old hat long before Hillary Clinton made the supposed mistake of calling Trump supporters “deplorables.” Alleged gaffes like that, the story goes, form part of an imperious posture Democrats take on questions of identity politics that alienates simple folk who haven’t caught up with the progressive consensus on social questions.

This argument has very little to do with the actual state of American public opinion on those questions. Survey data suggests that identity politics as practiced by Democrats and the left has been quite successful and persuasive. Take racial issues, for instance. According to Pew, the percentage of white people in America who believe that the country “needs to continue making changes to give blacks equal rights with whites” has grown by 18 points since the beginning of the decade. Most of this can be attributed to white Democrats moving left on the question, but the numbers show change on the right as well: The number of Republicans and Republican leaners who believe this has grown by six points to 36 percent over the same period. The percentage of Republicans and Republican leaners who say that “racial discrimination is the main reason why many black people can’t get ahead these days” has also jumped about five points to 14 percent. These are, of course, still small minorities on the right, but given talk about how liberal arrogance and piety have alienated those who disagree with Democrats on racial identity politics into a backlash, one would expect the numbers to show … well, a backlash. Instead, they suggest that post–Trayvon Martin, Ferguson, and Black Lives Matter, rhetoric and activism may be working quite well on a broad cross section of Americans.

It’s a lengthy, thoughtful piece. Read the rest at Slate.

What’s the “nice” response to a “president” who says things like this?

USA Today: Trump ramps up rhetoric on undocumented immigrants: ‘These aren’t people. These are animals.’

President Trump used extraordinarily harsh rhetoric to renew his call for stronger immigration laws Wednesday, calling undocumented immigrants “animals” and venting frustration at Mexican officials who he said “do nothing” to help the United States.

Pablo Picasso, Self Portrait, Facing Death, 1972

“We have people coming into the country or trying to come in, we’re stopping a lot of them, but we’re taking people out of the country. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” Trump said.

“These aren’t people. These are animals.”

Trump’s comments came in a freewheeling, hour-long White House meeting with local California leaders opposed to so-called “sanctuary city” policies. “California’s law provides safe harbor to some of the most vicious and violent offenders on Earth, like MS-13 gang members putting innocent men, women, and children at the mercy of these sadistic criminals,” he said.

I can’t think of anything nice to say about that or about people who support the man who said it.

Will John Bolton destroy Trump’s dreams of a deal with North Korea?  Politico: Trump’s North Korea Nobel buzz could die with John Bolton.

Donald Trump wants a deal with North Korea. His national security adviser thinks the North Koreans can’t be dealt with. And North Korea thinks he’s “human scum.”

North Korea’s latest diatribe against the United States — and specifically a “repugnant” national security adviser, John Bolton — spotlights a core tension within the Trump administration as the president seeks a nuclear deal with North Korea that he hopes might earn him a Nobel Peace Prize.

Lee Krasner self portrait, 1930

Bolton is famously contemptuous of what he considers naïve U.S. diplomacy with foreign adversaries who can only be trusted to cRheat and lie. Prominent on his list is North Korea itself, which he has written “will never give up nuclear weapons voluntarily,” calling past U.S. diplomatic forays with the country “embarrassments.”

Trump, too, believes America has struck “terrible deals” for decades. And he shared Bolton’s intense animus for the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump torpedoed last week. But in the case of North Korea, even some Trump supporters worry the president is too eager for a deal that could dazzle the world and reap him huge political rewards.

The question now is whether Trump and Bolton can strike a constructive balance — or whether they might wind up at cross-purposes on one of the most important diplomatic experiments in U.S. history.

Read the rest at Politico.

May it would be a good thing if North Korea backs out of the summit, because Trump thinks he doesn’t need to spend a lot of time getting ready for the meeting. Time: President Trump ‘Doesn’t Think He Needs’ to Prepare Much for His Meeting With North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

With just one month until a scheduled sit-down with North Korea’s leader, President Donald Trump hasn’t set aside much time to prepare for meeting with Kim Jong Un, a stark contrast to the approach of past presidents.

“He doesn’t think he needs to,” said a senior administration official familiar with the President’s preparation. Aides plan to squeeze in time for Trump to learn more about Kim’s psychology and strategize on ways to respond to offers Kim may make in person, but so far a detailed plan hasn’t been laid out for getting Trump ready for the summit.

Even with North Korea threatening to scrap the meeting over long-planned U.S.-Korean military exercises, Trump’s aides in the White House and State Department are continuing to prepare briefing material in advance of the June 12 summit in Singapore. When asked Wednesday if he thinks Kim is bluffing, Trump responded, “We’ll see what happens.” He told reporters he still plans to insist on North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons.

So briefing materials are being prepared, but Trump isn’t going to bother to read them. Big surprise.

Paul Gaugin self portrait with halo and snake 1889

I’m going to end with just one article related to the Russia investigation. Eric Wemple at The Washington Post: New York Times acknowledges it buried the lead in pre-election Russia-Trump story.

The upside of the New York Times’ aggressive coverage of the FBI investigation into Russian election meddling is that the American public is learning more and more about recent history. The downside is that the newspaper keeps bumping into its archives.

In a massive article Wednesday on the FBI’s 2016 snooping into the possible nexus between Russians and the Trump presidential campaign, reporters Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman and Nicholas Fandos include these two paragraphs:

In late October, in response to questions from The Times, law enforcement officials acknowledged the investigation but urged restraint. They said they had scrutinized some of Mr. Trump’s advisers but had found no proof of any involvement with Russian hacking. The resulting article, on Oct. 31, reflected that caution and said that agents had uncovered no “conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.”

The key fact of the article — that the F.B.I. had opened a broad investigation into possible links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign — was published in the 10th paragraph.

That’s one heck of a concession: We buried the lead! In their book “Russian Roulette,” authors Michael Isikoff and David Corn report that editors at the New York Times “cast the absence of a conclusion as the article’s central theme rather than the fact of the investigation itself,” contrary to the wishes of the reporters.

The article in question was published on Oct. 31, 2016, and it has received a great deal of hindsight-aided scrutiny for the role it may have played in easing voters’ concerns about ties between Donald Trump and Russia. Under the bylines of Eric Lichtblau and Steven Lee Myers, the story, headlined “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia,” hit the public sphere just as other outlets — Slate and Mother Jones — published reports that began poking at the outlines of possible collusion.

But will the Times apologize to Hillary Clinton and the American people?

Those are my offerings for today; what stories are you following?

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Lazy Saturday Reads

Daniel Ralph Celantano, Subway

Good Morning!!

I’m tired . . . so tired. Life in Trump world is exhausting. We’ve reached the point where it’s obvious that Trump’s family and campaign conspired witIh Russia to win the White House, and yet we still have to listen to Trump rant “no collusion” in his ugly, blaring voice. Have you noticed his Queens accent really comes out when he’s apoplectic like he was on Fox and Friends on Thursday? It seems his rosacea gets worse when he’s angry too. If only I never had to hear that honking voice or see his ugly orange face ever again!

