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

Sofia Loren playing pool, circa 1950s

Good Morning!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Dean signing autographs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three reactions to these stories:

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

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

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

Helen Keller meets Charlie Chaplin 1919

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

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

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

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

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

Washing day in NYC, 1934

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More at the link.

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

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

Miles Davis defining cool in 1947.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pablo Picasso & Brigitte Bardot, 1956

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

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

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

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

Read the reasons at the NYT link.

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

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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 #HereToStay (@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 #HereToStay (@undocumedia) on

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

A post shared by UndocuMedia #HereToStay (@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.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

I feel like a zombie this morning. I’ve been house-sitting for my brother for the past two weeks, and it has been somewhat disorienting. I’m finally going to go back home sometime this afternoon. I guess my state of mind is a combination of being away from home and following the constant breaking news that never seems to end. I don’t even know where to begin today.

You’ve probably already heard the latest news: Hurricane Harvey is still raging; Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio; Trump is on his way to Texas; Multiple Russia stories broke yesterday and over the weekend; North Korea launched a missile that flew over Japan; Trump threatened North Korea again; and multiple Trump advisers have been dissing him.

The remainder of photos in this post are from the Houston disaster.

Links to recent stories in case you missed them:

Hurricane Harvey

Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck is captured carrying Catherine Pham and her 13-month-old son Aiden to safety, The Associated Press reported.

New Yorker: Hurricane Harvey and Public and Private Disaster in Houston, by Jia Tolentino.

Washington Post: Harvey takes aim at Louisiana as Trump plans to survey stricken Texas.

Forbes: Hurricane Harvey Greatly Complicates The Government Shutdown Calculation.

Politico: How Washington Made Harvey Worse.

Arpaio

HuffPost: Trump Defends Pardoning Joe Arpaio During Hurricane, Saying He Did It For ‘The Ratings.’

ABC News: Already-pardoned Arpaio asks judge to undo conviction.

Trump/Russia

NBC News: Mueller Team Asking if Trump Tried to Hide Purpose of Trump Tower Meeting.

Washington Post: Top Trump Organization executive asked Putin aide for help on business deal.

New York Times: Trump Associate Boasted That Moscow Business Deal ‘Will Get Donald Elected.’

ABC News: Trump signed ‘letter of intent’ for Russian tower during campaign, lawyer says.

North Korea

CNN: Trump says ‘all options on table’ after North Korea launches missile over Japan.

The Guardian: Trump and Abe vow to increase pressure after North Korea fires missile over Japan.

Advisers Dissing Trump

New York Times: Does Trump Represent U.S. Values? ‘The President Speaks for Himself,’ Tillerson Says.

Bustle: What James Mattis Implied About Trump & His Inability To Inspire Is Unprecedented.

Politico: Trump unusually silent after aides challenge him.

More interesting stories

The Guardian: Lurid Trump allegations made by Louise Mensch and co-writer came from hoaxer.

Harris County Sheriff’s Department’s Richard Wagner is seen rescuing Wilford Martinez from his flooded car along Interstate 610, according to The Associated Press.

Explosive allegations about Donald Trump made by online writers with large followings among Trump critics were based on bogus information from a hoaxer who falsely claimed to work in law enforcement.

Claude Taylor tweeted fake details of criminal inquiries into Trump that were invented by a source whose claim to work for the New York attorney general was not checked, according to emails seen by the Guardian. The allegations were endorsed as authentic and retweeted by his co-writer Louise Mensch.

The source’s false tips included an allegation, which has been aggressively circulated by Mensch and Taylor, that Trump’s inactive fashion model agency is under investigation by New York authorities for possible sex trafficking.

The hoaxer, who fed the information to Taylor by email, said she acted out of frustration over the “dissemination of fake news” by Taylor and Mensch. Their false stories about Trump have included a claim that he was already being replaced as president by Senator Orrin Hatch in a process kept secret from the American public.

“Taylor asked no questions to verify my identity, did no vetting whatsoever, sought no confirmation from a second source – but instead asked leading questions to support his various theories, asking me to verify them,” the source said in an email.

After being approached for comment by the Guardian on Monday, Taylor posted what he described as a “mea culpa” on Twitter. “As a ‘citizen journalist’ I acknowledge my error and do apologize,” he wrote.

Mensch denied using the bogus information and said her allegations about Trump’s model agency came from her own sources. Asked why she had retweeted Taylor’s false posts, Mensch said: “I don’t think anybody can vet anybody else’s sources.”

Read the rest at the Guardian. LOL!

Bloomberg: Trump Punishes Longtime Aide After Angry Phoenix Speech, Sources Say.

Donald Trump was in a bad mood before he emerged for a confrontational speech in Arizona last week.

Marty Malloy on Twitter: “Blessed to be safe and dry with Stewie. Hoping for the same for the people and pets of Houston.”

TV and social media coverage showed that the site of his campaign rally, the Phoenix Convention Center, was less than full. Backstage, waiting in a room with a television monitor, Trump was displeased, one person familiar with the incident said: TV optics and crowd sizes are extremely important to the president.

As his surrogates warmed up the audience, the expanse of shiny concrete eventually filled in with cheering Trump fans. But it was too late for a longtime Trump aide, George Gigicos, the former White House director of advance who had organized the event as a contractor to the Republican National Committee. Trump later had his top security aide, Keith Schiller, inform Gigicos that he’d never manage a Trump rally again, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Gigicos, one of the four longest-serving political aides to the president, declined to comment.

Hahahahahahaha! You may have seen on Twitter that the Trump people may have even advertised on Craigslist for paid actors to come to the rally, and still the space that holds only 5,000 was half-full.

Other sources claimed the ads were fake, but still funny, IMHO.

Sean Illing at Vox: 10 legal experts on why Trump can’t pardon his way out of the Russia investigation.

Last Friday, President Trump pardoned former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio was convicted in July of criminal contempt after ignoring a court order to cease his signature immigration roundups but hadn’t yet been sentenced. Trump ignored the court’s judgment and ended the case without any formal Justice Department review.

