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?

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Friday Reads: “The Leader of the Free World Meets Donald Trump”

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

This is what happens when all the cracked eggs in the cartoon get to vote in gerrymandered elections that were the subject of Russian interference and laws specifically designed to suppress minority votes.

Yes. Please read that again because it’s a headline from Politico.   I think we can all agree that the current executive branch is a force for evil and chaos in the world so it’s taken less than 2 months for us to lose whatever standing we ever had left after the entire Iraq invasion debacle.   Angela Merkel is the leader of the Free World and Kremlin Caligula refused to shake hands with her.

The subhead line to this? “Angela Merkel, whether she wants the job or not, is the West’s last, best hope.”  Yes. She is because every day the news on the Russian entanglements become more and more evident.  We’ve basically had a bloodless coup.

The German chancellor is the only leader in Europe who even has a plausible claim to moral leadership. As a victim of Soviet communism, Merkel was always going to be listened to carefully on the question of morality. And given her longevity she was always going to be respected. But it was her unexpected decision to accept some 1 million refugees that established her moral credentials, especially since no other political leader has taken such a political risk.

The cruel irony of Trump’s election is that for many decades it was the United States that was seen as a moral leader. During the Cold War, Soviet dissidents looked to the United States. And after communism fell, it was the United States that led international actions to protect victims of repression or hardship. Whether it was the Kurds in northern Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, or the spending on medicine to treat millions suffering from HIV in Africa, the United States was the country expected to act.

187271_600

Yes, every day we find out more about that Russian interference. Rachel’s been on top of it probably more than any other mainstream TV media outlet.  WAPO has not let it go either. Writer and friend Tim Shorrock explains how privatization has played a role in helping Wikileaks hack our systems.  This is something of particular interest because if Trump and friends have their way, their billionaire friends and business interests will be the total overlords of a pay to play privatization scheme.  The Cheney buddies were the beneficiaries are the clarion call of handing over public trusts, money and interests to old employers.

When WikiLeaks released more than 8,000 files about the CIA’s global hacking programsthis month, it dropped a tantalizing clue: The leak came from private contractors. Federal investigators quickly confirmed this, calling contractors the likeliest sources. As a result of the breach, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange said, the CIA had “lost control of its entire cyberweapons arsenal.”

Intelligence insiders were dismayed. Agencies “take a chance with contractors” because “they may not have the same loyalty” as officers employed by the government, former CIA director Leon Panetta lamented to NBC.

But this is a liability built into our system that intelligence officials have long known about and done nothing to correct. As I first reported in 2007, some 70 cents of every intelligence dollar is allocated to the private sector. And the relentless pace of mergers and acquisitions in the spies-for-hire business has left five corporations in control of about 80 percent of the 45,000 contractors employed in U.S. intelligence. The threat from unreliable employees in this multibillion-dollar industry is only getting worse.

Tim is a superb investigator and researcher.  He’s been on this story for some time. Please go read it.

Trump has surrounded himself with “blow it up Billionaires”. His cabinet is filled with them.  A large number of them are either trust fund babies with maybe one generation of wealth behind them or folks that made money the new-fashioned way.  They gambled on Wall Street on items that are merely paper.  These are not the Carnegies that built a steel industry or even the Rockefellers and their oil empire.  These are folks that basically got wealthy via tax loopholes, get rich schemes, and betting against actual companies through the derivatives markets.  The Mercers are a shining example of this new model and their politics are poisonous.

Mercer is a youthful-looking 70. As a boy growing up in New Mexico, he carried around a notebook filled with computer programs he had written. “It’s very unlikely that any of them actually worked,” he has said. “I didn’t get to use a real computer until after high school.” Robert went on to work for decades at IBM, where he had a reputation as a brilliant computer scientist. He made his vast fortune in his 50s, after his work on predicting financial markets led to his becoming co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies, one of the world’s most successful quantitative hedge funds. A longtime colleague, David Magerman, recalls that when Robert began working at Renaissance in 1993, he and his wife, Diana, were “grounded, sweet people.” (Magerman was suspended from Renaissance in February after making critical comments about Robert in The Wall Street Journal.) But “money changed all that,” he says. “Diana started jetting off to Europe and flying to their yacht on weekends. The girls were used to getting what they wanted.”

At Renaissance, Robert was an eccentric among eccentrics. The firm is legendary for shunning people with Wall Street or even conventional finance backgrounds, instead favoring scientists and original thinkers. Robert himself, by all accounts, is extremely introverted. Rarely seen in public, he likes to spend his free time with his wife and three daughters. When, in 2014, Robert accepted an award from the Association for Computational Linguistics, he recalled, in a soft voice and with quiet humor, his consternation at being informed that he was expected to give “an oration on some topic or another for an hour, which, by the way, is more than I typically talk in a month.” Sebastian Mallaby’s account of the hedge-fund elite, More Money Than God, describes him as an “icy cold” poker player who doesn’t remember having a nightmare. He likes model trains, having once purchased a set for $2.7 million, and has acquired one of the country’s largest collections of machine guns.