I think maybe Angela Merkel agrees with me. Bess Levin at Vanity Fair: All the Times Angela Merkel’s Face Said “STFU You Dumkopf Orange Oaf.”

On Friday, German chancellor Angela Merkel arrived at the White House for a three-hour “working session” with Donald Trump, the goal of which was to convince the American to resist his impulses and not do anything stupid on a host of issues ranging from trade to Iran to the environment. Picking up where French president Emmanuel Macron left off—which is to say, at square one—Merkel’s visit was expected to be much less of a lovefest, meaning no hugging, kissing, hand-holding, fancy dinners, 21-gun salutes, or animal-kingdom mating rituals. The best anyone could hope for, experts warned, was that through small words and simple sentence construction, the chancellor could make Trump understand that so many of his threats—particularly the ones on trade—would hurt not only the targets for which they were intended, but the U.S. as well.

Charlotte Johnson Wahl, Subway NYC, 1994

Even then, expectations were extremely low, given the 45th president’s inability to understand complex, nuanced issues, or the freaking difference between a trade deficit and a surplus. Still, when the two took to a pair of podiums to hold a joint press conference on Friday afternoon, the vibe seemed slightly better than expected. For one thing, Trump was neither foaming at the mouth nor actively refusing to shake Merkel’s hand. For another, Merkel dug deep and paid Trump some compliments using words and phrases you know he just ate up, mentioning the “strength” of his sanctions on North Korea, and claiming that last year’s tax legislation has made the U.S. a “very interesting place for our companies” to invest. Still, one need only take a gander at Merkel’s notoriously weak poker face to understand that inside, she was screaming I can’t believe I have to occupy the same airspace as this knuckle-dragger.

Watch videos and read more snark at Vanity Fair. I can’t even begin to imagine how Macron could bear to have Trump’s hands all over him during their visit. Just the thought of it makes me gag.

On the “no collusion” front . . .

Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: The new House GOP report on Russia is revealing. But not in a good way for Trump.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee on Friday released a report on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. Although it is meant to exonerate President Trump and everyone around him, what it actually does is bring the utter degradation and disgrace of that committee to its fullest expression.

Mark Rothko, Untitled Subway, 1937

By contrast, there may be real news in the Democrats’ response to the report. In particular, the Democrats detailed new information that appears to shed light on what Republicans would not do in their investigation.

The response by Democrats makes this important charge: That Republicans refused to follow up on a lead that could have demonstrated whether, despite his denials, Trump had advance knowledge of the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between a group of Russians and Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort.

Specifically, it appears very likely that Trump talked to Don Jr. on the phone while Jr. was setting up the meeting.

According to the Democratic response, right after Trump Jr. set up the specifics of the meeting, he had two calls with a number in Russia belonging to Emin Agalarov. Between those two calls, the Democratic response recounts, Trump Jr. received a third call from a blocked number. Who might it have been? [….]

“We sought to determine whether that number belonged to the president, because we also ascertained that then-candidate Trump used a blocked number,” Schiff said during our interview. “That would tell us whether Don Jr. sought his father’s permission to take the meeting, and [whether] that was the purpose of that call.”

Lily Furedi, Subway, 1934

Schiff added that Democrats asked Republicans to subpoena phone records to determine whose number it was, but Republicans “refused,” Schiff said. “They didn’t want to know whether he had informed his father and sought his permission to take that meeting with the Russians.”

Raise your hand if you think the call from the blocked number was from someone other than Daddy Trump. I’m sure Robert Mueller and his team already know whose number that was.

Buzzfeed: Trump Jr. And Emin Agalarov Stayed In Touch Throughout The Transition.

A direct line of communication between the Kremlin-connected Agalarov family and the Trump family was open during the transition after President Donald Trump’s presidential election, BuzzFeed News has learned.

The “first of a series” of text messages was sent between Emin Agalarov and Donald Trump Jr. two days after the 2016 election, a source familiar with the communications told BuzzFeed News.

The communications continued through at least mid-December 2016, according to information made public Friday.

It is not clear how many messages were sent, whether Trump Jr. sent any of them, or how many were sent by either party — although BuzzFeed News confirmed that multiple messages were sent.

Nicole Eisenman, Weeks on the Train

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee revealed one of the text messages, from Dec. 13, 2016, in their “minority views” report on Friday — one of several new pieces of information that suggest that the Trumps’ relationship with the Agalarovs was much closer than the president and his family have said.

Many more details at the Buzzfeed link.

CNN: Russians followed up on Trump Tower meeting after election, Democrats say.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the intelligence panel, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Friday that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya reached out to the Trump family after the election with a request to follow up on efforts to repeal the Magnitsky Act, the 2012 Russian sanctions the US enacted over human rights abuses.

Veselnitskaya was the Russian lawyer at the center of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, where Donald Trump Jr. expected to receive damaging information on Hillary Clinton but instead Veselnitskaya focused on the repeal of the sanctions.

“Clearly, there’s an expectation there on the Russian side that they may now have success with the Magnitsky Act, given that the prior meeting and communications dealt with the offer of help,” Schiff said. “It certainly seems like the Russians were ready for payback.”

In addition, another effort to reach out to Trump’s team after the election came from Aras Agalarov, the Azerbaijani-Russian oligarch who also has ties to the Trump Tower meeting. Agalarov, along with his pop-star son, Emin Agalarov, also worked with Trump to bring the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow….

G. Boersma, Surrounding, Man reading newspaper on NY subway

Democrats cite a November 28, 2016, email from publicist Rob Goldstone to Trump’s assistant, Rhona Graff, which said that “Aras Agalarov has asked me to pass on this document in the hope it can be passed on to the appropriate team.”

“Later that day, Graff forwarded to Steve Bannon the email with Agalarov’s document regarding the Magnitsky Act as an attachment, explaining, ‘The PE [President Elect] knows Aras well. Rob is his rep in the US and sent this on. Not sure how to proceed, if at all.'”

Trump’s team has denied there was any follow up after the Trump Tower meeting.

While Trump claims credit for the meeting between North Korea’s Kim Jon Un and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, Max Boot points out at The Washington Post that this has happened before: Don’t let the Korea summit hype fool you. We’ve been here before.

The meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea was acclaimed as “historic.” The two leaders hugged, “smiled broadly, shook each other’s hand vigorously and toasted each other with glasses of champagne.” Reporters noted that the “opening formalities seemed surprisingly relaxed, exceeding the expectations of many people, including perhaps those of the principals themselves. The South Korean leader said we must “proceed together on a path of reconciliation and cooperation.” The North Korean leader replied that “you will not be disappointed.”