To some, Trump’s decision is a sign that he’s preparing — or at least willing — to pardon people associated with the growing investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia. Robert Bauer, a law professor at New York University and former White House counsel to President Obama, argued in the Washington Post that the pardon may be a “test run for shutting down the Russia investigation.”

I reached out to 10 legal experts and asked them if the Arpaio decision is a signal of how Trump might seek to undercut the Russia investigation. I also asked what it would mean for the investigation if Trump pardoned key players in the scandal like Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, or Jared Kushner before any of them could be convicted.

Andrew White is seen below helping a terrified neighbor after pulling her and her dog from her home in the upscale River Oaks neighborhood, Getty reported — White was out with his boat as well.

While it’s impossible to predict what Trump will do, nearly all the experts I spoke to agree on one thing: If Trump does use his pardoning powers to thwart the Russia investigation, it’s very likely to backfire.

If someone like Flynn or Kushner were preemptively pardoned, he wouldn’t be able to plead the Fifth Amendment if he were called to testify against Trump. The Fifth Amendment protects citizens against self-incrimination. But if someone has been pardoned, they no longer face the threat of prosecution, and so they can’t use a desire to avoid incriminating themselves as an excuse not to answer a question.

So in addition to potentially obstructing justice, Trump would only leave himself — and his colleagues — more vulnerable if he decided to pardon anyone currently under investigation. Of course, that doesn’t mean he won’t pull the trigger anyway. But he might want to think long and hard about the implications before he does.

Read more at Vox.

Trump biographer Tim O’Brien: Felix Sater Is a Lean, Mean Trump-Russia Machine.

Felix Sater is back, and making it even more difficult for President Donald Trump to write off questions about his ties to Russia.

Among the many characters who have populated Trump’s checkered history in real estate, Sater is the guy with one of the diciest resumes. A career criminal with ties to both organized crime and federal law enforcement, he partnered with Trump for years on a series of high-profile and unsuccessful real estate deals, including the Trump Soho hotel and condominium in Manhattan.

On Monday, the New York Times and the Washington Post disclosed a series of emails involving Sater’s efforts in 2015 and 2016 to help the Trump Organization build a Trump Tower knock-off in Moscow. There’s is a little hitch that makes that noteworthy: Trump was also running for president at the time.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in an email to Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, in 2015. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

According to Bloomberg News, Cohen recently told a congressional committee investigating Trump’s ties to Russia that he debriefed Trump three times about the Moscow deal. But Cohen apparently had a different impression than Sater of the value of the deal, telling congressional investigators that it “was not related in any way to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.”

Head over to Bloomberg to read the rest.

One more from Politico: Bolton writes in op-ed he can’t get in to see Trump anymore.

A rescue worker carries two dogs to safety after evacuating their family from floodwaters in Houston, Texas.

Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton once enjoyed regular access to President Donald Trump, but can no longer get a hearing with him. “I requested a meeting with him and I was turned down,” Bolton told POLITICO, though he declined to offer further details.

Bolton went public with his complaint in an op-ed published Monday in National Review in which he laid out a blueprint to exit the Iran nuclear deal because he couldn’t deliver it to the president himself….

Bolton said in his op-ed that “staff changes” now prevent him from seeing the president. He wrote that although former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon had asked him to draw up a plan to extricate the United States from the Iran deal in late July, that plan never made it to Trump’s desk after Bannon was fired earlier this month.

Given news reports that the president was reluctant to recertify the nuclear agreement — and that the president asked to see additional options — Bolton is raising an eyebrow about why his plan wasn’t considered.

“The idea was I would go see him and, you know, the timing of the certification decision and Reince Priebus’s firing were not far apart,” he said. Priebus’s replacement as White House chief of staff, John Kelly, has limited the number of visitors to the Oval Office.

Again, LOL!

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


Lazy Saturday Reads: Trump’s Amerika

neo-Nazi white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA last night

Good Afternoon!!

White “nationalists” are involved in a violent demonstration in the streets of an American city today. There has so far been no reaction from the “president,” who of course has a number of these crazies working for him in the people’s house.

According to reports on MSNBC, the rally–supposedly a protest of the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee–has now been declared an “unlawful assembly.” Interestingly,there are lots of Confederate flags on display in the crowd, but I have yet to see an American flag. Until recently, there hasn’t been much attempt by police to control the “protesters” either. It’s certainly a different scene from the police crackdowns we have seen at demonstrations organized by Black Lives Matter.

Boston.com: Hundreds face off ahead of white nationalist rally.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Hundreds of people are facing off in Charlottesville ahead of a white nationalist rally planned in the Virginia city’s downtown.

Rally supporters and counter-protesters screamed, chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other Saturday morning.

Men dressed in militia uniforms were carrying shields and openly carrying long guns.

 

From Twitter earlier today:

NBC News: Protesters Clash at White Nationalists March in Virginia, Local Emergency Declared.

Altercations erupted Saturday morning and at least two people were hurt as white nationalists and counter-protesters violently clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia, where local police and the governor declared a state of emergency.

Supporters of the “Unite the Right” rally descended again on the city’s downtown in opposition to clergy members and other groups, who stood in a line singing, “This Little Light of Mine,” to drown out the profanity and slurs.

“Love has already won. We have already won,” the counter-protesters responded.

But as the violence intensified with shoving and punching, demonstrators covered their mouths after what appeared to be tear gas was released into the crowd.

The city and Albemarle County both issued a “declaration of local emergency” for the two jurisdictions to request additional resources. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe also declared a state of emergency to allow for a response to quell the violence.

The rally hasn’t even started yet, but it has been called off. We’ll have to wait and see what happens next.

Yesterday White House employee Sebastian Gorka defended white supremacists. Think Progress: White House adviser says people should stop criticizing white supremacists so much.

On Wednesday, Gorka lashed out at “at [New York Times reporter] Maggie Haberman and her acolytes in the fake news media, who immediately have a conniption fit” and brought up McVeigh. He added that “white men” and “white supremacists” are not “the problem.”

