Friday Reads: Yet Again! It was Collusion!

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

I’m feeling old!  I was doing my lecture on Options Trading and Strategies when I learned my young, most promising, bright student had never heard of a ticker tape machine.  This young man trades continually so that kind’ve blew me away.  He’d never heard of tickertape parades either. So, I had to show him the old ticker tape machines invented by Edison for Western Union that I thought were at the heart of every discussion of Black Friday, 1929 and then through a few ticker tape parades for a side discussion. We used digital and internet Bloomberg Displays during my first work years.  You know, those green and black multipixel screens plugged into a phone line.

I had to say, yes, that when my Uncle charted a stock back in the day he had to go through all the tape and find each tick or open and close.   He did it all by hand on these huge sheets of paper on either a ping pong table or a pool table.  They were all over the walls of his basement rec room too.  I actually could search for that with a command on the Bloomberg terminal.  Now, you just go to Yahoo Finance and can pull whatever off with a few selected search parameters and enter.  Plus, you don’t have to pay an exorbitant amount of money for access and the equipment.  My Uncle Jock actually had a seat on the NYSE by his lonesome to get that access.  My mother’s sister obviously married well.

Kazimir Malevich TWO PEASANT WOMEN, 1928–1930

I also am old enough to remember when no US candidate for President colluded with the Russians. Candidates generally tried to look as tough on the USSR or Russia as possible.  But then, we got the previous guy and it was so obvious it was with Russian help. Now we got the receipts.

This is from the NYT: “Biden Administration Says Russian Intelligence Obtained Trump Campaign Data. A Treasury Department document shed more light on links between the campaign and Russian spies.”

The Biden administration revealed on Thursday that a business associate of Trump campaign officials in 2016 provided campaign polling data to Russian intelligence services, the strongest evidence to date that Russian spies had penetrated the inner workings of the Trump campaign.

The revelation, made public in a Treasury Department document announcing new sanctions against Russia, established for the first time that private meetings and communications between the campaign officials, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and their business associate were a direct pipeline from the campaign to Russian spies at a time when the Kremlin was engaged in a covert effort to sabotage the 2016 presidential election.

Previous government investigations have identified the Trump aides’ associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, as a Russian intelligence operative, and Mr. Manafort’s decision to provide him with internal polling data was one of the mysteries that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, sought to unravel during his two-year investigation into Russia’s election meddling.

“During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy,” the Treasury Department said in a news release. “Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

You can watch Rachel Maddow explain it all here:

Can we just agree that an entire section of the American populace appears to be captured by a huge right wing propaganda machine that includes all kinds of malcontents and evil-doers?  Now, can we find some strategy to undo this please?  We hear nothing about this at the propaganda site “The Federalist” but there’s a huge screaming headline about the same study that showed that there was not enough hard evidence to show Russians pais bounties to the Taliban even though there was ample evidence they were helping them in their fight against the US in Afghanistan.

What do these people hate so much about our democracy that they want to tank it?  And no, I’m not talking about the Russians.  We know why on that account.  My only guess is that a lot of wipopo are afraid of POC that they will do anything to stop from the potential of being treated like we treat minorities and women in this country historically.

Biden did drop a lot of sanctions on Russia yesterday but  Axios explains why: “Biden’s Russian sanctions likely to achieve little.”

Despite bold talk from top administration officials, there’s little reason to think the Russia sanctions package President Biden announced Thursday will do anything to alter Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behavior or calculus.

Why it matters: While it’s true some elements of the package — namely, the targeting of Russia’s sovereign debt — represent significant punitive measures against Moscow, it leaves plenty of wiggle room for the Russian president.

  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the action, telling reporters: “We can’t predict what the impact will be, but we still believe that when there’s unacceptable behavior, we should put consequences in place.”

Between the lines: Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had known and dealt with Putin for years while running Exxon Mobil, used to tell colleagues sanctions did little if anything to deter the Russian leader.

  • It’s hard to argue against Tillerson’s case.
  • The U.S. and its international allies have imposed some form of sanctions against Russia every year since 2014, when Putin’s “little green men” first appeared in Ukraine.
  • Since then, Russia has continued to occupy Crimea and eastern Ukraine; propped up the brutal Assad regime in Syria; hacked U.S. and other Western elections; crushed protests at home; and attempted to assassinate dissidents on foreign soil, among other things.

Yes, but: Where Thursday’s sanctions do break new ground is in the cyber realm.

  • The U.S. government formally accused Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service of the SolarWinds hack and identified its collaborators in painstaking detail, as German security expert Thomas Rid notes in an illuminating Twitter thread.
  • And a ban on U.S. banks directly buying Russian government bonds could create a “broader chilling effect” that will weaken the ruble and have negative implications for inflation and economic growth, a senior administration official told reporters.
  • But the ability for investors to continue buying Russian bonds on the secondary market diminishes the overall effect of the restrictions — reflecting Biden’s desire to send a clear message to the Russians without taking it too far.

Wassily Kandinsky, Painting with white lines, 1913.

Frank Thorp V–NBC News–has an incredible piece up about “After the Riot. It’s been 100 days since the attack on the Capitol, and those who were inside still struggle with their memories.”  I can only imagine.  I was traumatized enough watching it on TV from my bedroom.  These are some stories from people who lived it.

When a mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6,  the world watched as the rioters entered the building, breaking windows and pushing through barriers. But it was more than just physical space that was violated. The seat of government was occupied by hundreds of lawmakers and their aides, building staff members, and journalists.