Sound familiar? It should, because the news coverage of the 2000 meeting between South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang parallels the euphoria over Friday’s meeting in Panmunjom between Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong Un, Kim Jong Il’s son. If anything, the 2000 meeting produced more tangible results: Not only declarations about ending the Korean War and uniting the two countries, but also concrete steps toward creating a joint South Korean-North Korean industrial park in Kaesong , allow South Korean tourists to visit the North, and to reunify families long divided by the demilitarized zone. Between 1998 and 2008, South Korea provided some $8 billion in economic assistance to North Korea in the hope that all of this aid would create a kinder, gentler regime. Kim Dae-jung won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts.

Subway Train Watercolor painting, Shyama Golden

And yet the Sunshine Policy, so widely heralded at the time, is now widely judged a failure. Despite North Korea’s promises, it did nothing to ease the repression of its populace or to end its nuclear and missile programs. It turned out Kim Dae-jung only achieved that “historic” 2000 summit by offering Kim Jong Il a $500 million bribe. Another summit was held in 2007, arranged by Moon Jae-in, then an aide to President Roh Moo-hyun, and it too was rapturously acclaimed. But the next year, a conservative government took power in Seoul and ended the Sunshine Policy.

Read the rest at the link.

Finally, a little schadenfreude. The Independent reports that there was a fire in the Trump Tower in Azerbaijan. Fortunately, there were no injuries.

A skyscraper that was slated to become a Trump International Hotel in the Azerbaijani capital of Baku has caught fire.

The Azadliq newspaper reported that the blaze broke out on the middle floors of the 33-storey building, which is locally known as Trump Tower, and spread.

Etibar Mirzoev, deputy head of the Emergency Situations Ministry, said there were no injuries and authorities were working to establish the cause of the of the fire.

What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: This Sh**t Never Ends!

Bette Davis

Good Afternoon!!

As usual in the horrifying new world of Trump, there is so much shocking news that there’s no way to deal with all of it. I guess the top story has to be that Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd dangled pardons in front of Michael Flynn and Paul Manifort last summer.

The New York Times: Trump’s Lawyer Raised Prospect of Pardons for Flynn and Manafort.

A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump’s pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.

The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. Mr. Mueller’s team could investigate the prospect that Mr. Dowd made pardon offers to thwart the inquiry, although legal experts are divided about whether such offers might constitute obstruction of justice.

Mr. Dowd’s conversation with Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, occurred sometime after Mr. Dowd took over last summer as the president’s personal lawyer, at a time when a grand jury was hearing evidence against Mr. Flynn on a range of potential crimes.

Flynn ultimately took the safe route and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation; but this could explain why Paul Manafort is holding out even though the evidence against him is overwhelming and he could face life in prison if convicted.

Cary Grant, 1960

Constitutional experts are now discussing whether Trump could get away with pardoning Manafort and others, even if he did it with corrupt intent. Some opinions:

Alex Whiting at Just Security: Why Dangling a Pardon Could Be an Obstruction of Justice—Even if the Pardon Power is Absolute. A brief excerpt:

Some experts have argued that the pardon power is absolute and that the President’s motives in issuing a pardon thus could not be questioned, while others contend that it could be a crime to issue a pardon for corrupt purposes (such as in exchange for cash). But the debate over the absolute nature of the pardon power is actually not relevant to the alleged incidents involving Trump’s lawyer. Indeed, that entire debate can be set aside for the moment. Why? Because there’s been no pardon. Instead, a pardon has only been dangled before Flynn and Manafort, and the analysis of whether that action could become part of an obstruction case against Trump raises entirely different considerations….

The pardon dangle works completely differently—and in important respects has the opposite effects. First, this kind of dangle is not a public act. Therefore, as long as it remained secret, it could be done without incurring any of the political downstream consequences that come with actually pardoning someone. It hides the President from scrutiny rather than exposes him to it as a potential check on the use of the power. Second, the objective of the dangle appears to have been to foreclose the prospect of Flynn and Manfort’s cooperating or testifying. Once again, this is the opposite effect of an actual exercise of the pardon. The message of the dangle was sufficiently clear: hang in there and keep fighting (do not cut a deal with the special counsel) because you will be pardoned before you spend a day in jail. The President and his lawyer’s hope would have been that with the threat of jail eliminated, neither former aid would feel compelled to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller to reduce his sentence. But, since they were not actually pardoned or not yet anyway, they still kept their Fifth Amendment privileges, and so Mueller could not simply demand they testify before the Grand Jury. In this way, the dangle could operate to stop any cooperation from Flynn and Manafort, who could then be pardoned later if and when they were indicted or even after their cases went through pretrial, trial and appeal. Indeed, you also have to put yourself back at the time these events all took place: before Manafort was indicted and Flynn pleaded guilty. That’s when the dangle could work its magic.

Ava Gardner

Because a pardon dangle is secret and seeks to discourage cooperation with an ongoing investigation without public scrutiny or consequences, it should be analyzed differently than a pardon when it comes to an obstruction case.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Littman at The Washington Post: We may know why Paul Manafort has kept quiet. But his bet is still risky.

Manafort’s refusal to cooperate can’t be driven by a rational calculation that he has any reasonable chance of escaping conviction, multimillion-dollar legal fees and a prison sentence that will result in years behind bars.

The indictments against him lay out an overwhelming case of money laundering in particular. The meticulously gathered evidence will be as clear for the jury as a laundry detergent commercial: The jury will see the dirty money go in and the clean money come out. To the extent there had been a small risk, inherent in paper-driven chases, that the jury could become bored at the accounting presentation and tune out, Mueller now has a narrator for the trial in Manafort’s co-conspirator Rick Gates.

So is hoping for a Trump pardon a good bet for Manafort?

…the Times story does not definitively solve the Manafort mystery. First, Dowd’s reported overture, particularly if done with the president’s knowledge or consent, could have constituted a conspiracy to obstruct justice, a separate impeachable offense. That presumably is why the story includes a categorical denial from Dowd that he ever discussed pardons for the president’s former advisers with lawyers. For Dowd, the conduct would be putting his license at risk.

Second, Manafort surely recognizes that he can’t fully count on Trump, both because the president is a habitual liar and because the political dynamic is subject to such extreme and violent turns. (Of course, under this hypothesis, Manafort retains the valuable insurance policy of spilling the goods if Trump double-crosses him, leaving both huge losers in a real-life prisoners dilemma.)

Marcello Mastroianni

Third, Manafort could still be required to testify after any pardon, when he would no longer be in federal jeopardy. Undoubtedly, the plan would be for him to deny assurances of a pardon from Trump. Still, were Mueller to catch him in a lie, the special counsel would surely come down on him.

Finally, it is likely that in the event of a pardon for federal crimes, which is all Trump can provide, some state attorneys general, such as New York’s Eric T. Schneiderman, would prosecute Manafort for financial crimes under their potent state statutes.

Maybe Manafort figures a possible pardon is a better bet than hoping Putin doesn’t send his goons to shut him (Manafort) up for good.

A few more pardon stories:

Bloomberg: Pardon Talk Could Put Trump Lawyer in Hot Water.

CNN: Emails reveal DOJ would have ‘very little involvement’ if Trump tweeted a pardon.