It’s this constant, “Oh, it’s the white man. It’s the white supremacists. That’s the problem.” No, it isn’t, Maggie Haberman. Go to Sinjar. Go to the Middle East, and tell me what the real problem is today. Go to Manchester.

Gorka noted that the Oklahoma City bombing was 22 years ago, which is true. But since 9/11, right-wing extremists — almost always white men and frequently white supremacists — have been far more deadly domestically than Muslim extremists. A study found that in the first 13.5 years after 9/11, Muslim extremists were responsible for 50 deaths in the United States. Meanwhile, “right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities.”

I wonder if he went to the rally in Charlottesville?

Meanwhile, Trump has apparently been threatening a nuclear holocaust in an effort to change the subject from the Russia investigation, because there’s no sign of the U.S. military gearing up for war or of the government moving to evacuate U.S. citizens from South Korea and other areas that could be threatened by strikes on North Korea.

US Naval Base in Guam

Defense News: If the US is going to war in North Korea, nobody told the US military.

If you watch cable news or follow the president’s Twitter feed, you might be under the impression that the U.S. is heading to war with North Korea. But somebody, it seems, forgot to loop in the U.S. military.

North Korea is threatening to launch missiles toward Guam; U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted Friday morning that military options were “locked and loaded;” NBC News ran a story Wednesday claiming the U.S. had ”prepared a plan” to strike North Korean missile sites with B-1 bombers.

But while the rhetoric is nearing a fever pitch in D.C., out in the Pacific you’d never know the world was on the brink of nuclear war.

In Yokosuka, Japan, the U.S. Navy’s forward-deployed ready aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan sits peacefully pier-side, along with the U.S. 7th Fleet command ship Blue Ridge. On the Korean Peninsula, the State Department has not advised American citizens to leave the country and U.S. military family members are not being evacuated. No Marines are being loaded on amphibious ships; no sailors have been recalled off leave to prepare for emergency operations; and no ballistic missile defense ships have been sortied to North Korea, the waters off Japan or to Guam, three sources said.

The frenzied rhetoric being propelled by the president’s words and fed back by the news cycle is, for the second time this year, failing to match what’s actually happening, sources told Defense News.

Continue reading at the link.

Eddie Baza Calvo Govornor of Guam

I guess Trump wasn’t satisfied with the panic he has caused around the world, because yesterday he seemed to threaten military intervention in Venezuela. But more evidence that this is nothing but a “wag the dog” strategy came in a phone call Trump made to the governor of Guam late last night. The New York Times: Trump to Guam Governor: North Korea Threats Will Boost Tourism ‘Tenfold.’

If there’s one thing that Guam does not have to worry about while the tiny island is in the nuclear cross hairs of North Korea, it’s tourism, President Trump told the island’s governor in a phone call made public on Saturday.

The threat by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, to create “an enveloping fire” around the tiny United States territory in the Western Pacific will boost Guam tourism “tenfold,” Mr. Trump is heard saying in the recorded conversation with Gov. Eddie Calvo.

The recording was put on the Republican governor’s Facebook page and other social media accounts.

Mr. Trump said: “I have to tell you, you have become extremely famous all over the world. They are talking about Guam; and they’re talking about you.” And when it comes to tourism, he added, “I can say this: You’re going to go up, like, tenfold with the expenditure of no money.”

Trump is another P.T. Barnum, and he’s turned our government into a three-ring circus. It appears he is actually enjoying his ability to strike terror into millions of people around the globe. He’s getting off on it. I’m beginning to wonder if Trump suffers from bi-polar disorder. He is acting as if he’s in a manic phase and about to spiral out of control.

Journalist Daniel Dale tweeted a comparison of the White House readout of the Guam call vs. an actual transcript.

The New York Times and The Atlantic each have lengthy articles up asking why Trump can’t ever criticize Putin. Neither author suggests what is likely the real reason–Trump is a Russian asset.

The New York Times: Combative Trump Pulls His Punches for One Man: Putin.

TheAtlantic: Why Does Trump Still Refuse to Criticize Putin?

A couple more interesting stories I came across this morning, and then I’m going to retire to my bed to nurse a throbbing headache caused by reading about all this insanity.

The Hill: Former Mueller deputy on Trump: ‘Government is going to kill this guy.’

CNN counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd warned that President Trump is agitating the government, saying during a Thursday afternoon interview with CNN anchor Jake Tapper that the U.S. government “is going to kill this guy.”

Mudd, who served as deputy director to former FBI Director Robert Mueller, said Trump’s defense of Russian President Vladimir Putin has compelled federal employees “at Langley, Foggy Bottom, CIA and State” to try to take Trump down.

“Let me give you one bottom line as a former government official. Government is going to kill this guy,” Mudd, a staunch critic of Trump, said on “The Lead.”

“He defends Vladimir Putin. There are State Department and CIA officers coming home, and at Langley and Foggy Bottom, CIA and State, they’re saying, ‘This is how you defend us?’ ” he continued.

Read the rest of Mudd’s rant at the link.

Nina Burleigh at Newsweek: Melania, Ivanka and Ivana Trump Wear High Heels, a Symbol of Everything that is Beautiful and Horrifying about Them.

The vertiginous spike-heel shoe is not currently in fashion, but for Ivana, Ivanka, Melania and the Trump daughters-in-law, Carrie Bradshaw’s shoe of choice never went out of style. In fact, the female consorts of the Leader of the Free World do not set foot in public without first molding their arches into the supranatural curve that Mattel toy designers once devised for Barbie’s plastic feet.

Six months in, and the Trump women are well on their way to normalizing the footwear of the beauty pageant. The Cinderella shoe fitted on the feet of all the Miss Teen USA’s and Miss Universes who ever beamed under the Trumpian gaze in contests of yore also is the shoe that average women can bear for only a few hours at weddings or proms, before casting them off, moaning and rubbing their soles.Former Vogue editor Andre Leon Talley, a longtime friend of Melania Trump’s, believes that, other than the White House Easter Egg hunt on the lawn, Melania has not been photographed as first lady without her feet arched into one of two brands of towering high-heeled shoes that she favors, Manolo Blahniks or the 4.5-inch-heeled Oh So Kate by Christian Louboutin. (Talley says Melania picked up 22 pairs of Manolos in various colors before decamping to the White House last month.)