Some inside tried to flee. Some tried to barricade themselves in offices. Others inside swung into action. Journalists mobilized to document the attack in real time. The Capitol Police tried to protect the people inside.

The mob tried to stop the certification of the election of Joe Biden because they believed the false claims of then-President Donald Trump that rampant fraud had stolen victory from him. Many who experienced that fury say they continue to process the trauma of the day. And all want the events to be remembered as a lesson for Americans, and the world.

“I hope people will remember, with some solemnity, the fragility of democracy,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. “It’s a hard-won gift we’ve been given and it can slip away real quickly. So I hope people remember the precariousness of it all.”

Valentin Serov, Portrait of Maria Zetlin, 1910

The founding member of The Oath Keepers is about to plea guilty for his role (via WAPO)

A founding member of the Oath Keepers arrested in the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate against others in the case — the first defendant to potentially flip in the sprawling domestic terrorism investigation that has led to charges against more than 400 people.

The scheduled plea comes exactly 100 days after Jon Ryan Schaffer and hundreds of other supporters of former president Donald Trump allegedly stormed the Capitol hoping to prevent Joe Biden from being confirmed as the next president. Prosecutors hope Schaffer’s plea spurs others to provide additional evidence in hopes of avoiding long prison sentences.

The plea marks a new stage in the historic investigation, as prosecutors seek to work up the chain of defendants to gather evidence and better understand the full scope of any planning and organizing of the violence — particularly among groups like the far-right Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys. Dozens of members from both groups appeared to act in concert to storm the building, prosecutors have alleged.

We still feel like we’re in a becoming state and that we’re back on the right path. However, these last 5 or so years are likely to scar many of us for life. The unfolding numbers of young black men shot by police officers is a daily lesson.  A 13 Chicago boy follows orders and is still shot dead.  We just woke up to another mess shooting.  This time it was in Indianapolis at a Fed Ex facility.  There are 8 fatalities .  Unlike the previous guy, our President is going to make a statement shortly and has already reached out to Fed Ex.

Vice President Kamala Harris said Friday there’s “no question” that gun violence must be stopped.

“Yet again we have families in our country who are grieving because of the loss of their family members” to gun violence, Harris said. “There is no question that this violence must end and we are thinking of the families that lost their loved ones.”

Natalia Goncharova, Espagnole, circa 1916.

“Yet again” sums ups so much of this.   Yet again, the Republicans want to downsize spending that would actually help the US economy, US businesses, and US families.  Again, Republican Senators attack terrifically qualified women of color in their hearings on their way to high government posts.   Yet again, the Republicans are looking to another demagogue for help with white hegemony. This time it is failed Florida Governor and mass Covid-19 Murderer Ron DeSantisPolitico‘s article sent shivers down my spine.  “‘A nicer version of Trump’: GOP donors flock to DeSantis. The Florida governor has cultivated relationships with many of the party’s biggest givers, who admire his opposition to strict Covid mitigation policies.  One more sociopath spreading hatred and lies across the country.  A nicer version of a sociopath is still a sociopath.

Donor interest in the governor extends far beyond Florida. Andy Sabin, a New York-based precious metal company executive, said he expects to host a pair of fundraisers later this year bolstering the governor’s reelection effort. Dallas businessperson Doug Deason anticipates holding a pre-summer event. Don Tapia, who served as ambassador to Jamaica during the Trump administration, is planning on hosting a fundraiser at his Arizona home.

Like others, Tapia praised DeSantis for his handling of the pandemic and what he described as the governor’s independent style.

DeSantis “has a major political future in the Republican Party,” said Tapia, a retired electrical company executive who’s given extensively to GOP causes for several decades. Tapia wouldn’t say DeSantis was his first choice among potential 2024 candidates but called him a “strong candidate I would truly look at.”

The enthusiasm was on full display during DeSantis’ appearance at last weekend’s Republican National Committee donor gala in Palm Beach, Fla., where he drew wild applause for declaring the party needed figures who withstood public pressure and weren’t afraid to confront what he called the “elite, New York corporate media.”

The governor was mobbed over the course of the weekend. Joanne Zervos, a New York City donor who spoke with DeSantis during the conference, said many contributors saw him as “a nicer version of Trump,” someone who had embraced the former president’s policies but lacked his rough edges. Zervos said she was drawn to the governor because of his approach to dealing with the coronavirus.

Untitled, Lyubov Sergeyevna Popova circa 1915

Again, what on earth reality are they dealing with?  DeSantis has basically created a state of plague rats ready to travel around the country making every one sick?  My two favorite Republican idiots these week are the dummies who questioned Kristen Clarke about a satirical piece she wrote at Harvard when she was 19 literally taking it literally. 

Republicans also criticized Clarke over an editorial she wrote as a student at Harvard University in 1994 that sought to rebut claims made in “The Bell Curve” that tied intelligence to race. In the piece, Clarke recited research by some Black scholars that suggested Blacks are intellectually superior, a point she reiterated Wednesday was intended to be “satirical.”

Yet again, John Cornyn couldn’t stop embarrassing himself.  (Via the Mary Sue)

Kristen Clarke is President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and if confirmed, she would be the first Black woman or woman of color to lead the division since its creation more than 50 years ago. So naturally, some Republicans have big problems with her.

During Wednesday’s confirmation hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Texas’ John Cornyn wanted to talk with Clarke about an article she wrote when she was a student at Harvard. Cornyn was very concerned because in this piece, Clarke listed a number of ways in which Black people are genetically superior to whites. Concerning, no??

