Friday Reads

Good Morning!!

The Wall Street Journal has a story on Michael Flynn’s plot to kidnap Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen and “deliver” him to a Turkish prison. We knew about this plan, but the WSJ provides more details. The article is behind the paywall, but I go access by clicking on Twitter link.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating an alleged plan involving former White House National Security Adviser Mike Flynn to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric living in the U.S. and deliver him to Turkey in return for millions of dollars, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Under the alleged proposal, Mr. Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to be paid as much as $15 million for delivering Fethullah Gulen to the Turkish government, according to people with knowledge of discussions Mr. Flynn had with Turkish representatives. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has pressed the U.S. to extradite him, views the cleric as a political enemy.

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have asked at least four individuals about a meeting in mid-December at the ‘21’ Club in New York City, where Mr. Flynn and representatives of the Turkish government discussed removing Mr. Gulen, according to people with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries. The discussions allegedly involved the possibility of transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali, according to one of the people who has spoken to the FBI….

The people who described the alleged proposal said they didn’t attend the December meeting and didn’t have direct knowledge from Mr. Flynn or his associates about its purported details. It isn’t clear how advanced Mr. Mueller’s investigation of the alleged plan to remove Mr. Gulen is, nor is there any indication that any money changed hands, according to those familiar with the discussions and the FBI investigation.

But federal investigators’ interest in whether Mr. Flynn was pursuing potentially illegal means to forcibly deal with Mr. Gulen indicates that the former Trump adviser faces another investigation stemming from his work on behalf of Turkish government interests, both before and after the presidential election.

Fethullah Gulen

One more interesting bit:

One person familiar with the alleged discussions about Mr. Gulen said Mr. Flynn also was prepared to use his influence in the White House to further the legal extradition of the cleric, who lives in Pennsylvania.

According to the WSJ, there were two meetings to discuss the kidnapping. The second one was attended by former former CIA Director James Woolsey, who was concerned enough to tell then Vice President Joe Biden about it. It seems both Mike Flynns are in serious trouble.

Randall D. Eliason of George Washington University Law School writes at The Washington Post: How Robert Mueller can play hardball with Michael Flynn.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team are no strangers to the practice of prosecutorial hardball. That skill may be coming into play once again if, as news reports indicate, the special counsel is turning his attention to former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn and Flynn’s son Michael G. Flynn, who worked with his father’s lobbying firm and was also involved in the Trump transition. The elder Flynn has long been thought to be in Mueller’s sights, and CNN reported Wednesday that Flynn and his wife are worried about their son’s legal exposure as well.

Andrew Weissmann

If in fact prosecutors have built cases against both men, they now have a huge, juicy carrot to dangle in front of the elder Flynn: Plead guilty and testify against others, and we’ll go easy on your son. Given the former national security adviser’s prior positions with the Trump campaign and administration, that prospect has to make other potential targets of Mueller’s inquiry extremely uneasy.

Members of Mueller’s team are very familiar with — and have not been shy about employing — the tactic of persuading a witness to cooperate in exchange for leniency toward a family member. His chief deputy is Andrew Weissmann, a career prosecutor with a reputation for aggressiveness. More than a decade ago, Weissmann served on and ultimately headed the Enron task force, the team of prosecutors charged with investigating the financial collapse of the huge energy corporation. Weissmann and the other Enron prosecutors wanted the cooperation of Andrew Fastow, Enron’s former chief financial officer, whom they had indicted on dozens of federal charges. When prosecutors later added additional charges against Fastow, they also indicted a new defendant: Lea Fastow, Andrew’s wife, who had also worked at Enron. With the felony charges pending against Lea Fastow, the couple faced the prospect of spending years in prison while their two young sons were raised by others.

Eventually Andrew Fastow was sentenced to 10 years in prison and his wife got one year, which she was allowed to serve before Andrew went to prison so they could care for their children. It looks like we’re about to find out what Michael Flynn will do to protect his son.

A couple more Russia investigation stories:

George Papadopoulos

ABC News reports that George Papadopoulos, who is cooperating with the Mueller investigation in return for a reduced sentence, initially lied to FBI investigators “out of loyalty to Trump.”

Trump had publicly denied that there had been any contact between his campaign and Russian officials, and Papadopoulos did not want to contradict the official line, the source said.

“It’s all fake news,” Trump said of any alleged connections in January. “It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen.”

Papadopoulos met with the FBI agents investigating those alleged ties shortly thereafter, and he later acknowledged that he lied during that meeting about the timing of certain contacts.