In their old age, these women will need serious health care for their feet.

The stiletto is a podiatrist’s dream, or nightmare, depending on your point of view, because devoted wearers ultimately require medical attention. “As you get older in these shoes, your feet are going to have problems,” Talley says. “I am not gonna say Melania is gonna have them soon, but sooner or later she is going have to come down off that high arch.”

The internet and YouTube are rife with tutorials on how to bear the pain (bandages, gel inserts, baby powder) and walk gracefully in them. Michelle Phan’s “How to Master the High Heel” tutorial has received millions of views. Her nuggets of advice include: “Your first assignment when walking in heels is to find a straight line and follow it,” and “For every step you take, you need to have a general awareness of where your heel is being placed.”

Stiletto pumps demand a critical level of attention to pebbles, cobbles, sidewalk cracks, mud, grass, curbs and stairs—all while keeping head erect and shoulders back—that has sometimes eluded even the greatest public females. Remember Naomi Campbell’s famous runway spill. Or Jennifer Lawrence tripping up the steps to receive her Oscar.

But not the Trump women. Read the rest at the link.

What stories are you following today?


Friday Reads: Nuclear Don and the Duck and Cover Edition

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

A year ago seems like eons ago in the new accelerated march to no hope what so ever we have in our ongoing National Nightmare of Atomic Don.  I’ve written several ledes to the effect of “Do you know where your nearest bombshelter is” with more of a dramatic, click bait kind’ve style than a serious one.  Omens being what they are right now,  we’re seeing stuff I haven’t seen since 1962 when I spent a week with my fellow second graders practicing duck and cover in the halls of Herbert Hoover Grade School in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  Fortunately, neither President Kennedy or Premier Krushchev were insane.  Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump both belong in asylums (preferably together).

His ultimate motives, like many details of his life, are uncertain. Since taking power, Mr. Kim has yet to travel abroad or host a visit from another head of state. Only a few people outside North Korea have been allowed to meet him, among them the former basketball star Dennis Rodman, a Japanese sushi chef and the vice presidents of Cuba and China.

What little is known of Mr. Kim’s record suggests ruthlessness — and some ideological flexibility.

South Korean intelligence officials say Mr. Kim has executed scores of senior officials, including his own uncle, a wily power broker who had been seen as his mentor. He is also assumed to have ordered the assassination of his half brother, who was poisoned by VX nerve agent at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia in February.

Yet Mr. Kim is also credited with loosening state controls on the economy and engineering modest growth, and regaining some of the public confidence that the dynastic regime enjoyed under his grandfather and lost under his father, whose rule is remembered for a devastating famine.

“Smart, pragmatic, decisive,” Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, said of Mr. Kim. “But also capricious, moody and ready to kill easily.”

One subject on which Mr. Kim has not wavered is the nuclear program. His father held out the possibility of scrapping the program in return for economic aid and security guarantees and even struck a deal with the Clinton administration, though the North later violated it. But Mr. Kim has taken a more aggressive approach.

Three of North Korea’s five nuclear tests have come under his watch, and there are signs that the country is preparing for another one. North Korea has also conducted about 80 missile tests under Mr. Kim, more than twice as many as under his father and grandfather combined.

The nation crossed a major threshold with the last two missile tests, on July 4 and July 28, which analysts said demonstrated intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of hitting Alaska and, in the most recent test, the mainland United States.

North Korean state media showed Mr. Kim present at both tests, wearing a suit with a Mao-style collar, surrounded by soldiers and smiling broadly.

Today, we have an eager belligerent meeting that nuclear threat challenge.  Last year’s you would not believe the headlines this morning.  This is the kind of bellicose rhetoric that buys us a front seat to war.

Peter Baker / New York Times:
Trump Says Military Is ‘Locked and Loaded, Should North Korea Act Unwisely’

Simon Denyer /Washington Post:

Shane Savitsky / Axios:
82% of Americans fear nuclear war with North Korea

The headline that got to me was that the Homeland Security is actively working with Guam on preparing for a potential nuclear attack. I just want to call all the family in Japan and apologize to them for putting them through this again. The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings happened on August 6, 1945. It may have ended a war last time.  This time, it will not and no one in that region elected a madman US President.

Guam Homeland Security issued a new fact sheet Friday, which the agency says will help residents prepare for an imminent missile threat.

The information was released following this week’s threat by North Korea to launch a missile attack against Guam.

The advice includes tips such as: “Do not look at the flash or fireball – It can blind you” and “Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.”

“Lie flat on the ground and cover your head. If the explosion is some distance away, it could take 30 seconds or more for the blast wave to hit,” the sheet states.

During a press conference at Adelup late Friday afternoon, Gov. Eddie Calvo told reporters that the threat level remains the same and that the island is “safe and sound.”

“There are no changes,” Calvo said. “Everyone should continue to live their lives.”

While the governor said there’s no imminent threat to the island, he said families should still be prepared any situation, including inclement weather, and establish a family emergency plan.

Homeland Security says residents should prepare an emergency supply kit and a family emergency plan. During an imminent missile threat, authorities recommend taking cover as quickly as possible under a concrete structure or below ground after an attack warning is issued.

People should also avoid going outside for at least 24 hours to avoid any possible radioactive material, unless otherwise told by authorities.

If possible, take a shower with lots of soap and water, shampoo but avoid using conditioner that will bind to any radioactive material in your hair, the fact sheet states.

After the explosion, people are encouraged to keep an eye and an ear out for official information so they know where to go, what to do and places to avoid.

You have to wonder if any of the Generals wandering the West Wing approved of the “locked and loaded” rhetoric. Meanwhile, South Korea and the US have a scheduled Military exercise. You also have to wonder if continuing on with that is in any one’s best interest at this point but I’m an economist not a military strategist and yet I wonder every day if you can even do strategy or game theory or even assign probabilities to the unpredictable minds of two mad men.