No, it’s not. Because the piece, as Clarke explained patiently to him, was satire.

Yet again,  Auntie Maxine had to draw the gavel down on ranting Gym Jordan during a hearing with Dr. Fauci.  Even Dr. Fauci– unleashed–told him to stop ranting in a Congressional hearing.  CNN reports: “Maxine Waters tells Jim Jordan to ‘shut your mouth’ after GOP congressman feuds with Fauci.” 

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan and the nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci got into a heated exchange Thursday over the country’s Covid-19 mitigation measures, which ended with Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters telling Jordan to “shut your mouth.”

During a House subcommittee hearing about federal government’s response to the pandemic, Jordan, an Ohio conservative, asked Fauci when the nation can begin relaxing physical distancing measures and mask-wearing — posing it as a question as to when Americans will regain their freedom and liberties

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, started to respond that the time will be when the United States has more Americans vaccinated and has a level of coronavirus infection that is low enough that it’s “no longer a threat.”

“We had 15 days of ‘slow the spread’ turn into one year of lost liberty,” Jordan said. “What metrics, what measures, what has to happen before Americans get more freedoms back?”

“You’re indicating liberty and freedom. I look at it as a public health measure to prevent people from dying and going to the hospital,” Fauci countered. “This will end, for sure, when we get the level of infection very low. It is now at such a high level, there is a threat again of major surges.”

You can watch the calm Dr Fauci take on crazy ass Gym who is more concerned about getting people to fill up churches than having people fill up morgues and IC wards.

So that’s enough for me! For sure!!

Yet again, What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads: Hi from Hurricane Central!!!

Good Day Sky Dancers!

It’s really a gorgeous morning here and last night was great but it’s the proverbial calm before the storm is here.  Temple and I had a great walk at 7:30 to beat the first of the rain bands.  It was in the 70s with a cool breeze.  But, like everything 2020, here comes the turbocharged change!

Fortunately for those of us in the central and western Gulf Coast, Little Hurricane Marco just never quite got going.  He is going to swipe us before puttering along towards Texas.  As long as he doesn’t slow down, he’ll have some water but only enough to dampen the day.

Hurricane Bahamas, Homer Winslow 1937

Hurricane Laura, however, is going to pack a punch!  She is strengthening and likely to cause some problems.  My only solace is that this is a big news event which is likely to somewhat drown out the four nights of Klanfest. The RNC is evidently in disarray because of all Trump’s interference including 4 nights of him giving speeches which is irregular to say the least.  From Vox’s Aaron Rupar: “The RNC disarray is a microcosm of everything Trump did wrong with the coronavirus.  He had no plan. The result is chaos.”

The day it’s set to begin, there is still much we don’t know about what will be happening at the 2020 Republican National Convention. But what we do indicates it’ll have a circus-like quality.

Confirmed speakers include Patricia and Mark McCloskey, the St. Louis couple best known for brandishing firearms at protesters earlier this year, and former Covington Catholic student Nick Sandmann, who became a symbol of white grievance last year after he was filmed in a viral video of a confrontation with Native American demonstrators. President Trump will likely deliver his convention-closing speech from the White House, flouting ethical concerns and laws prohibiting the use of government property for political gain, with other events set to take place on government property located conveniently near the downtown DC hotel he still owns and profits from. On Sunday, the RNC released a speaker list — with Trump scheduled to appear every day.

My TV will be firmly tuned to the Weather Channel if we have power through the week.  It’s generally on mute but on constantly during hurricane times here.

The disaster of a Post Office General is also on full display today.

After the Hurricane, Winslow Homer 1899

We also know that Trump handpicked folks for the UPS positions that evidently have a habit of supporting voter suppression. This from Mary Redden writing for HuffPo: ” Trump’s Handpicked Postal Service Chair Has A Long History Of Voter Suppression. Robert Duncan chaired the RNC during the party’s unprecedented escalation of voter disenfranchisement efforts in swing states.” 

President Donald Trump’s selection for a key Postal Service position, Robert M. Duncan, once had a very different job: steering the Republican Party while it undertook some of its most brazen voter suppression schemes.

Duncan is now the chair of the Postal Service board of governors, but he previously served as general counsel and then chair of the Republican National Committee from 2002 to 2009, a time when the committee and its state counterparts oversaw an unprecedented escalation of voter disenfranchisement efforts in swing states.

From 2004 to 2006, when Duncan was the committee’s general counsel, party officials challenged the eligibility of at least 77,000 voters, a 2007 report by the nonpartisan group Project Vote found.

As it happens, one of the party’s favored tactics relied on the U.S. mail. In 2004, Republicans in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania sent thousands of nonforwardable letters and postcards to select voters — particularly minority voters — and used the mail returned as undeliverable to come up with voter registration challenge lists.

Duncan’s history is the latest alarm bell for those fearful that Trump is attempting to undermine the U.S. Postal Service in order to win reelection.

We’ve had yet another senseless shooting of an unarmed black man by the police.  This time it is in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The man is in serious condition.

This is from the Kenosha News: “State DOJ will probe officer-involved shooting; man in serious condition”.

Dozens of squad cars from the Kenosha Police and Kenosha County Sheriff’s department and Wisconsin State Patrol converged in the Wilson Heights neighborhood, lining the streets approaching the scene.

The incident was being turned over to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation, which will be investigating the officer involved shooting.

At least a half dozen witnesses said that the man had tried to break up a fight between the two women outside a home at 2805 40th St. and that police had attempted to use a Taser on the man prior to the shooting. Then, they heard at least seven gunshots ring out.