How may other advisers lied out of loyalty to the liar in chief? And how many of those advisers will end up turning on Trump? Mueller is on the case.

NBC News: Trump Bodyguard Keith Schiller Testifies Russian Offered Trump Women, Was Turned Down.

After a business meeting before the Miss Universe Pageant in 2013, a Russian participant offered to “send five women” to Donald Trump’s hotel room in Moscow, his longtime bodyguard told Congress this week, according to three sources who were present for the interview.

Two of the sources said the bodyguard, Keith Schiller, viewed the offer as a joke, and immediately responded, “We don’t do that type of stuff.”

The two sources said Schiller’s comments came in the context of him adamantly disputing the allegations made in the Trump dossier, written by a former British intelligence operative, which describes Trump having an encounter with prostitutes at the hotel during the pageant. Schiller described his reaction to that story as being, “Oh my God, that’s bull—-,” two sources said.

Keith Schiller

The conversation with the Russian about the five women took place after a morning meeting about the pageant in Moscow broke up, two sources said.

That night, two sources said, Schiller said he discussed the conversation with Trump as Trump was walking back to his hotel room, and Schiller said the two men laughed about it as Trump went to bed alone. Schiller testified that he stood outside Trump’s hotel room for a time and then went to bed.

One source noted that Schiller testified he eventually left Trump’s hotel room door and could not say for sure what happened during the remainder of the night.

Schiller is one of Trump’s closest and longest-term employees. He would probably lie for his boss. So why didn’t he just say there was nothing to the story at all? A couple of legal experts on TV have suggested that Schiller may be afraid that someone else overheard the offer and thus he’s afraid to give a complete denial.

AP Exclusive: Russia Twitter trolls deflected Trump bad news.

Disguised Russian agents on Twitter rushed to deflect scandalous news about Donald Trump just before last year’s presidential election while straining to refocus criticism on the mainstream media and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, according to an Associated Press analysis of since-deleted accounts.

Tweets by Russia-backed accounts such as “America_1st_” and “BatonRougeVoice” on Oct. 7, 2016, actively pivoted away from news of an audio recording in which Trump made crude comments about groping women, and instead touted damaging emails hacked from Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta.

Since early this year, the extent of Russian intrusion to help Trump and hurt Clinton in the election has been the subject of both congressional scrutiny and a criminal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. In particular, those investigations are looking into the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

AP’s analysis illuminates the obvious strategy behind the Russian cyber meddling: swiftly react, distort and distract attention from any negative Trump news.

Read the rest at the AP link above.

Meanwhile Trump is bumbling through his Asia trip, working on destroying U.S. credibility around the world.

Quartz: Beijing is playing Trump “like a fiddle,” an ex-ambassador to China says.

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s recent hosting of Donald Trump was a masterclass in how to make the US president comfortable—feed him familiar food, take him on his favorite outing, golf, and tell him how much you like him.

U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas Peter – RC1F6C531670

But Chinese president Xi Jinping added a creamy layer of pomp and circumstance to the mix when the White House delegation reached Beijing. Trump has been feted with everything from an unprecedented private dinner in the Forbidden City to a red carpet welcome in Tiananmen Square, the Beijing landmark where hundreds of students were killed by the Chinese military in 1989.

Trump has responded in kind, calling Xi a “very special man” with whom he has “great chemistry.” While US businessmen had high hopes that Trump and his back-to-the-1980s China advisors would wring concessions from Xi to cut the $350 billion trade deficit, the only concrete result has been a mish-mash of previously announced deals and non-binding agreements that probably aren’t worth the $250 billion both governments claim….

Beyond the numbers, it’s Trump’s embrace of Xi that has diplomats and human rights activists around the world concerned. China’s government is “playing Trump like a fiddle,” said Jorge Guajardo, Mexico’s ambassador to China from 2007 to 2013. “You don’t have good chemistry with a Chinese leader who doesn’t speak your language and is geared to not develop chemistry,” he said.

Read more at Quartz.

Putin is playing Trump too. Trump has been dying to meet with him again, but it’s not going to happen. Putin was just jerking him around and trying (successfully) to humiliate him.

Da Nang, Vietnam (CNN)President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will not hold a formal meeting at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit here in Vietnam, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday.

But the two world leaders did briefly meet during the so-called APEC class photo, where all the heads of state come together to take a photo before the summit officially starts. Trump and Putin shook hands and had a briefly spoke before the photo was snapped….

Citing “scheduling conflicts on both sides,” though, Sanders said no formal meeting will take place during the two-day gathering, but that an informal interaction between the two world leaders was likely to happen, a notion reinforced by her Russian counterparts.