The annual joint exercises, named Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, have long been planned for 21-31 August, but now come at a time when both Washington and Pyongyang are on heightened alert, raising the spectre of a mishap or overreaction.

The timing is doubly concerning as it is within a timeframe in which Pyongyang says it will be ready to fire four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles toward the US-run island of Guam, an unusually specific threat against the US.

Washington and Seoul say the exercises, involving tens of thousands of American and South Korean troops, are a deterrent against North Korean aggression.

In the past, the practices are believed to have included “decapitation strikes” – trial operations for an attempt to kill Kim Jong-un and his top generals, further antagonising a paranoid leadership.

Trump kept the pressure up with a tweet on Friday morning threatening Pyongyang but indicating he wanted to avoid hostilities.

A US-led move that brought the United Nations security council to impose broad sanctions on North Korea was passed on Saturday, sparking a furious response from Kim’s regime, promising “thousands-fold” revenge.

Speaking off the cuff, Trump then added further heat by threatening to unleash “fire and fury”, to which Pyongyang responded with its plan to fire four missiles to land in waters near Guam. On Thursday, Trump suggested his comment “maybe … wasn’t tough enough.”

How could any of this play out?

It’s the no-win situation that can only be imagined by US military officials tasked with preparing for a worst-case scenario — conducting a preemptive strike on North Korea.

With little time to evacuate, millions of innocent citizens would be caught in the crossfire if the US and its regional allies were to initiate a first strike, that would almost certainly result in high casualties on both sides.

Friday morning, President Donald Trump warned on Twitter that “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded,” though he said “hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”

A military operation would consist of a swift and multi-dimensional attack, as the fight would be defined by the first minute of combat, according to Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Center for New American Security.

While Hendrix has not been briefed on the specifics of a possible preemptive strike option, he told CNN that the operation would likely include several strategies aimed to neutralize North Korea’s defensive and counterstrike capabilities.

Countering North Korea’s relatively formidable surface-to-air missile defense capabilities, stealth American F-22s, F-35s and B-2 bombers would likely lead a joint air campaign with the help of Japanese and South Korean F-15 or F-16 fighters, he said.

Unmanned aircraft could also be used to limit risk to pilots.

It is surreal to think that the US would ever exercise a first strike ever again. It is naive to think that any one in South Korea or the region would not have their lives ended or upended for years to come.  The US has had a strict “No first use” policy in place for decades.  China has announced that it would fight a US first strike but not support a NK first strike.  

China will prevent the US and South Korea from carrying out strikes on North Korea and trying to overthrow the leadership there, but will remain neutral if Pyongyang launches missiles at American targets first, the state-run Global Times said.

The warning, delivered through an editorial in the Chinese state-run newspaper on Thursday, comes as both the US and North Korea continue to exchange incendiary remarks, raising the risk of overreaction or miscalculation amid the crisis.
Beijing should make it clear that “if North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral,” the Global Times wrote.

But if the US and its ally South Korea take on Pyongyang and try to “overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so,” the paper stressed.

The widely-quoted newspaper, published by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, also noted that the latest developments are seen in Beijing with growing frustration and deep concern.

“If war really breaks out, the US can hardly reap any strategic harvest and North Korea will face unprecedented risks,” the paper cautioned. “North Korea aims to propel the US to negotiate with it, while the US wants to put North Korea in check.”

Beijing was unable “to persuade Washington or Pyongyang to back down at this time,” the Global Times said, adding it primarily pursues peace and stability in the region. All sides involved in the crisis should understand that “when their actions jeopardize China’s interests, China will respond with a firm hand,” the government paper explained.

China – North Korea’s long-standing economic partner and ideological ally – reiterated on Friday that all sides involved in the crisis must “speak and act with caution” as well as build up trust rather than “taking turns in shows of strength,” according to a Foreign Ministry statement quoted by Reuters.

I for one join the 82%.  Wall Street has taken notice too.  Stocks will likely fall for a 4th day in a row.   I don’t trust anything coming out of the White House because the President is insane.  It’s time Republicans stand up for sanity and our country.

What’s on your blogging and reading list today?


Thursday Reads

An inflatable chicken meant to resemble President Trump on the Ellipse, just south of the White House, on Wednesday. Credit Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/10/us/politics/trump-giant-inflatable-chicken.html

Good Afternoon!!

Where to begin? We’re still seeing the fallout from the news that broke yesterday about the late July predawn raid on Paul Manafort’s Virginia home, Trump is threatening war with North Korea and feuding with Mitch McConnell, and more info is coming out about the latest frightening climate change report, and the White House is just as chaotic as ever despite John Kelly’s efforts. I have no doubt that more crazy news will break before I finish this post.

I’ll start with the Manafort raid followup. First, it was a “no-knock” raid according to Jim Sciutto of CNN.

That means that the Special Counsel convinced a judge that Manafort might destroy evidence if he knew the FBI was at his front door. I guess it also means the FBI broke down his door. That’s  huge.

From Just Security: FBI Search of Paul Manafort’s Home: What Does It Really Mean?

Mueller’s use of a search warrant tells us that he was able to establish on the basis of evidence, and to the satisfaction of a United States Magistrate-Judge, that there was probable cause to believe that evidence of a specific crime or crimes existed in the location to be searched. That standard is significantly higher than what is required to obtain a grand jury subpoena, which can be used to obtain any evidence that a grand jury (under the direction of a prosecutor) decides will be helpful to their investigation. Mueller’s resort to a search warrant shows, therefore, that his investigation has advanced, has identified specific potential crimes, and is zeroing in on key evidence. Since it was Manafort’s house that was searched, it is likely that he is implicated in the crimes, but that is not necessarily the case. Further, it should be clear that just because Mueller has now reached this stage in the investigation, it does not necessarily mean that Manafort or anybody else will be ultimately charged with crimes.

Now why did Mueller use a search warrant instead of a subpoena, particularly since Manafort’s attorney says that they have been cooperating with the investigation all along? I can think of four possible reasons for Mueller’s move (none of which are mutually exclusive).

Read the reasons at the link. Following the revelation of the raid, journalists and twitter users looked at the timeline of events and found some interesting Trump connections.