Witnesses said he was unarmed and shot in the back.

A video that has since gone viral on social media shows the man walking away from officers and going around the vehicle to get inside. While the man is entering the vehicle the video shows an officer firing a gun at the man inside the vehicle. A woman in the video is screaming as he is being shot.

It was not immediately known whether the man had a weapon.

Residents who live across the street from the residence said while they have heard gunfire in the neighborhood before, never that close until Sunday.

“We’ve never had anything like this happen before,” said Juventino Camputano who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years.

Annie Louise Hurst, a 50-year resident of the neighborhood, just shook her head.

Fear Of Hurricane Painting by Peter Kallai

So, it continues to be a week where we find out more about the Trump/Kushner family crime syndicate activities too.  This is from The Daily Beast: “Revealed: Jared Kushner’s Private Channel With Putin’s Money Man”.

On a late afternoon in March, a large military aircraft bearing the Russian Federation insignia descended into John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Its mission: to deliver personal protective equipment and ventilators to nearby hospitals scrambling to treat patients during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had pleaded for weeks with the federal government for additional resources, particularly ventilators, to treat the thousands of COVID-19 patients across the state. Yet news of the Russian delivery surprised those in the governor’s office working to obtain additional medical equipment. They’d thought the ventilator support would come from the U.S. stockpile or from an American company.

Officials in the U.S. State Department were surprised, too. Despite a department press release announcing the delivery, several senior officials working on the Russia portfolio in the department and elsewhere in the national security apparatus were unaware exactly how the 45 ventilators had ended up on American soil. Half of the shipment was paid for by the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), one of the country’s sovereign wealth funds, which is under U.S. sanctions. (The sanctions do not prohibit all transactions between U.S. entities and the firm, but they have limited the fund’s interactions with American businesses.) And the fund’s CEO, Kirill Dmitriev, had been scrutinized by Congress and former special counsel Robert Mueller for his communications with Trump transition officials shortly after Moscow had meddled in the 2016 election.

For years, the Trump administration had attempted to find ways to cooperate with Russia on the world stage but largely failed in those efforts because Moscow has continued to engage in activity that threatens U.S. national security, from hacking operations to reportedly offering bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan. A public display of Russian supplies being offloaded caught some officials in the Trump administration off guard.

But there was a simple answer to the whodunit. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) told The Daily Beast it had assigned the State Department “to represent the U.S. in the transaction with the Government of Russia.” But it was President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who helped facilitate the ventilator delivery, according to two senior administration officials. During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, Kushner headed “Project Airbridge”—the medical supply delivery program that worked to fast-track the delivery of personal protective equipment and other medical supplies by using federal funding to underwrite the cost of shipping. In an effort to supply New York City hospitals with the medical equipment they needed, Kushner looked in multiple places for the equipment and found a safe bet in Moscow, those officials said. While the State Department had been involved in the logistics of the onboarding and offloading, it was Kushner who helped strike the deal.

The ventilators turned out to be faulty and were cast aside by officials in New York and New Jersey, according to local officials who spoke with The Daily Beast. During that same time period, the city of Los Angeles was told by representatives of the federal government that it had lost a bid for N95 masks to a Russian entity, according to two people familiar with the matter. The L.A. officials were never told the Russian outfit’s name.

Kushner held the details of the New York shipment closely and accelerated the order by leaning on his personal relationship with Dmitriev, a confidant of President Vladimir Putin who’d been dispatched to make inroads with the inexperienced 2016 Trump transition team.

Collusion continues.

So, I’m off to try to get some more things cooked just in case the heat goes off.  Don’t want any perishables lying around in a powerless refrigerator and at least the cooked stuff lasts a bit longer.

Take care!  Be safe!  Be kind and gentle with yourself!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads: Smoking Canons

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

This promises to be another of those weeks where we breach the outer limits of Republican tolerance of presidential criminality. We have yet more evidence and smoking guns combined with the cunning of a very wise Amy Klobucher who  got the incoming AG to admit that a president that suborns perjury is a president that commits high crimes and misdemeanors. But then we knew that. It is exactly what finally got Nixon out of the Oval Office way back when I was busy graduating from high school.

Not only do we know that Michael Cohen can testify to these acts but it’s corraborated by hard evidence. He admitted to his complicity after he was shown hard evidence.  This Buzz Feed article that dropped late last night may be the signal of the end of the Trump Family Crime Syndicate. 

Here’s the Headline and lede: “President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project. Trump received 10 personal updates from Michael Cohen and encouraged a planned meeting with Vladimir Putin.”

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents. Cohen then acknowledged those instructions during his interviews with that office.

This revelation is not the first evidence to suggest the president may have attempted to obstruct the FBI and special counsel investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

But Cohen’s testimony marks a significant new frontier: It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia.

On the campaign trail, Trump vehemently denied having any business interests in Russia. But behind the scenes, he was pushing the Moscow project, which he hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million. The two law enforcement sources said he had at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen about the deal during the campaign.

As Jonathan Chait writes at NY Mag, “Trump Ordered Michael Cohen to Perjure Himself. It’s Even Worse Than It Sounds.”  Remember Senator Amy Klobucher’s questions for William Barr?  Yup, she trapped him into going on record on this very behavior.