“Regarding a Putin meeting, there was never a meeting confirmed, and there will not be one that takes place due to scheduling conflicts on both sides,” Sanders said. “There is no formal meeting or anything scheduled for them.”

Sure Sarah. Poor Donald was so looking forward to a private audience with his idol. But it was not to be.

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


Tuesday Reads: GA 6th, GOP “Health Care” Bill, and Russia News

Jon Ossoff with supporters in Georgia’s 6th District

Good Morning!!

Today is election day in Georgia’s 6th District, and the race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel is tied. The Washington Post reports: Georgia special election: Hard-fought House race in suburban Atlanta comes to an end as a referendum on Trump.

Polls in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District opened at 7 a.m. on a humid morning, with commuters casting ballots with iced coffees in their hands on their way to child-care centers, office parks and downtown Atlanta.

Back in Washington, party leaders — and Trump — were paying close attention to what has become the most expensive House race in history, hoping to make the case by day’s end that they were better positioned to jump-start Trump’s stalled agenda on Capitol Hill — or thwart it.

“KAREN HANDEL FOR Congress,” Trump tweeted as day broke Tuesday, touting the Republican candidate and former Georgia secretary of state. “She will fight for lower taxes, great health care strong security — a hard worker who will never give up! VOTE TODAY!”

The gosforth institution is managed by a physician who has been trained in the western system of medicine to evaluate, diagnose and treat medical conditions.

Democrats spoke excitedly about Democrat Jon Ossoff, 30, a polished former congressional staffer who has raised more than $23 million and built a devoted grassroots following, all while courting Republicans by bemoaning “wasteful” spending. They see his competitive candidacy in ruby-red suburbia as a possible harbinger ahead of next year’s midterm elections, when Democrats need to win 24 GOP-held seats to reclaim the House majority.

Republican candidate Karen Handel and Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff exchange words moments before Georgia’s 6th Congressional District special election debate, June 6, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Aluka Berry

Specifically, the race is being seen in Washington as a referendum on the awful GOP “health care” bill.

Republicans are laboring to agree on legislation to revise the Affordable Care Act. A GOP win on Tuesday could bring new momentum to their push to pass a bill in the Senate, while a defeat could embolden those who are concerned about the bill to more forcefully oppose it.

Handel and Ossoff are vying to fill the seat vacated by Tom Price, who held it from 2005 until he joined Trump’s Cabinet this year as health and human services secretary.

At The Cut, Rebecca Traister writes about how women are leading the fight for Democrats in Georgia’s 6th: Can the New Activist Passion of Suburban White Women Change American Politics?

At Hearth, a restaurant in Sandy Springs, Georgia, about 30 people — most of them women, most of them white — are sitting at a long table on Saturday night, drinking white wine and beer, scarfing pizzas and salads and talking at a frenzied pitch. One woman is describing, with a tired smile on her face, the contours of her life these days: “If I’m not knocking doors, I’m making calls; if I’m not making calls, I’m writing postcards; if I’m not writing postcards, I’m replacing my lawn sign.” Everyone laughs. “They can’t believe we live here,” says another woman, in reference to the local media and local Republican Party. “They think we must be shipped in from California, because we can’t be their neighbors.”

These women do live here, in Georgia’s affluent, suburban, predominantly white sixth district, where a special election to replace Republican congressman Tom Price, whom Donald Trump tapped to run the Department of Health and Human Services, has drawn the attention of the nation. They are dedicating their time — in many cases, nearly all their time — to campaigning for Jon Ossoff, the 30-year-old Democrat who came within spitting distance of winning a majority in April, and is now facing Republican Karen Handel in the runoff, which will take place on Tuesday. That Ossoff has come as close as he has is a startling signal of liberal vigor in Trump’s America: The sixth district is a longtime conservative stronghold that has sent Republicans to Congress since 1979; Price won his November reelection by 23 points. But in the days before the runoff, Ossoff is polling neck and neck with Handel; many on the ground don’t even venture a prediction of what’s going to happen, calling the outcome a “coin flip.”

Especially surprising is that the closeness of the race can largely be attributed to the obsessive energies of the sixth district’s women, an army of mostly white, suburban working mothers who had until now lived politically somnambulant lives. In the wake of Donald Trump’s November defeat of Hillary Clinton, many of these Georgia women have remade their lives, transforming themselves and their communities through unceasing political engagement. To visit Georgia’s sixth in the days before the runoff is to land on a planet populated by politically impassioned women, talking as if they have just walked off the set of Thelma & Louise, using a language of awakening, liberation, and political fury that should indeed discomfit their conservative neighbors, and — if it is a harbinger of what’s to come — should shake conservative America more broadly.