Think Progress: Trump called for acting FBI director’s firing hours after FBI agents raided Paul Manafort’s home.

In light of the news about the raid of Manafort’s home, Trump’s tweets on the day of July 26 are of renewed interest. That was the day Trump abruptly posted a string of tweets announcing “that the United States government will not accept or allow [t]ransgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military.” Last Friday, Politico reported that Trump’s declaration stunned White House and Department of Defense lawyers who had warned him against such a ban.

But more directly of interest are factually inaccurate tweets Trump posted later that day asking why Attorney General Jeff Sessions hadn’t moved to replace then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe.

This morning, Fox News reported more evidence that Trump likely knew about the raid on the morning it happened: Trump lawyer slams special counsel for ‘gross abuse’ in Manafort raid, challenges warrant.

A top lawyer for President Trump slammed the special counsel’s office over the FBI raid of former campaign manager Paul Manafort’s Virginia home, accusing investigators of committing a “gross abuse of the judicial process” for the sake of “shock value” – and employing tactics normally seen “in Russia not America.”

Trump attorney John Dowd leveled the complaints in an email sent to a Wall Street Journal reporter who wrote about the Manafort raid. The email was obtained by Fox News.

The email reflects Trump’s legal team moving to protect the president, amid speculation that the raid could be part of a broader effort to squeeze Manafort for information on Trump.

Dowd, in his note, questioned the validity of the search warrant itself, calling it an “extraordinary invasion of privacy.” Dowd said Manafort already was looking to cooperate with congressional committees and said the special counsel never requested the materials from Manafort.

If Manafort informed Trump’s lawyers about the raid, they probably told Trump himself.

More on Mueller’s investigation of Manafort, and likely efforts to get him to flip on Trump:

Politico: Feds sought cooperation from Manafort’s son-in-law.

Federal investigators sought cooperation from Paul Manafort’s son-in-law in an effort to increase pressure on President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, according to three people familiar with the probe.

Investigators approached Jeffrey Yohai, who has partnered in business deals with Manafort, earlier this summer, setting off “real waves” in Manafort’s orbit, one of these people said. Another of these people said investigators are trying to get “into Manafort’s head.”

Manafort, who is a focus of the broad federal and congressional investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign, is also under investigation for his business and real estate transactions, including some that involve Yohai.

That probe has accelerated in recent weeks, according to one of the people familiar with it….

It is unclear if investigators have secured cooperation from Yohai, who also hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing. A lawyer for Yohai didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Bloomberg: With Bank Subpoenas, Mueller Turns Up the Heat on Manafort.

Mueller’s team of investigators has sent subpoenas in recent weeks from a Washington grand jury to global banks for account information and records of transactions involving Manafort and some of his companies, as well as those of a long-time business partner, Rick Gates, according to people familiar with the matter.

The special counsel has also reached out to other business associates, including Manafort’s son-in-law and a Ukrainian oligarch, according to one of the people. Those efforts were characterized as an apparent attempt to gain information that could be used to squeeze Manafort, or force him to be more helpful to prosecutors.

Manafort’s apartment building in Virginia

As prosecutors gather many years of information about his financial affairs, Manafort could be dragged deeper into any number of legal disputes. He has a history of doing business with oligarchs and politicians in Ukraine and Russia that predates his political work for Trump, with payments routed through foreign banks and investments in U.S. real estate….

Part of the reason Manafort is getting intense early scrutiny is that Mueller is drawing on investigations that were well underway, including one by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, when he was appointed in May.

With prosecutors combing through his financial life, the 68-year-old has been toeing a fine line, cooperating with congressional requests for information about the campaign, and insisting he has nothing to hide from Mueller’s team of prosecutors who are delving into his past. Privately, his supporters question Mueller’s work to unearth conduct with no apparent connection to the 2016 election.

North Korea appears to be winning the war of words with Trump. 

The Atlantic: North Korea Answers Trump’s Vague Threats With Specific Ones.

President Trump seemed to draw a red line Tuesday when he warned North Korea that continued threats against the United States would be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The next day, North Korea crossed it.

Or at least it announced, in unusually specific terms, how it could. The country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday night issued a statement that said the North is “seriously examining the plan for an enveloping strike at Guam through simultaneous fire of four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range strategic ballistic rockets in order to interdict the enemy forces on major military bases on Guam and to signal a crucial warning to the U.S.” The statement, citing the North’s Strategic Rocket Forces head General Kim Rak Gyom, added that the plan would be finished by mid-August before going to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for approval.

“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason and only absolute force can work on him,” the general said, in apparent reference to Trump, whose ultimatum he described as a “load of nonsense.”

The announcement, coming a day after the North threatened Guam in vaguer terms, is stunning not only as an escalation, but also for the level of detail with which it describes the proposed strike. The statement spells out the number of intermediate-range ballistic missiles that would be involved (four), how far they would fly (approximately 2,085 miles), their exact flight path (they would traverse the three Japanese prefectures of Shimane, Hiroshima, and Koichi), plus how long all of this would take (about 20 minutes), and the earliest the plan would be ready (mid-August, so, conservatively, within a few days). And it takes care to specify that the end point of the missiles is not Guam itself, but the waters off its eastern coast (18 to 25 miles off, to be exact).

Jeffrey Lewis at Foreign Policy: The Game Is Over and North Korea Has Won.

The Washington Post reported yesterday that North Korea has a large stockpile of compact nuclear weapons that can arm the country’s missiles, including its new intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of hitting the United States. That’s another way of saying: game over.

Also: I told you so.

There are really two assessments in the Post’s report. One, dated July 28, is that the intelligence community — not just the Defense Intelligence Agency, contrary to what you may have heard — “assesses North Korea has produced nuclear weapons for ballistic missile delivery, to include delivery by ICBM-class missiles.” The other assessment, published earlier in July, stated that North Korea had 60 nuclear weapons — higher than the estimates usually given in the press. Put them together, though, and its pretty clear that the window for denuclearizing North Korea, by diplomacy or by force, has closed.