1. Attorney General William Barr has already defined this behavior as obstruction of justice. In the secret memo Barr wrote to the Department of Justice questioning Robert Mueller’s obstruction inquiry, Barr allowed that of course it was possible the president could obstruct justice if he did something incredibly obvious, such as instruct people to lie in sworn testimony:

At his Senate confirmation hearings, Barr reiterated that suborning perjury would obviously constitute obstruction.

So whatever legal shield Trump believes he is getting in Barr will not help him escape this allegation.

Yes, all those folks saying Senator Klobuchar was a little relaxed with her questions can now go eat shit.  She was laying a nice little trap there and he walked straight into it.  It makes me wonder if it was women’s intution, the skill of a seasoned prosecutor or student of political history, or a bit of the old insider information.  Any which way, it was a brilliant snap of a trap!

Adam Sewer–writing for The Atlantic–believes this is a “straightforwardly impeachable offense”.  If only the Republicans will act.  It is probably a matter of getting the insane base off of their Fox News habit.  Fox News lies are the addiction that is killing our democracy and rule of law.

While evidence that the Trump campaign sought to assist the Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 election, and that the president then sought to hamper the federal investigation into that effort, has been in public view for some time, evidence that the president directed Cohen to lie to Congress would be something different entirely, a claim that the president conspired to commit a crime in pursuit of personal financial gain. Republicans have tried their best to set expectations so that only the clearest and most shocking of acts would qualify as criminal—and Trump’s reported actions not only meet but exceed them.

The report, if verified, provides a potentially simple narrative for a story that has often seemed complicated: Trump sought to profit from a real-estate deal in Moscow, and so defended Russia against accusations of interference, and then directed his personal attorney to commit perjury to cover up what he had done.

Obstruction of justice and perjury are crimes that turn on state of mind, but the details in the BuzzFeed News report would leave Trump with few defenses. “If President Trump instructed Michael Cohen to testify to Congress, giving an account of the Russia project that Trump knew to be false, that’s obstruction of justice,” said Bruce Green, a law professor at Fordham and a former associate counsel in the Iran-Contra investigation. “It’s hard to imagine that Trump would have had an innocent ‘state of mind.’ The only viable legal defense would be ‘It didn’t happen.’”

During the 2016 election, U.S. intelligence agencies have said, the Russian government ordered a campaign of disinformation and hacking designed to hamper the candidacy of Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and to help put Trump in the White House. The theft and release of emails from the Democratic National Committee and from the Clinton adviser John Podesta were major factors in the election—damaging Clinton’s reputation and altering the news cycle during periods in which the Trump campaign was dealing with negative coverage, and ultimately affecting what turned out to be a startlingly close election in which Trump failed to win the popular vote. Throughout the election, and even his presidency, Trump has used his influence to dismiss the conclusion of American intelligence agencies that the Russian government was responsible for the hacking.

Shortly after becoming president, Trump pressured then–FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation into Trump’s former campaign surrogate and national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, who had lied to federal investigators about his contacts with Russian officials. Comey refused and was later fired by Trump. Although the Trump administration initially said Comey was fired for improperly disclosing information about the federal investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified emails, he later told Russian officials in the Oval Office and an NBC reporter in a televised interview that he had done so because of the Russia investigation. Trump publicly fumed that his choice for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had recused himself from that investigation after misleading Congress about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, rather than protecting Trump.

Republicans have been deaf dumb and blind to the orange pinball.  Congressional Democrats are preparing an investigation (via AP).

The Democratic chairmen of two House committees pledged Friday to investigate a report that President Donald Trump directed his personal attorney to lie to Congress about negotiations over a real estate project in Moscow during the 2016 election.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said “we will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.” He said the allegation that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie in his 2017 testimony to Congress “in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date.”

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, said directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime.

“The @HouseJudiciary Committee’s job is to get to the bottom of it, and we will do that work,” Nadler tweeted.

It will be interesting to watch the minority members response as the committee hearings unfold.

Susan Glasser’s thought piece in The  New Yorker Is worth a read. “Are We Really Where We Are?”: Trump, Putin, and Washington’s Unbelievable New Normal. Regardless of whether Trump ends up making a speech on Capitol Hill on January 29th, the state of the union is not strong, and everyone knows it.”

Sunday will mark the second anniversary of Donald Trump’s Presidency. The U.S. government has been partially shut down for weeks, with no end in sight. The White House is on its third chief of staff, nearly a half-dozen Cabinet seats are empty, and the First Daughter Ivanka, previously known for her fashionable yet affordable line of high heels, appears to be in charge of picking the new head of the World Bank. Since the Defense Secretary quit, in protest over Trump’s withdrawal from Syria, the President has been reported to be unilaterally considering pulling out of Afghanistan and the nato alliance, as well. Congressional Democrats, days into their new House majority, are talking about impeachment, and their leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, effectively disinvited Trump from giving the annual State of the Union address, citing the shutdown. This past Friday, we learned, via the Times, that the F.B.I. opened a counterintelligence investigation of Trump to determine whether he was a Russian intelligence asset.

On Monday, which marked a year and three hundred and fifty-nine days since his Inauguration, President Trump had his “I am not a crook” moment. All weekend, he had avoided giving even a simple denial of what, for any other American President, would have been an unimaginable revelation. Now, on the snow-covered White House drive, after discoursing on the fast-food hamburgers he planned to serve the Clemson University football team that night, Trump told reporters, “I never worked for Russia.” He added, “Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it’s a disgrace that you even asked that question because it’s a whole big fat hoax.”