“No matter the outcome on Tuesday, the real story of this campaign is the story of women organizing, standing up, fighting,” Jon Ossoff tells me from his campaign’s Chamblee office two days before the runoff.
“There’s something of a renaissance of civic engagement and political activism afoot, and it’s being led by women.”

A few bits and pieces of the GOP “health care” bill are leaking out, and they are horrifying.

Michael Hiltzik at the LA Times: In secret Obamacare repeal bill, Senate Republicans plan even harsher cuts to Medicaid than House GOP.

In the all-out quest for ways to strip health coverage from millions of people in order to deliver a huge tax cut to the richest Americans, Senate Republicans have been regarded as more moderate than their House colleagues. But a proposal leaked from the Senate GOP’s closed-door drafting sessions on an Obamacare repeal bill may put that notion to rest: The Senate is contemplating a change in Medicaid that would cut it even more than the $830-billion proposed by the House.

That news comes from The Hill, which reported Monday that the Senate is contemplating imposing a lower inflation growth rate on Medicaid, which would be capped in both proposals. The Senate’s idea is to allow Medicaid to grow at the rate of the overall consumer price index (specifically, the CPI for all urban consumers, the most commonly used variant).

That’s a much lower growth rate than the index in the American Health Care Act, which House Republicans passed in May as a measure to repeal the the Affordable Care Act. The House caps growth in the Medicaid budget at the CPI for medical care, which grows much faster.

The difference would produce a massively larger cut in Medicaid than the House bill. That’s remarkable, because the House bill would drive 14 million people out of Medicaid by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The Senate version, which hasn’t been presented in its entirely to the CBO because it’s still being worked on in secret, is certain to cost many more Americans their coverage.

Please go read the rest at the above link. Read more about what is believed to be in the bill at the Washington Post: The Health 202: Here’s what we know about the Senate health-care bill. But the simple truth is that the purpose of this bill is to transfer money from needy people to a few super-rich families.

Huffington Post: The Not-So-Secret Truth About the Senate GOP’s Secret Health Care Bill.

Senate Republicans are hurling themselves toward passing an incredibly unpopular set of health care reforms that even they don’t understand, haven’t seen and likely won’t see until just before it hits the floor.

This rightly has raised the hackles not only of Senate Democrats and the media, but anyone who values transparency in government or is anxious about the consequences of reordering the American health care system and taking away health coverage from millions of people.

But as important as the legislation’s details will turn out out to be, there’s a simple, fundamental, incontrovertible fact about whatever the Senate health care reform bill winds up looking like: The purpose of this bill is to dramatically scale back the safety net so wealthy people and health care companies can get a massive tax cut….

That’s true of the House-passed version of the American Health Care Act, which the Congressional Budget Office projects would lead to 23 million fewer people being insured over the next decade, severely weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions and put health coverage out of reach for older, sicker and poorer people who won’t be able to afford insurance or, in some cases, to even access it at any price.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his handpicked cohort of backroom negotiators are advancing a measure that will look pretty much like the House legislation and do pretty much the same thing. McConnell wants a vote before July 4, and he’ll probably get it if something doesn’t alter the trajectory. There’s little Democrats can do beyond try to slow Senate business to a crawl to draw out the process and keep health care in the public eye for as long as possible.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to cozy up to Putin as the Russia investigation continues. This story at Newsweek is just unbelievable: Rex Tillerson to Work with Russia on Cybersecurity (Even After Hacking).

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly has a three-point plan to both improve relations and work with Russia, one of which includes facing global threats posed by the Syrian civil war, the proliferation of North Korea’s missile and defense program and a third that could seem strange to some: Cybersecurity and cyber-espionage.

A BuzzFeed report published Monday detailed the former ExxonMobil CEO turned U.S. statesman’s plan, which included each side vowing to avoid “aggressive actions” that wouldn’t be productive for anyone as well as a third point called “strategic stability” meant to bundle together problems the two superpowers face.

But the second tenet, aimed at cybersecurity and cyberespionage, seems particularly odd given not only the investigations surrounding President Donald Trump and his former campaign but also the conclusion reached by the U.S. intelligence community that Russia intentionally meddled in last year’s election in order to ascend Trump’s candidacy.

Please go check out this story and the one at BuzzFeed too.

News on the Russia investigation:

Bijan Kian (center) worked on Trump transition

Talking Points Memo: Report: Feds Now Interested In Flynn’s Former Business Partner.