These judgments are front-page news, but only because we’ve been living in collective denial. Both intelligence assessments are consistent with what the North Koreans have been saying for some time, for reasons I outlined in a column here at Foreign Policy immediately after the September 2016 nuclear test titled, “North Korea’s Nuke Program Is Way More Sophisticated Than You Think: This is now a serious nuclear arsenal that threatens the region and, soon, the continental United States.”

Continue reading at Foreign Policy.

On the Trump-McConnell spat:

Business Insider: Trump’s feud with Mitch McConnell ‘is breathtaking in its dysfunctionality.’

A burgeoning feud between President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could have significant ramifications for the GOP’s once-ambitious policy agenda.

Analysts say the war of words could be another stumbling block for various Republican plans after limited success in their first seven months of power in Washington.

“The Trump/McConnell war of words has zero upside for the GOP agenda and is potentially limit-down,” Chris Krueger, an analyst at Cowen Washington Research Group. “It is breathtaking in its dysfunctionality.”

Isaac Boltansky, a political analyst at the research firm Compass Point, told Business Insider that the words are a stark example of the divide that exists between the two.

“I think the state of political rhetoric is concerning for both the GOP’s legislative agenda and the fiscal deadlines in September,” Isaac Boltansky, a political analyst at the research firm Compass Point, told Business Insider. “Trump and McConnell are linchpins in the legislative process, and these comments suggest a deep divide in both tone and substance.”The cracks are starting to show at a critical time for the GOP agenda, as necessary deadlines and a massive tax reform fight loom on the horizon.

Read more at the BI link.

White House Insanity Updates

New York Magazine: Sebastian Gorka Thinks the Minnesota Mosque Attack May Have Been a False Flag.

In the early morning hours of August 5, someone hurled an improvised explosive device at a mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota. None of the roughly 20 early morning worshippers were injured, but the blast broke windows and began a small fire, filling the building with smoke. The mosque’s executive director told a local TV station that “one of our congregation members came out immediately and he saw a truck fleeing from the parking lot, running at very high speed.” The FBI is investigating; no arrests have been made. On Sunday, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton called the attack “an act of terrorism.”

But the response from the Trump administration has been predictable yet disturbing: almost complete silence. President Trump has not issued a statement or tweeted about the Minnesota attack, preferring to direct his attention to other pressing matters, like Senator Richard Blumenthal’s Vietnam record.  (The Department of Homeland Security  did issue a strong statement condemning the attack.)

In a Tuesday appearance on MSNBC, Nazi-ish quasi–White House adviser Sebastian Gorka put forth a bizarre justification for the radio silence: The attack, you see, may have been perpetrated by the left.

“There’s a great rule: All initial reports are false,” Gorka said. (Editor’s note: This is a terrible rule.) “You have to check them; you have to find out who the perpetrators are,” Gorka continued. “We’ve had a series of crimes committed — alleged hate crimes by right-wing individuals in the last six months — that turned out to actually have been propagated by the left. So let’s wait and see, let’s allow the local authorities to provide their assessments, and then the White House will make its comments.” Responding to Stephanie Ruhle’s assertion that Trump had no problem immediately commenting on a London terror attack in June, Gorka countered that it was obvious in that case who the perpetrators were — ignoring the fact that Trump tweeted out a Drudge Report story written before any facts were known. Ruhle also made the eminently reasonable point that “you don’t have to make a statement about who did it, but you can make a public statement about how terrible it would be to attack a building of worship.” “That’s fine,” Gorka responded unconvincingly. “And I’m sure the president will do that.”

Anthony Scaramucci is no longer in the White House, but he’s still making news. The Washington Post: The Mooch as Monica Lewinsky? Scaramucci’s saga keeps getting stranger.

Anthony Scaramucci keeps complaining about the interview that cost him his job as White House communications director. And in doing so, he keeps betraying how amateur it was that the White House ever hired him.

When the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza first reported on Scaramucci’s vulgar comments about his then-White House colleagues two weeks ago, Scaramucci said he would tone down the language. He then apparently decided to get a little more combative, suggesting the interview wasn’t meant to be published and that a fellow Italian American like Lizza should have known he was just B.S.-ing.

And now that Lizza published additional comments from the interview Wednesday, Scaramucci is trying a new tack: Accusing Lizza of recording him without his knowledge by comparing him to a figure from the Bill Clinton sex scandal, Linda Tripp.

Go to the WaPo to read the whole ridiculous story.

I’ll get to the climate change news in the comment thread. This post is way too long.

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


Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

While I was browsing for interesting stories this morning, I watched Trump’s embarrassing speech at the opening of the 9/11 center at NATO headquarters. He began with a lecture on how the U.S. is paying so much for defense and other countries are failing to meet the 2% GDP requirement. How long is he going to keep beating this dead horse?

After that, he seemed to imply that NATO had spent too much money on the 9/11 memorial. He said that the U.S. would not abandon NATO, but he did not reaffirm article 5, which states that if one NATO country is attacked, all have been attacked.

Last night a reporter for The Guardian, Ben Jacobs, was assaulted by the GOP candidate for the House in Montana.

The Guardian: Republican candidate charged with assault after ‘body-slamming’ Guardian reporter.

The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat has been charged with misdemeanor assault after he is alleged to have slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting: “Get the hell out of here.”

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter.

Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs

“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance. “I think he whaled on me once or twice … He got on me and I think he hit me … This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”

Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey witnessed the incident at Gianforte’s campaign headquarters in Montana, according to an account published on the Fox News website. After Jacobs asked Gianforte his question, Acuna wrote: “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.

“Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’ … To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.”

At least 3 Montana newspapers have now unendorsed Gianforte, and the election is today.

This might explain Gianforte’s anger toward Jacobs and the Guardian. On April 28, Jacobs published this story on Gianforte, whom Trump endorsed in voice message: GOP candidate Greg Gianforte has financial ties to US-sanctioned Russian companies.

A Republican congressional candidate has financial ties to a number of Russian companies that have been sanctioned by the US, the Guardian has learned.

Greg Gianforte, who is the GOP standard bearer in the upcoming special election in Montana, owns just under $250,000 in shares in two index funds that are invested in the Russian economy to match its overall performance.