The Washington Post: This overlooked part of the Constitution could stop Trump from abusing his pardon power.

Another big story broke late yesterday. Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Today Shulkin is speaking out, claiming he was fired because he opposed privatizing the VA. Shulkin spoke to NPR’s Morning Edition:

Fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin tells NPR’s Morning Edition that political forces in the Trump administration want to privatize the VA — and that he was standing in the way.

“There are many political appointees in the VA that believe that we are moving in the wrong direction or weren’t moving fast enough toward privatizing the VA,” he said. “I think that it’s essential for national security and for the country that we honor our commitment by having a strong VA. I was not against reforming VA, but I was against privatization.”

Lauren Bacall

Those political forces may be why Shulkin says he wasn’t allowed to speak out to defend himself against an ethics controversy over use of funds on a trip to Europe that he says was overhyped and intended to weaken him.

“This was completely mischaracterized,” Shulkin said. “There was nothing improper about this trip, and I was not allowed to put up an official statement or to even respond to this by the White House. … I think this was really just being used in a political context to try to make sure that I wasn’t as effective as a leader moving forward.”

Shulkin argued his case in an op-ed at The New York Times: David J. Shulkin: Privatizing the V.A. Will Hurt Veterans.

That’s a lot of news, but I’ve barely touched on everything that’s happening. Here’s a shocking Trump corruption story that broke at The Guardian this morning: FBI looked into Trump plans to build hotel in Latvia with Putin supporter.

In 2010, a small group of businessmen including a wealthy Russian supporter of Vladimir Putin began working on plans to build a glitzy hotel and entertainment complex with Donald Trump in Riga, the capital of Latvia.

A senior Trump executive visited the city to scout for locations. Trump and his daughter Ivanka spent hours at Trump Tower with the Russian, Igor Krutoy, who also knows compatriots involved in arranging a fateful meeting at the same building during the 2016 US election campaign.

Then the Latvian government’s anti-corruption bureau began asking questions.

The Guardian has learned that talks with Trump’s company were abandoned after Krutoy and another of the businessmen were questioned by Latvian authorities as part of a major criminal inquiry there – and that the FBI later looked into Trump’s interactions with them at Latvia’s request.

Michael Caine

Those involved deny that the inquiry was to blame for the deal’s collapse.

Latvia asked the US for assistance in 2014 and received a response from the FBI the following year, according to a source familiar with the process. Latvian investigators also examined secret recordings in which Trump was mentioned by a suspect.

This means the FBI looked into Trump’s efforts to do business deals in the former Soviet Union earlier than was widely known. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is now investigating other Trump dealings with Russians as part of his wide-ranging criminal inquiry into alleged collusion between Moscow and members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.

The Riga developers saw their potential partner in New York as a ticket to lucrative western revenues.

This shit just never ends. I haven’t even touched on the North Korea news or the Bolton mess or the fact that Trump wants to put his personal physician in charge of the VA. More headlines to check out:

The Washington Post: Who is Trump’s new Veterans Affairs pick, Ronny Jackson?

NBC News: Kim Jong Un met China’s Xi. What does it mean for Trump summit?

CNBC: China says North Korea wants denuclearization, but Kim Jong Un’s motives remain shrouded in mystery as Trump meeting approaches.

The Washington Post: Three big questions about a Trump-Kim summit.

Business Insider: Kim Jong Un became a regional power overnight by saying a single, meaningless word to Trump.

Vox: “Otherwise, they subpoena”: White House lawyer Ty Cobb on why Trump is cooperating with Mueller.

Bloomberg: Kelly Loses White House Clout as Trump Blazes Own Path.

CNN: Did Trump campaign and John Bolton PAC get help from overseas?

Talking Points Memo: WSJ: Kushner Has Phoned Bolton For Advice In The Past Year.

BBC News: Julian Assange has internet cut at Ecuadorean embassy in London.

The Daily Beast: ICE Now Detaining Pregnant Women, Thanks to Trump Order.

Slate: It’s Time to Stop Yammering About Liberal Bias.

 


Friday Reads: Venal Reads and Ethereal Art

“White Rose and Red Rose” by Margaret MacDonald MacKintosh (Glasgow School of Art Nouveau)

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

I’m going to comfort us with some artwork from Margaret MacDonald MacKintosh who is one of the artists of the Glasgow School of Art Nouveau.  My grandmother went to college during this period of style and as part of the philosophy of the time she learned how to do an art.  She did wood burning.  My sister has one of her vases and I have two of her handkerchief boxes.

I fell in love with the stylized flowers and ladies of the artists of this period through her. She died when I was pretty young but I managed to scoop up all most all of the Art Nouveau things in the house that landed in the basement in my painting corner until they got drug off to my dorm room at university.  I have her gorgeous face powder jar with silver lid and embellishments sitting on my desk right next to this laptop.  I was fortunate–at 7–to be the only one interested in any of this.

So, it appears that KKKremlin Caligula may have fallen for the oldest NK trick in its book.  One that somewhat ensnared Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter during their terms.  Will this time be any different?

He’s agreed to meet “little Rocket Man” who the South Koreans insist is ready to disarm.  Like Charlie Brown facing Lucy’s football, we’ve seen this play before.  Is the son any more reliable than his father or grandfather before him?  Here’s alink to the Arms Control history between SK, NK and the US.

For years, the United States and the international community have tried to negotiate an end to North Korea’s nuclear and missile development and its export of ballistic missile technology. Those efforts have been replete with periods of crisis, stalemate, and tentative progress towards denuclearization, and North Korea has long been a key challenge for the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

The United States has pursued a variety of policy responses to the proliferation challenges posed by North Korea, including military cooperation with U.S. allies in the region, wide-ranging sanctions, and non-proliferation mechanisms such as export controls. The United States also engaged in two major diplomatic initiatives to have North Korea abandon its nuclear weapons efforts in return for aid.

In 1994, faced with North Korea’s announced intent to withdraw from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires non-nuclear weapon states to forswear the development and acquisition of nuclear weapons, the United States and North Korea signed the Agreed Framework. Under this agreement, Pyongyang committed to freezing its illicit plutonium weapons program in exchange for aid.

Following the collapse of this agreement in 2002, North Korea claimed that it had withdrawn from the NPT in January 2003 and once again began operating its nuclear facilities.

The second major diplomatic effort were the Six-Party Talks initiated in August of 2003 which involved China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. In between periods of stalemate and crisis, those talks arrived at critical breakthroughs in 2005, when North Korea pledged to abandon “all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs” and return to the NPT, and in 2007, when the parties agreed on a series of steps to implement that 2005 agreement.

Those talks, however, broke down in 2009 following disagreements over verification and an internationally condemned North Korea rocket launch. Pyongyang has since stated that it would never return to the talks and is no longer bound by their agreements. The other five parties state that they remain committed to the talks, and have called for Pyongyang to recommit to its 2005 denuclearization pledge.