Regardless of whether Trump ends up making his speech on Capitol Hill, which is scheduled for January 29th, the state of the union is not strong, and everyone knows it. Almost every day since Trump was elected, someone, somewhere, has asked if this is the constitutional crisis we have been waiting for. Was his firing of the F.B.I. director, James Comey, in what seemed to be an effort to stop the investigation into his campaign, the constitutional crisis? Or his continual talk of firing the special counsel, or his actual firing of the attorney general? Days before the midterm elections, when Trump deployed thousands of U.S. troops to the border, to combat a nonexistent “invasion” by a caravan of poor Central American migrants, I thought that might finally be the crisis. But, of course, every day of the last two years has brought something that would have previously been unthinkable. When will we finally learn that just because it is unthinkable doesn’t mean it can’t happen?

It’s really difficult to believe there isn’t enough evidence out there to end all of this and it’s really difficult to quietly sit and wait for a Mueller report that may or may not come depending on the whims of an Trump appointed AG.  However, it appears Trump’s due diligence on finding his own Roy Cohn may not have given him peace this time out.  From CNN: “Trump startled by cozy Barr-Mueller relationship”.

President Donald Trump was startled Tuesday as he watched television coverage of his nominee for attorney general describing a warm relationship with the special counsel Robert Mueller in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to three people familiar with the matter.

During the first day of his confirmation hearing, William Barr described telling the President the first time he met him in June 2017 that he was friends with Mueller, referring to him on a first name basis.

“I told him how well I knew Bob Mueller and that the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this was all over,” Barr said. “Bob is a straight-shooter and should be dealt with as such.”

While Barr said during his hearing that Trump “was interested” in hearing about the friendship, the details that emerged this week caught the President off guard, the three sources said. He bristled at Barr’s description of the close relationship, complaining to aides he didn’t realize how much their work overlapped or that they were so close.

There is no indication Trump’s surprise will jeopardize the nomination, however.

Later, Trump privately rationalized the relationship between Barr and Mueller as stemming from both having worked in the Washington legal establishment for years, according to one of the people.

“I have known Bob Mueller for 30 years,” Barr said Tuesday. “We worked closely together throughout my previous tenure at the Department of Justice under President Bush. We’ve been friends since. And I have the utmost respect for Bob and his distinguished record of public service. And when he was named special counsel, I said his selection was ‘good news’ and that, knowing him, I had confidence he would handle the matter properly. And I still have that confidence today.”

On Tuesday, Barr repeatedly sought to reassure senators that he would not interfere with Mueller’s investigation, claiming he wouldn’t be “bullied” into doing anything he deemed improper.

“I am not going to do anything that I think is wrong, and I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong,” Barr told the panel. “By anybody. Whether it be editorial boards, or Congress or the President. I’m going to do what I think is right.”

That doesn’t give me much peace given all the pardons doled out on his recommendations on the Iran Contra Scandal startng with Caspar Weinberger. I’m closing with this quote via NPR with the man who was charged with the prosecution.

To the man who led the Iran-Contra investigation, however, the pardons represented a miscarriage of justice.

“It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office, deliberately abusing the public trust without consequences,” said Lawrence Walsh, the independent prosecutor in the case, at the time of the pardons.

Will any of this history repeat on us and will it be the good outcomes instead of those miscarriages of justice?

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads: Ho Ho Hos in the Beltway

Happy Friday Sky Dancers!

I’m trying to gear myself up for a better 2018.  I think I may join the phone bank efforts to unseat Paul Ryan since my Congress Critter’s votes are never a problem.  There have been shellackings recently but now we may be talking blood bath and I want to grave dance where ever appropriate.

A few weeks before Alabama’s special Senate election, President Donald Trump’s handpicked Republican National Committee leader, Ronna Romney McDaniel, delivered a two-page memo to White House chief of staff John Kelly outlining the party’s collapse with female voters.

The warning, several people close to the chairwoman said, reflected deepening anxiety that a full-throated Trump endorsement of accused child molester Roy Moore in the special election — which the president was edging closer to at the time — would further damage the party’s standing with women. McDaniel’s memo, which detailed the president’s poor approval numbers among women nationally and in several states, would go unheeded, as Trump eventually went all-in for the ultimately unsuccessful Republican candidate.

It’s comforting to me to think that women look like they may deliver the blow to this administration and the pandering, ass-kissing congress critters who value donors over their own constituents.  Black woman already figured this out but hopefully a huge number of white women buy a clue.  Kremlin Caligula has wrecked so much havoc on the nation’s institutions already that it’s difficult to imagine that it won’t be a bit of a struggle back to a functional democracy. The Republicans will now own the economy and I can tell you it won’t be pretty.

The GOP tax bill will mark the Trump administration’s first major legislative achievement. It’s likely to jolt the economy more than any one political event since Trump’s election, if not since the Affordable Care Act was passed, and it may well bring about the biggest upward transfer of wealth since the recession. It will also increase the deficit by $1 trillion or more, destabilize the health-insurance market by eliminating the requirement to buy coverage, and probably lower Trump’s personal tax bill significantly. For good measure, it’s set to take effect on January 1, giving the country less than two weeks to prepare for the new regime.

However, given that the congressional year has otherwise been marked by turmoil and inaction, and given the high staff turnover and the parade of scandals at the White House, it’s been easy to miss what this administration has already done. In the background, Donald Trump’s Cabinet members and their collaborators have been working hard to deliver on Steve Bannon’s vision of dismantling the “regulatory state.” With Trump’s blessing, they have made drastic, structural changes on education, immigration, environmental protections, broadcasting and internet laws, and rules of military engagement, among other issues. Most often the changes have taken direct aim at Obama’s legacy, but some apply to regulations and programs that date back decades.