According to a financial disclosure filed with the clerk of the House of Representatives, the Montana tech mogul owns almost $150,000 worth of shares in VanEck Vectors Russia ETF and $92,400 in the IShares MSCF Russia ETF fund. Both are indexed to the Russian equities market and have significant holdings in companies such as Gazprom and Rosneft that came under US sanctions in the aftermath of the Russian invasion of the Crimea.

The Moron-In-Chief is now in trouble with two countries and the U.S. Department of Defense for his blabbing of top secret intelligence. First it was Israel, now the U.K.

Politico: Israel changes intelligence sharing with US after Trump’s revelations to Russia.

Israel has changed the way it shares intelligence with the U.S., Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday. The move comes after U.S. President Donald Trump divulged to Russia classified information reportedly obtained from Israel.

“We discussed the issue with our friends in America,” Liberman said in an interview with Army Radio. “We did our checks.” The defense chief didn’t specify what changes had been made, saying: “Not everything needs to be discussed in the media, some things need to be talked about in closed rooms.” ….

Israel has changed the way it shares intelligence with the U.S., Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Wednesday. The move comes after U.S. President Donald Trump divulged to Russia classified information reportedly obtained from Israel.

Manchester police making arrests after bombing

The Guardian: UK police stop passing Manchester bombing information to US over leaks.

British police have stopped sharing evidence from the investigation into the terror network behind the Manchester bombing with the United States after a series of leaks left investigators and the government furious.

The ban is limited to the Manchester investigation only. British police believe the leaks are unprecedented in their scope, frequency and potential damage.

Downing Street was not behind the decision by Greater Manchester police to stop sharing information with US intelligence, a No 10 source said, stressing that it was important police were allowed to take independent decisions.

Relations between the US and UK security services, normally extremely close, have been put under strain by the scale of the leaks from US officials to the American media.

After chairing a meeting of the emergency Cobra meeting Theresa May said: “I will make clear to President Trump that intelligence shared between our security agencies must remain secure.” She is due to meet the US president at a Nato summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Not Good.

As for the Defense Department’s reaction to Trump leaks, have you read the transcript of Trump’s call to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte? It’s beyond shocking. Not only did the Moron-in-Chief praise Duterte for his extra-legal murders of suspected drug dealers and addicts, but also he revealed the location of two U.S. nuclear submarines!

Trump’s good buddy Rodrico Duterte

Reuters: Trump praises Duterte for anti-drug campaign in call transcript.

Trump commended Duterte’s actions in the same call in which the U.S. president invited him to Washington, according to a transcript of their conversation published by the Washington Post and the investigative news site The Intercept. The document included a “confidential” cover sheet from the Americas division of the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

Almost 9,000 people, many small-time drug users and dealers, have been killed in the Philippines since Duterte took office on June 30. Police say about one-third of the victims were shot by officers in self-defense during legitimate operations. Human rights groups say official accounts are implausible.

“I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem,” Trump told Duterte, according to the transcript.

“Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

Duterte thanked Trump and said “this is the scourge of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation.”

“I think we had a previous president who did not understand that,” Trump replied.

And then there was this:

The attack submarine USS San Francisco (SSN 711) is escorted by two harbour tugs in this file picture. – Wikimedia Commons

Buzzfeed: The Pentagon Can’t Believe Trump Told Another President About Nuclear Subs Near North Korea.

Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript of a call between President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart revealed that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea.

“We never talk about subs!” three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military’s belief that keeping submarines’ movements secret is key to their mission.

While the US military will frequently announce the deployment of aircraft carriers, it is far more careful when discussing the movement of nuclear submarines. Carriers are hard to miss, and that, in part, is a reason the US military deploys them. They are a physical show of force. Submarines are, at times, a furtive complement to the carriers, a hard-to-detect means of strategic deterrence.

According to the transcript, released Wednesday, Trump called Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte April 29, in part to discuss the rising threat from North Korea. During that call, while discussing ways to mitigate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear ambitions, Trump said: “We have two submarines — the best in the world. We have two nuclear submarines — not that we want to use them at all. I’ve never seen anything like they are but we don’t have to use this, but [Kim] could be crazy, so we will see what happens.”

It takes a madman to recognize another madman, I guess. In reading the transcript, I got the feeling that Trump would like nothing more than to use those nukes. But now, all our enemies know where they can fine our nuclear subs.

By announcing the presence of nuclear submarines, the president, some Pentagon officials privately explained, gives away the element of surprise — an irony given his repeated declarations during the campaign that the US announces far too many of its military plans when it comes to combatting ISIS.

Moreover, some countries in the region, particularly China, seek to develop their anti-sub capability. Knowing that two US submarines are in the region could allow them to test this.

Finally, it is unclear why Duterte would need to know the specific number of subs in the region. The Philippines is not a part of US military efforts to deter North Korea, so why would Duterte need to know such details?

There is so much Trump Russia news that I’ll have to give you the rest as links only.

Three big stories broke last night, and I posted them on JJ’s thread.

NYT: Top Russian Officials Discussed How to Influence Trump Aides Last Summer.

WaPo: How a dubious Russian document influenced the FBI’s handling of the Clinton probe.

CNN: AG Sessions did not disclose Russia meetings in security clearance form, DOJ says.

More Trump Russia stories:

Politico: Manafort advised Trump team on Russia scandal.

Daily Beast: Reince Priebus Sweating Secret Comey Memos, White House Sources Say.

The Atlantic: The Known Unknowns of the Russia Investigation.

Politico: White House tries to avoid ‘paralysis’ amid investigation.

Other News:

NBC News: Trump Failing to Track Foreign Cash at His Hotels.

Axios: Trump’s “street fighters.”

NBC News: Ben Carson Says ‘Poverty Is a State of Mind.’

The Atlantic: Pope Francis, Trump Whisperer?

Bloomberg: Obama Feted in Berlin as He Praises Merkel Before Trump Summits.

What else is happening? Please share your thoughts and links in the comment thread below, and I hope you enjoy your day.