Embroidered panel circa 1902

This site has a link to all the efforts placed in chronological order.  It’s a good link to save and review as we take a look at Charlie Brown facing that football yet again.

The dotard is so hungry for a win and attention that he completely blindsided his State Department. The State Department just lost its chief North Korea expert on top of that.  He even rushed to the podium a few hours after the State Department had announced there would be no news on the Koreas.   Tillerson has already walked this back a bit insisting there may be “talks” but no “negotiations”.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson drew a distinction Friday between “talks” with North Korea and “negotiations,” arguing that President Donald Trump’s willingness to chat with Kim Jong Un shouldn’t be construed as anything more than that.

The stunning announcement that Trump had agreed to a meeting with the North Korean leader raised questions about what had changed after months of Tillerson and other Trump officials insisting the conditions weren’t right for negotiations with Pyongyang. Tillerson said that Trump has been open to mere talks and a meeting with Kim “for some time,” and had decided on Thursday that “the time was right.”

Indeed, the nation’s diplomats are trying seriously to not give North Korea what it so desperately craves.  That would be an air of legitimacy with no cost.

President Trump’s high-wire gambit to accept a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sets off a scramble among U.S. officials to assemble a team capable of supporting a historic summit of longtime adversaries and determine a viable engagement strategy.

State Department officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were playing down the immediacy of talks in the hours before the White House rolled out the South Korean national security adviser, who made the surprise announcement that Trump would meet with Kim.

The apparent lack of coordination marked a pattern of mixed messaging that has characterized the Trump administration’s North Korea diplomacy since Pyongyang launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile last year, sparking the Trump White House’s biggest national security crisis to date.

Now the White House has committed to an unprecedented meeting at a time when the administration lacks a fully staffed cadre of diplomats and advisers.

The U.S. point person on North Korea, special envoy Joseph Yun, announced his retirement in late February and has not been replaced. More than a year in, the administration has yet to nominatean ambassador to South Korea. And the Senate has not confirmed the top U.S. diplomat to eastern Asia.

The artist

Many politicians without a grounding in our Foreign and Diplomatic policy history naively agree to “meet with every one”.  This was something Obama said he would do at one point.  However, the State Department quickly brought him into the fold.  Obama’s first year was centered squarely on our allies.  

But perhaps his priorities have been hinted at in comments made by Hillary Clinton, the designated U.S. secretary of state, earlier this week.

“The new administration will reach out across the Atlantic to leaders in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and others including and especially, the new democracies.”

Hillary Clinton was pretty clear on the subject of just meeting with every one through out her career including during a debate in 2007 with then candidate Obama.

Q: Is Sen. Obama “not yet ready” to be president?

CLINTON: I’m running on my own qualifications and experience. It’s really up to the voters to make these decisions. I think we have a great group of candidates. You don’t have to be against anybody. You can choose who you’re for.

Q: But you did say that Sen. Obama’s views on meeting with foreign dictators are “naive and irresponsible.” Doesn’t that imply that he’s not ready for the office?

CLINTON: Well, we had a specific disagreement, because I do not think that a president should give away the bargaining chip of a personal meeting with any leader, unless you know what you’re going to get out of that. It takes a lot of planning to move an agenda forward, particularly with our adversaries. You should not telegraph to our adversaries that you’re willing to meet with them without preconditions during the first year in office.

OBAMA: Strong countries and strong presidents meet and talk with our adversaries. We shouldn’t be afraid to do so.

Source: 2007 Democratic primary debate on “This Week” , Aug 19, 2007

My friend Tim Shorrock–whose an expert on the Koreas–thinks it’s possible this might be a good thing. He’s exploring things today on Democracy Now.  He’s met with the new SK President and knows the situation fairly well.  He believes this might work.

Well, the significance is that when President Moon took office last May, he said South Korea should be in the driver’s seat of the Korea peace initiative and in engagement with North Korea. South Korea should be in the driver’s seat. And he has remained there, and he has stayed there. He made offers last year to North Korea to meet. They rejected it. They didn’t respond for over a year, as they kept going on their nuclear and missile program to defend themselves against what they believe is a threat from the United States. And finally, on January 1st, Kim Jong-un said he would send a high-level delegation to the Olympics and would engage with talks with South Korea. And this is a result of the South Korean initiative.

And so, you know, the fact that Trump may have poked his head in there and may have heard about the meeting, briefing, at the last minute, shows that South Korea is in fact in the driver’s seat. And I think that’s very important. And, you know, the United States has been supporting these initiatives, despite the fact that Vice President Pence went to the Olympics and completely ignored the North Koreans behind him and was very rude to his Korean hosts. They know that these talks have been going on. And so, I think we really need to focus on the role that South Korea has played and the historical—you know, the history of North-South engagement and talks.

“Junirosen “1898

He also has inkled he might be  on Chris Hayes later today. You may want to read his earlier thoughts here at The Nation.

As a wide range of American experts and former policy-makers have argued, if the United States is serious about negotiations, it must respond to Pyongyang’s fears by offering an “off-ramp” with something in return. The dual-freeze proposal “could lead to a breakthrough in the impasse, but this would require Washington to seriously consider its own responsibility for resolving the nuclear problem,” wrote John Merrill, the former chief of the Northeast Asia division of the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department, in a recent op-edfor the Japanese newspaper Nikkei Asian Review.

Specifically, that means addressing North Korea’s concerns, including its belief that nuclear weapons are its only defense against a United States that turned the country into ashes during the Korean War and is threatening to do so again. The North is also (understandably) worried about the war games, in which thousands of US and South Korean soldiers train for nuclear strikes as well as “decapitation” operations that would eliminate North Korea’s leadership. And therein lies the way out.

North Korea says that it will not negotiate until the United States formally ends the state of enmity that exists between the two nations—steps that both sides agreed to take during the only successful round of US–North Korean negotiations, in the late 1990s. It restated that formula in August, when Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho told a forum of Asian diplomats that the North would not put its nukes and missiles on the bargaining table “unless the hostile policy and nuclear threat of the U.S. against the [North] are fundamentally 
eliminated.”

Washington should see that as an opening and consider concrete steps to convince North Korea—as well as the South—that it wants to resolve this conflict without a war. Number one on that list should be an offer to curtail the military exercises that began in late August and will pick up again—with a far greater number of troops—next spring. But there’s only one way to know if this approach will work: Send Secretary Tillerson to Pyongyang, and start talking. Judging by his recent compliments to Kim’s “restraint,” that may be about to happen.

“Queen of Hearts” ; one of a set of the 4 Queens

 

Trump’s been fixated on just about everywhere but our allies and democracies.  Many feel that Trump is giving NK what it’s always wanted.

For more than two decades, successive North Korean leaders—first Kim Il Sung, then Kim Jong Il, and now Kim Jong Un—have sought to meet a sitting U.S. president as equals and enter comprehensive talks on the future of the Korean Peninsula. No sitting president has accepted; Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton both went to North Korea, but after their terms had ended.