For years, Robert has embraced a supercharged libertarianism with idiosyncratic variations. He is reportedly pro-death penalty, pro-life and pro-gold standard. He has contributed to an ad campaign opposing the construction of the ground zero mosque; Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, a group that is associated with fringe scientific claims; and Black Americans for a Better Future—a vehicle, the Intercept discovered, for an African-American political consultant who has accused Barack Obama of “relentless pandering to homosexuals.” Magerman, Robert’s former colleague at Renaissance, recalls him saying, in front of coworkers, words to the effect that “your value as a human being is equivalent to what you are paid. … He said that, by definition, teachers are not worth much because they aren’t paid much.” His beliefs were well-known at the firm, according to Magerman. But since Robert was so averse to publicity, his ideology wasn’t seen as a cause for concern. “None of us ever thought he would get his views out, because he only talked to his cats,” Magerman told me.

Robert’s middle daughter Rebekah shares similar political beliefs, but she is also very articulate and, therefore, able to act as her father’s mouthpiece. (Neither Rebekah nor Robert responded to detailed lists of questions for this article.) Under Rebekah’s leadership, the family foundation pouredsome $70 million into conservative causes between 2009 and 2014.[1]

Trump, the short fingered vulgarian, can find no solace among the truly wealthy of Manhattan.  He’s done what he has to do to feed his need for endless attention, power, and money.  He’s thrown in with International Thieves and local thugs.  There is nothing these folks love more than to suppress the votes of minorities along with promoting the xenophobia of the White Nationalists that serve this White House and the Tea Party.

Few people in the Republican Party have done more to limit voting rights than Hans von Spakovsky. He’s been instrumental in spreading the myth of widespread voter fraud and backing new restrictions to make it harder to vote.

But it appears that von Spakovsky had an admirer in Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, according to e-mails released to the Senate Judiciary Committee covering Gorsuch’s time working in the George W. Bush Administration.

When President Bush nominated von Spakovksy to the Federal Election Commission in late 2005, Gorsuch wrote, “Good for Hans!”

Read that article at The Nation.  These are not nice people by any traditional or untraditional sense of the word.  Here’s a nice little Georgia Cracker defending a bill designed to stop black people from voting at the same link.

Georgia’s voter-ID law was submitted to the Justice Department in 2005 under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required states like Georgia with a long history of voting discrimination to approve their voting changes with the federal government. The sponsor of the law, Republican Representative Sue Burmeister, told department lawyers, “If there are fewer black voters because of the bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud. She said when black voters in her precinct are not paid to vote, they do not go to the polls.”

Her racially inflammatory assertions set off alarm bells among the team reviewing the submission, indicating that the law may have been enacted with a discriminatory purpose. Department lawyers feared the bill would disenfranchise thousands of voters.

188920_600Here’s another dozy appointment for you. White House Advisor Sebastian Gorka supposedly held membership in a Nazi-Allied Far-Right Hungarian Group, Historical Vitézi Rend.   New York Congressman Jerry Nadler has opened a query.  Gorka is a Deputy Assistant to T-Rump and has been out spoken about the travel ban.    He’s among those in the government spreading blatant disinformation.  You can read more about the Travel Ban, etc. on BB’ post yesterday.

Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, falsely claimed Thursday that Trump’s travel ban was never linked to a particular religious group during the campaign.

In a press release from December 2015 titled “DONALD J. TRUMP STATEMENT ON PREVENTING MUSLIM IMMIGRATION,” Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”

Nevertheless, Gorka told Breitbart News Daily radio, “There is not one instance on the campaign trail or after the President took office in which the travel suspension was mentioned without reference to national security — it was never mentioned, ‘we’re doing this because of a certain religious group.'”

“In every single instance, every campaign speech, every statement out of the White House after January 20th this measure was linked to the security of the United States,” Gorka continued. “National security is the prerogative of the commander in chief and immigration, including immigration standards and the issuance of visas is not a local, is not a federal, is not a judicial function. It is a function of the White House and the executive arm.”

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Hawaii issued a nationwide halt on Trump’s revised travel ban order, citing statements Trump made during the presidential campaign about Muslims.

 So, the first thing that happened in the Trump-Merkel meeting today is that T-Rump did not shake hands with Germany’s Chancellor during a photo op.

 Trump sat next to Merkel in front of a fireplace for the brief photo-op.“Very good,” Trump said to assembled reporters when asked about what the two leaders discussed. “Lots of things.”

“Very good, thanks,” Merkel said in German.

But Trump hardly looked at Merkel and, when the photo op ended, didn’t move in for a handshake.

We’re in for an ongoing nightmare and series of national embarrassments for some time.  I’m just hoping the terrorists groups don’t have a chance to get their acts together before we get rid of him.  Every thing in the executive branch is extremely nonfunctional.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?