Go examine the list and be appalled.  Also, realize that some of the nation’s top scientists and diplomats are fleeing public service.  There are few left to contain the damage.  It also has been discussed that the IRS will not be able to provide any help on any questions about the tax changes. The chaos of an insane man has spread through almost every agency implemented by talentedless trust fund babies with no clue about their jobs. The EPA has become a scene of these crimes against our country.

More than 700 people have left the Environmental Protection Agency since President Trump took office, a wave of departures that puts the administration nearly a quarter of the way toward its goal of shrinking the agency to levels last seen during the Reagan administration.

Of the employees who have quit, retired or taken a buyout package since the beginning of the year, more than 200 are scientists. An additional 96 are environmental protection specialists, a broad category that includes scientists as well as others experienced in investigating and analyzing pollution levels. Nine department directors have departed the agency as well as dozens of attorneys and program managers. Most of the employees who have left are not being replaced.

The departures reflect poor morale and a sense of grievance at the agency, which has been criticized by President Trump and top Republicans in Congress as bloated and guilty of regulatory overreach. That unease is likely to deepen following revelations that Republican campaign operatives were using the Freedom of Information Act to request copies of emails from E.P.A. officials suspected of opposing Mr. Trump and his agenda.

The cuts deepen a downward trend at the agency that began under the Obama administration in response to Republican-led budget constraints that left the agency with about 15,000 employees at the end of his term. The reductions have accelerated under President Trump, who campaigned on a promise to dramatically scale back the E.P.A., leaving only what he called “little tidbits” in place. Current and former employees say unlike during the Obama years, the agency has no plans to replace workers, and they expect deeper cuts to come.

“The reason E.P.A. went down to 15,000 employees under Obama is because of pressure from Republicans. This is the effort of the Republicans under the Obama administration on steroids,” said John J. O’Grady, president of American Federation of Government Employees Council 238, a union representing E.P.A. employees.

ProPublica and The New York Times analyzed the comings and goings from the E.P.A. through the end of September, the latest data that has been compiled, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The figures and interviews with current and former E.P.A. officials show the administration is well on its way to achieving its goal of cutting 3,200 positions from the E.P.A., about 20 percent of the agency’s work force.

Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the E.P.A., said the agency was running more efficiently. “With only 10 months on the job, Administrator Pruitt is unequivocally doing more with less to hold polluters accountable and to protect our environment,” he said.

Within the agency, science in particular is taking a hard hit. More than 27 percent of those who left this year were scientists, including 34 biologists and microbiologists; 19 chemists; 81 environmental engineers and environmental scientists; and more than a dozen toxicologists, life scientists and geologists. Employees say the exodus has left the agency depleted of decades of knowledge about protecting the nation’s air and water. Many also said they saw the departures as part of a more worrisome trend of muting government scientists, cutting research budgets and making it more difficult for academic scientists to serve on advisory boards.

Meanwhile, House investigations of Russian attacks on our elections and the involvement of the Trump Campaign continue for the time being.  Bannon and Lewandowski have been called to testify.

President Donald Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon and his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski have been asked to testify to House lawmakers investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Both men were sent letters this week by the House Intelligence Committee asking them to testify in early January, according to an official familiar with the panel’s schedule.

The committee hasn’t yet received a response from either Bannon or Lewandowski. The invitation, which didn’t come in the form of a subpoena compelling them to testify, was for a “voluntary interview” in the committee’s offices, which would mean it would be held behind closed doors, the official said.

The letter doesn’t lay out specific reasons the committee wants to interview them, or the questions the panel wants to pose, but it makes clear that the interviews are part of the Russia investigation.

Bannon, who worked as Trump’s top strategist during the campaign and for several months in the White House, hasn’t been publicly accused of any wrongdoing.

Bannon was a key member of Trump’s team when the president fired national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI director James Comey.

During the campaign, Bannon was also a liaison to its data-analytics firm, Cambridge Analytica.

Alexander Nix, the chief executive officer of Cambridge Analytica, met with the House Intelligence probe earlier this month. Nix faced questions about whether he sought material from WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange that was stolen from computers of the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, who managed Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

A look into the matter of collusion was explored yesterday in Newsweek by Jeff Stein. It’s worth a look.  BB’s discussed the possibility that Trump is a Russian asset this week. It appears to be the hypothesis  of our Intelligence communities.

Until now. In a December 18 interview on CNN, retired Air Force Lieutenant General James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, virtually called Trump a Putin puppet. The Russian president, Clapper noted, is a former KGB “case officer,” or spy recruiter, who “knows how to handle an asset, and that’s what he’s doing with the president. That’s the appearance to me.” (Pressed to clarify his “asset” comment, Clapper said, “I’m saying this figuratively.”)

“Wow,” tweeted former CIA Russian hand John Sipher. “The rest of us try to find other clever ways to say the same thing. Good on him for having the courage to call out Putin’s behavior. Our president shouldn’t have fallen for it.”

Veteran spy handlers have judged Trump an easy mark for Putin, who spent years in the KGB sizing up and exploiting a target’s vulnerabilities. They note how easily he falls for praise, as when Putin thanked him and the CIA for helping him thwart a bomb attack plot in St. Petersburg. “POTUS is a [spy] handlers’ dream,” Asha Rangappa, a former special agent in the FBI’s counterintelligence division, said. “He responds, without fail, to praise and flattery and telegraphs his day-to-day thoughts on Twitter. Likewise, said Harry “Skip” Brandon, a former FBI deputy assistant director of national security and counterterrorism. “He often very publicly states he goes by his instincts. If that is accurate, he may be the ultimate unwitting asset of Russia.”