There was a good reason for this U.S. refusal to meet with any North Korean leader. Not only do the two countries have a deep history of mistrust and enmity, with Pyongyang not only regularly threatening nuclear war but also having defected from multiple diplomatic agreements, a one-on-one meeting with a U.S. president would serve as a major propaganda coup for the North.

Last year, when North Korea credibly demonstrated that it had mastered the technology required to throw thermonuclear payloads across the globe, to U.S. homeland targets, its envoys began referencing the idea of a “balance of power” with the United States. The idea was for Pyongyang to place itself in a stable nuclear deterrent relationship with the United States.

North Korea has long sought to be treated as an equal by Washington; nuclear weapons, in addition to the pragmatic survival and deterrence benefits they confer, undoubtedly also bring Pyongyang status. Kim hopes to convert that status into diplomatic capital, sitting down with Trump for a comprehensive discussion about the future of the Korean Peninsula, nuclear weapon state to nuclear weapon state.

It’s not clear that the Trump administration has internalized this.

Let’s add to the amazing level of corruption achieved by the Trump/Kushner Family Crime Syndicate with this tidbit. “Jersey Shore town seeks ferry to dock next to Kushner resort.”

The federal government has been advising a beach town on the Jersey Shore on plans to build a pier and start a ferry service that would speed New Yorkers to the doorstep of a resort co-owned by Jared Kushner.

Kushner’s resort sits right next to the proposed pier, which places the federal government in the awkward position of helping steer a project that would benefit President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser. Once the project is complete, a former city official said, it would boost property values at the Kushner resort, which is currently selling 269 condos for as much as $1.9 million each.

“The Mysterious Garden”

And this: “Michael Cohen used Trump company email in Stormy Daniels arrangements.”

President Donald Trump’s personal attorney used his Trump Organization email while arranging to transfer money into an account at a Manhattan bank before he wired $130,000 to adult film star Stormy Daniels to buy her silence.

The lawyer, Michael Cohen, also regularly used the same email account during 2016 negotiations with the actress — whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford — before she signed a nondisclosure agreement, a source familiar with the discussions told NBC News.

And Clifford’s attorney at the time addressed correspondence to Cohen in his capacity at the Trump Organization and as “Special Counsel to Donald J. Trump,” the source said.

 

“The Three Perfumes”

Sam Nuneberg has showed up to the Grand Jury as ordered.

Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg arrived at District Court in Washington, DC, Friday morning, where he is expected to deliver federal grand jury testimony as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Nunberg is the first recognizable Trump campaign affiliate to appear at a grand jury hearing related to Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election by walking

through the main entrance of the federal courthouse and heading to the grand jury area. Other witnesses have presumably testified before Mueller’s grand jury since it started meeting last July, but none have made as public an appearance.

Nunberg did not speak to the press outside the courthouse or on his way into the grand jury area Friday morning. He was accompanied by his lawyer, and a court marshal led them into the grand jury area at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Are we all winning yet?  Is this how winning feels?

Well, check in and let us know what’s on your reading and blogging list today!


Extra Lazy Saturday Reads: Happy Birthday Dakinikat!!

Good Afternoon!!

The illustrations in this post are by comic illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti.

Wannabe dictator Donald Trump has left the country, and he’ll be gone for 12 days. Maybe we’ll get a little peace here in the USA while he’s gone. Of course he’ll probably manage to stir up trouble in other countries. The Guardian: North Korea looms large as Donald Trump embarks on Asia trip.

Donald Trump’s five-nation trip to Asia may take him away from his battles with opponents and prosecutors in Washington, but it will inject his volatile, combative personality into the heart of the most dangerous nuclear standoff in the world.

The president has broken precedent by clearly and repeatedly threatening to carry out a first strike against North Korea. On the eve of his Sunday departure, he did it again.

“We have one problem. That’s called North Korea,” Trump told Fox News. “I must tell you North Korea’s a thing that I think we will solve and if we don’t solve it, it’s not going to be very pleasant for them. It’s not going to be very pleasant for anybody.”

As usual on Fridays in the Trump era, we got some breaking news on the Russia investigation last night. The New York Times reported: Trump Campaign Adviser Met With Russian Officials in 2016.

As with previous threats of “fire and fury”, being “locked and loaded” and ready to “totally destroy” North Korea, Trump did not elaborate, but the comments were made in the context of significant escalation on both sides. North Korea carried out its sixth nuclear test in September, most probably of a thermonuclear bomb, marking a significant step up in its capabilities. It has tested intercontinental ballistic missiles over the summer.

The US has boosted military exercises with its partners and for the first time in a decade, it has three aircraft car

Click on the link to read the rest.

Back here at home we got some breaking news on the Russia investigation last night. Remember when Friday nights were slow except for occasional government news dumps? The New York Times reports: Trump Campaign Adviser Met With Russian Officials in 2016.

Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump presidential campaign, met Russian government officials during a July 2016 trip he took to Moscow, according to testimony he gave on Thursday to the House Intelligence Committee.

Shortly after the trip, Mr. Page sent an email to at least one Trump campaign aide describing insights he had after conversations with government officials, legislators and business executives during his time in Moscow, according to one person familiar with the contents of the message. The email was read aloud during the closed-door testimony.

The new details of the trip present a different picture than the account Mr. Page has given during numerous appearances in the news media in recent months and are yet another example of a Trump adviser meeting with Russians officials during the 2016 campaign. In multiple interviews with The New York Times, he had either denied meeting with any Russian government officials during the July 2016 visit or sidestepped the question, saying he met with “mostly scholars.”

Mr. Page confirmed the meetings in an interview on Friday evening, but played down their significance.

“I had a very brief hello to a couple of people. That was it,” he said. He said one of the people he met was a “senior person,” but would not confirm the person’s identity.

We’re also learning more about George Papadopoulos’s role in the campaign; it seems he was much more than a “coffee boy.” NBC News: Papadopoulos Repeatedly Represented Trump Campaign, Record Shows.

…the public record shows that Papadopoulos, who attempted to set up a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, was a more prominent figure than previously understood.

Papadopoulos was in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention where he was invited by the American Jewish Committee to speak on a panel about U.S. foreign policy, organizers said….

“Among the panelists in our 2016 Republican National Convention program — in a session titled ‘Defining America’s Role in Global Affairs’ — was George Papadopolous, then a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser”….

Papadopoulos’ public role for the Trump campaign continued. In late September, just six weeks before Election Day, he gave an interview as a Trump campaign official to the Russian Interfax News Agency, where he said that Trump will “restore the trust” between the U.S. and Russia.

And he met with Israeli leaders during the inauguration in January as a foreign policy adviser for the newly-sworn in president. “We are looking forward to ushering in a new relationship with all of Israel, including the historic Judea and Samaria,” Papadopoulos told the Jerusalem Post the following day.

Read more at NBC News.

More breaking news from last night: CBS news revealed that La David Johnson, who was killed in Niger, “may have been kidnapped by Islamic militants.”

CBS News has learned one of the four American soldiers killed in the ambush in Niger may have been kidnapped by Islamic militants who opened fire on a group of U.S. and Nigerien troops in early October.

The Pentagon has not said how Sgt. La David Johnson became separated from the other soldiers….

According to “village elder” Adamou Bububaker, after the battle ended:

“Two of the bodies were in the vehicle and another on the ground,” he said. They had been stripped of their uniforms.

But Johnson’s body was found two days later, about a half a mile away. Nigerien military sources tell CBS News they believe ISIS fighters decided to try and kidnap Johnson.

The fighters later shot him and dumped his body in the bushes, his hands roped together.

This is the man whose widow Trump shamefully called a liar and whose mentor was publicly smeared by former general John Kelly.

The Republican tax plan is obviously a disaster; but some of the things we’re learning about it are just unbelievable. Check this out from The Chronicle of Higher Education: Republican Tax Proposal Gets Failing Grade From Higher-Ed Groups.

“The House tax-reform proposal released today would discourage participation in postsecondary education, make college more expensive for those who do enroll, and undermine the financial stability of public and private two-year and four-year colleges and universities,” said Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education and under secretary of education in the Obama administration, in a written statement.

In broad terms, the bill would eliminate or consolidate a number of tax deductions meant to offset the costs of higher education for individuals and companies, including the Lifetime Learning Credit, which provides stopping wage garnishment for students and tax deduction of up to $2,000 for tuition, a credit for student-loan interest, and a $5,250 corporate deduction for education-assistance plans.

The bill proposes new taxes on some private-college endowments and on compensation for the highest-paid employees at nonprofit organizations, including colleges and nonprofit academic hospitals. The plan would also tax the tuition waivers that many graduate students receive when they work as teaching assistants or researchers.

Imagine if I had had to pay taxes on the tuition waver I got from Boston University during my Teaching fellowships? I would have had to pay income taxes on around $40,000 per year in addition to my teaching income! I would not have been able to go to graduate school at all. Much more at the link.

Yesterday Trump mused about being able to control law enforcement in the U.S. He hasn’t even been “president” for a year, and he’s already publicly expressing his desire to be a dictator. Tina Nguyen at Vanity Fair’s The Hive: Trump Subtly Wonders If The F.B.I Would Please Jail His Enemies.

When Donald Trump famously asked F.B.I. director James Comey to kindly drop all inquiries into Michael Flynn, and then fired him when he did not, the president triggered a series of events that led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, whose investigation into Russian collusion has now resulted in three indictments and the potential for many more. Thursday afternoon in the White House, Trump indicated that he has learned the dangers of attempting to use the Justice Department as his personal goon squad. “The saddest thing is, because I am the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department. I’m not supposed to be involved with the F.B.I.,” he told WMAL radio host Larry O’Connor. Still, he said he is “very frustrated” that he can’t use law-enforcement agencies to do what he really wants: investigate the Obama administration‘s Uranium One deal, which the right is scrambling to position as “clear evidence of the Clinton campaign colluding with Russian intelligence.”

“I look at what’s happening with the Justice Department, why aren’t they going after Hillary Clinton with her e-mails and with her dossier, and the kind of money—I don’t know, is it possible that they paid $12.4 million for the dossier . . . which is total phony, fake, fraud and how is it used?” he railed, expressing how “unhappy” he was with the way the justice system is supposed to work. “But you know as president, and I think you understand this, as a president you’re not supposed to be involved in that process.”

He admits he’s not supposed to be doing this, but he’s continuing to call on the DOJ to prosecute Hillary Clinton in interviews and on twitter. At the Washington Post, Ann Applebaum reminds us that Totalitarian ideologies never die. Not even in America.

Nothing is ever over. No historic trauma is ever resolved. No historic villain is ever buried, and no historic lessons are permanently learned. Everything and everyone can be revived, and anything can be unlearned — even in the most settled civilizations.

Evidence of this is all around us. After two generations of atonement, an elected German politician — Björn Höcke, speaker of the parliamentary group of the new far-right party Alternative for Germany — wants Germans to stop apologizing for Nazi crimes; he describes the Holocaust memorial in Berlin as a “monument of shame.” In China, a government once embarrassed by Maoism is peddling a sanitized version. Last year, 17 million Chinese made pilgrimages to the chairman’s home to pay homage to the man whose madness starved far more of his countrymen than that.

In Russia, Stalin has returned. Nearly half the country now views him with sympathy, respect or admiration. Stalin sent millions of Russians — and others — to die in labor camps, deprived millions of food so they starved to death, ordered hundreds of thousands executed, and left his country stunted and impoverished. In his own lifetime, Russians were terrified of him; soon after his death, he was denounced by his successors. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, it seemed, briefly, as if the victims of his terror might finally come to terms with his legacy.

For a long time, Americans thought they were immune to this sort of thing. But are we really? In the United States of my childhood, there seemed no more settled question than the Civil War. In school I was taught that slavery had been defeated, that Lincoln was a hero and that the remaining wrongs were at least partly righted by the civil rights movement. Even the Old South/“Gone With the Wind” nostalgia had faded and shrunk to a small group of battlefield-visiting enthusiasts.

But it never faded away altogether — and now it’s back. With a president who looks at white-supremacist marchers and sees “very fine people” and a White House chief of staff who describes Robert E. Lee as an “honorable man” who “gave up his country to fight for his state,” we may not be as far as we once thought from a revival of Southern exceptionalism, and even treachery on a broader scale. Roy Moore, Republican candidate for the Senate in Alabama, has said repeatedly that the “law of God” is higher than the law of the Constitution itself.

Please go read the whole thing.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a great weekend! Also please do check out our short term loan services here at paydayloansnow. Free consultation!


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

Sofia Loren playing pool, circa 1950s

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Dean signing autographs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three reactions to these stories:

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

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

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

Helen Keller meets Charlie Chaplin 1919

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

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

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

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

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

Washing day in NYC, 1934

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Facebook is facing an unusual degree of scrutiny as Robert Mueller’s team of prosecutors makes the social media a central focus of the Justice Department’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including how the platform was used to disseminate foreign propaganda and misleading news stories. There are lots of attempts these days to get the attention of many people on various social media accounts, so have even started buying YouTube views to gain popularity. Earlier this month, Facebook told congressional investigators that it sold about $100,000 worth of ads to a pro-Kremlin Russian troll farm that targeted U.S. voters. But while some lawmakers appeared frustrated by Facebook’s overly general answers to their inquiries, Mueller isn’t asking nicely.

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

More at the link.

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

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

Miles Davis defining cool in 1947.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pablo Picasso & Brigitte Bardot, 1956

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

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

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

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

Read the reasons at the NYT link.

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


Sunday Reads: “Horrideous”

 

Hey ho, morning to you all.