And so on. The steady drip of revelations emerging from multiple Trump investigations—his business deals with Russian investors, his associates’ many undeclared meetings with Kremlin agents, his resistance to accepting evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and his indiscretion with Israeli intelligence—draws a far darker picture.

Some veteran intelligence operators think it’s well past time to shift the narrative on Trump’s disturbing affinity for Putin, which the president insists is innocent and good for world peace. “Everyone continues to dance around a clear assessment of what’s going on,” says Glenn Carle, a former CIA national intelligence officer responsible for evaluating foreign threats. “My assessment,” he tells Newsweek, “is that Trump is actually working directly for the Russians.”

The Israelis can’t say they weren’t warned. In January 2017, a few weeks before Trump’s inauguration, top U.S. intelligence officials welcomed a delegation of their Israeli counterparts to Washington. The meeting proceeded uneventfully, according to veteran Israeli intelligence journalist Ronen Bergman, although the Americans vented their dismay over a president who had loudly disparaged their past work. “Just as their meeting was wrapping up,” according to Bergman and a later report in Vanity Fair, “an American spymaster solemnly announced there was one more thing: They believed that Putin had ‘leverages of pressure’ over Trump.” His advice: “Be careful.”

Five months later, the Israelis came to rue what they had shared with Trump’s new CIA director, former Republican Representative Mike Pompeo. They were astonished to read media reports that Trump had told the Russian foreign minister and ambassador about their top secret operation in Syria to penetrate a cell of the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). U.S. intelligence experts assumed the Russians had shared the information with their allies in Iran, Israel’s mortal enemy.

Former CIA Director John Brennan has not minced words about Kremlin Caligula. ‘ Donald Trump shows ‘qualities usually found in narcissistic, vengeful autocrats’, says former CIA Director.  President ‘expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone’, says John Brennan.’ This is about the trick pulled by Haley this week at the UN.

Donald Trump behaved like “narcissistic, vengeful autocrat” when he threatened to withhold aid from United Nations (UN) members who criticised the US, a former CIA director has said.

John Brennan said it was “beyond outrageous” that the President had warned of retaliations against nations that voted to condemn his decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The resolution to declare Washington’s decision on the city’s status “null and void” was backed by 128 countries at the UN General Assembly, including the UK, despite American ambassador Nikki Haley promising the US would be “taking names” of any nations who supported it.

Only nine countries voted against the motion but 35 abstained. Twenty-one were not present. Experts had predicted at least 150 countries would back the resolution, prompting speculation that some nations had caved in to US threats.

“Trump Admin threat to retaliate against nations that exercise sovereign right in UN to oppose US position on Jerusalem is beyond outrageous,” Mr Brennan tweeted. ”Shows Donald Trump expects blind loyalty and subservience from everyone – qualities usually found in narcissistic, vengeful autocrats.”

Meanwhile, Trump signed the Tax Bill to destroy middle and working Class Americans and headed off to Florida where holiday celebration tickets prices have been bumped up once again.  He must need the extra change for the junk food machines at Fort Leavenworth he’ll be patronizing soon.

President Trump signed a bill Thursday ordering $4 billion in “top of the line missile defense,” before signing the $1.5 trillion GOP tax legislation. Now he’s jetting off to Mar-a-Lago for the holidays.

Timing: Trump said he was planning to sign the bill in January, but after watching the news this morning and seeing “every one of the networks” ask if he will he keep his promise and sign it before Christmas, he “called everyone up and said get ready we have to sign this now … I didn’t want you folks to say I wasn’t keeping my promise.”

What’s next: Trump said they’ll have a formal signing ceremony in two weeks.

Key quotes:

  • Trump said his friend Robert Kraft, CEO of the New England Patriots, called him to praise him for the tax bill, and promised to build a “tremendous paper mill” in North Carolina after the news. 
  • “I think that essentially Obamacare is over because we got rid of [the individual mandate].” 
  • He made nice with reporters: “Many of you have worked very fairly.” 
  • He wants to see a lot more bipartisanship in 2018.

I’m pretty sure the bipartisanship spirit has flew the coop this year.

Meanwhile, the Senate has begun to release details of taxpayer funded harassment settlements by members of its body. It’s incomplete but I’m assuming more will be forthcoming.

Nearly $600,000 worth of taxpayer-funded settlements have been paid out for workplace misconduct in the Senate over the past 20 years, according to new data released by the Senate Rules Committee Thursday night.

But the release lists just one claim for $14,260 for “sex discrimination and reprisal” — failing to include a $220,000 settlement for sexual harassment in 2014 that was recently made public.

The information was released as pressure has been mounting for more transparency on how cases of harassment are handled in Congress and how much public money is spent on such settlements especially in light of the the wave of revelations about sexual harassment in the workplace. The Senate had been holding on to the information as it has rested with the chairman of two Senate committees: Rules and Appropriations.

So, I’m just finishing up grading and trying to get some time off next week.  I’m usually not in much of a holiday mode but this year seems more bleak than others.   I feel unmoored by the unpredictable and insecure future in store for me.  The rules of the game have so changed recently that it appears there’s no much you can depend on other than businesses trying to find a way to screw you out of money.

Take care!  Hugs your friends and family!  Grab every bit of peace and happiness you can find as the year winds down.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?