The title of today’s post comes from a tweet by Melissa @Shakestweetz, she has come up with a new word to describe something that is both horrible and horrendous. It was actually in response to a neck tattoo she saw someone sporting about…but I think it would be a perfect single word utterance to express the tRump display and performance during the entire Hurricane Humphrey disaster:

“Horrideous”

 

Has a nice ring to it, right?

I thought this reply from @lawngoon was just about in line:

 

Yup. Sounds like a winner to me.

Okay, so last night…or early this morning when I spotted this tweet, something major was going down. I saw it happening live, so to speak. North Korea was making a huge kaboom. Big enough to make the earth quake…first it was reported at 5.11 on scale…then it was increased, to 6.3:

According to that link via USGS site:

M 6.3 Explosion – 22km ENE of Sungjibaegam, North Korea

Possible explosion, located near the site where North Korea has detonated nuclear explosions in the past. If this event was an explosion, the USGS National Earthquake Information Center cannot determine its type, whether nuclear or any other possible type. The Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC) is the sole organization in the federal government whose mission is to detect and report technical data from foreign nuclear explosions.

I mean…take it from this tweet here:

 

Well, it was a big bomb.

North Korean nuclear test confirmed in major escalation by Kim Jong-un | World news | The Guardian

The explosion was heralded by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake about six miles (10km) from North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site in the north-east of the country. It was felt over the Chinese border in Yanji.

South Korea’s meteorological administration estimated the blast yield at between 50 to 60 kilotons, or five to six times stronger than North Korea’s fifth test in September last year.

Kim Young-woo, the head of South Korea’s parliamentary defence committee said later that the yield was as high as 100 kilotons. One kiloton is equivalent to 1,000 tons of TNT.

The previous nuclear blast in North Korea is estimated by experts to have been about 10 kilotons.

tRump’s the Twit…Twitter’s response:

 

Moving on to another disgusting news item.

The next tRump “The President” reality show ratings waiting game:

Will Jesus be able to stay in the US and continue to save lives? Or will he be fired and kicked out of the country he has called home since he was a young boy?

Tune in next week…or Monday…maybe Tuesday?

This Paramedic Who Rescued Harvey Victims May Be Deported If Trump Ends DACA

Houston-area paramedic Jesus Contreras worked six days straight after Hurricane Harvey hammered through southeast Texas, rescuing people from flood waters and taking some of them to local hospitals.

“It was emotional because you’re seeing people go through some of the hardest moments of your life,” Contreras told BuzzFeed News. “It shook up our entire community.”

In between rescuing people and helping people who needed dialysis, insulin, or reach life-saving medical machines, Contreras didn’t have a lot of time to think about himself. That changed when he came home on Thursday to shower and saw the news that President Trump may end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

The Obama-era program protects undocumented immigrants who, like Contreras, were brought to the US as children from deportation, while also granting them permits to legally work.

“Hearing that my future in the United States is being threatened and possibly taken away was disheartening, it was disappointing,” the 23-year-old said. “It was like getting an extra kick to the face when you’re already down.”

 

 

🚒Houston-area paramedic Jesus Contreras worked six straight days after Harvey hammered through southeast Texas. But when he got home Thursday and saw the news Trump may end DACA he said it was "like getting an extra kick to the face." Repost @buzzfeednews

A post shared by UndocuMedia (@undocumedia) on

 

From the Buzzfeed link above:

Contreras was brought to the United States when he was 6 years old by his mother from the Mexican state of Tamaulipas. He said he was fleeing violence and local drug crime at home.

“We came here with the hope of being free and being able to work and make a productive life,” Contreras said. “My mom came here with the intention of giving me the best opportunities I could have and DACA has allowed me to do just that.”

The paramedic called the DACA program a “huge life-changing experience,” without which he would never have been licensed.

“There are countless people with DACA that are out here volunteering, coordinating with shelters and relief,” Contreras said. “I have this opportunity to share my story but I’m far from the only one and there are millions of people just like me doing even bigger things.”

On Tuesday, when the Trump administration is expected to be announce their decision on DACA, Contreras will be coming home from another shift at the Montgomery County Hospital District.

“I’m a man of faith and I have faith and hope that things will work out for us and we can rest easy,” he said. “I want people who are against us to know that we are proud Americans, we have a lot of pride in this country, and that we’re going to stay here to fight and to help each other.”

Read more about Jesus, go check out the story…

 

Meanwhile…

*Note the tRump t-shirt….

Then there is this shit:

I have to agree with Aravosis on this:

I hate this man:

Oh, and don’t forget this:

Maybe you may have missed this:

 

 

Photo by @mrobinsonchavez This photo was made in the small town of Nome, Texas which was battered by Harvey. Earl Williams' home, built by his father 40 years ago, was flooded. He hopes he can repair rather than rebuild the home. Currents and whirlpools still pose a danger in high water areas. #harvey #hurricaneharvey #texas #texasstrong #dignity #portraitphotography

A post shared by Washington Post Photography (@washpostphoto) on

Accurate 👌🏾I need this version of the game *El Culero = The Asshole #loteria Repost @vmejiaguevara

A post shared by UndocuMedia (@undocumedia) on

💯La mera neta #word #truth Repost @resist.now

A post shared by UndocuMedia (@undocumedia) on

On the Onion:

“These were patriotic business proprietors who followed the laws of their time to further their economic interests, and this new currency design finally recognizes these enterprising individuals for their success,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at an afternoon press conference, explaining that the bills commemorating those responsible for enslaving the famed abolitionist, Civil War nurse, and women’s rights activist for the first three decades of her life would be in circulation by 2018. “For too long, we’ve overlooked the achievements of these upstanding citizens and prosperous agriculturalists. The new $20 note, which will feature a portrait of the Brodess family on the front and a depiction of the Maryland plantation they operated on the back, will at last give them their proper place in American history.” #TheOnion

A post shared by The Onion (@theonion) on

 

Not the Onion:

Terrible sad news today:

 

 

Latest on Irma:

This was some good news in all the muck:

Congratulations to superstar tennis player @SerenaWilliams on the birth of her baby girl. "Two weeks after we found out [about the pregnancy], I played the Australian Open. I told Alexis it has to be a girl because there I was playing in 100-degree weather, and that baby never gave me any trouble. Ride or die. Women are tough that way.” Photographed by Annie Leibovitz, Vogue, May 2010.

A post shared by Vogue (@voguemagazine) on

 

Via Jezabel, The Williams Sisters Had the Best Day Ever

In case you missed it: on Friday, Serena had a baby, and Venus advanced to the fourth round at the the US Open. WPBF-25 news producer Chris Shepherd tweeted that the baby girl is six pounds, 13 ounces.

This is all for today, I have to go and clean up after the puppy…a migraine is beating me down, we have another crisis with my mom…this time it is a pea sized tumor in her breast. She has a biopsy scheduled for the 18th of this month, we are hoping it is just a fibroid cyst. Oh and so many other shit things, nothing to compare with what folks are going through in Texas…but it is so exhausting.

I will leave you with one of my favorite Steely Dan songs:

 

 

This is an open thread.