Federal investigators are now interested in the role Bijan Kian, co-founder of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn’s consulting firm, played in their lobbying work, Reuters reported Tuesday.

The report was based on information from an anonymous individual recently interviewed by the FBI, who said that agents from the criminal division asked as many questions about Kian and his involvement with a lobbying contract carried out by the firm that primarily benefitted the Turkish government as they did about Flynn.

Kian was responsible for securing and carrying out that work for Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, as Reuters and the Associated Press have reported. It netted Flynn Intel Group $530,000. Two other sources with knowledge of the probe told Reuters that investigators were looking at whether the payments Flynn and his firm received from foreign clients were lawful and whether they made the proper disclosures with the federal government to perform this work.

Both men retroactively registered as foreign agents for their Turkey lobbying, which involved producing negative public relations materials about an exiled cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for a failed coup attempt last summer.

Flynn likely talking to FBI

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a former federal prosecutor, believes that Flynn is likely cooperating with the FBI. From Real Clear Politics:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island suggests that fired national security Mike Flynn has made a deal with the FBI and will testify against President Trump….

“All the signals are suggesting [Flynn] is already cooperating with the FBI, and may have been for some time. First of all, they had him dead to rights on a felony false statement, on the statement they took from him at the White House on the Kislyak conversations. Second, Comey reported that one of the things the FBI does with cooperators is get them to go back and clean up areas of non-compliance. Flynn, who will never be hired by a foreign government again, went back and cleaned up his foreign agent filings. Third, all of the reporting of the Eastern District of VA on subpoenas is one hop away from Flynn. He is the hole in a donut of subpoenas,” he sad.

He continued: “One of the most talkative people in Trumpland [Flynn] has gone absolutely silent. That is exactly what a prosecutor would strongly encourage a cooperating witness to do… in order to avoid lengthy imprisonment.”

“It could be a huge deal. Who knows what Trump has said to him?” Whitehouse speculated. “Both during the campaign and the early days of the presidency.”

I’m running out of space, but I’ll add more links in the comment thread. What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Trumpcare’s Ignominious Defeat and Spy News

Good Afternoon!!

Last night, for the first time since November 8, 2016, I went to bed happy. Thanks in large part to the millions of Americans who marched in the streets, went to town halls or their representatives’ offices to defend Obamacare, the attempt by tRump and Ryan to destroy the health care system has been thwarted–at least for the time being.

Trump is being roasted in the media. Here are a few stories to check out, links only because there are so many:

The Washington Post: ‘The closer’? The inside story of how Trump tried — and failed — to make a deal on health care.

Politico: Trump gets tamed by Washington (click on this one if only to view the absolute worst photo of tRump’s hair so far).

Politico Magazine: Inside the GOP’s Health Care Debacle. Eighteen days that shook the Republican Party—and humbled a president.

The Atlantic: The Republicans Fold on Health Care. The House abandoned its legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, handing President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan a major defeat.

The New York Times: How the Health Care Vote Fell Apart, Step by Step.

Jonathan Chait: Why Obamacare Defeated Trumpcare.

I want to highlight one aspect of the tRump strategy. He let Steve Bannon talk to the Freedom Caucus, and it did not go well.

Mike Allen at Axios: 

When the balky hardliners of the House Freedom Caucus visited the White House earlier this week, this was Steve Bannon’s opening line, according to people in the conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building:

Guys, look. This is not a discussion. This is not a debate. You have no choice but to vote for this bill.

  • Bannon’s point was: This is the Republican platform. You’re the conservative wing of the Republican Party. But people in the room were put off by the dictatorial mindset.
  • One of the members replied: “You know, the last time someone ordered me to something, I was 18 years old. And it was my daddy. And I didn’t listen to him, either.”\\ [….]It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the Day 64 defeat. President Trump, who made repeal-and-replace a central theme of his campaign, and House Republicans, who made it the central theme of every campaign since 2010, lost in a publicly humiliating way despite controlling every branch of government and enjoying margins in the House rarely seen in the past century.

More on Bannon’s role at The Daily Beast: Bannon Tells Trump: ‘Keep a Shit List’ of Republicans Who Opposed You. (This one was published before the bill was pulled.)

According to multiple Trump administration officials speaking to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity to talk freely, the president is angry that his first big legislative push is crumbling before his eyes—and his chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon is advising him to take names and keep a hit list of Republicans who worked for Trumpcare’s defeat.

“[Bannon] has told the president to keep a shit list on this,” one official told The Daily Beast. “He wants a running tally of [the Republicans] who want to sink this…Not sure if I’d call it an ‘enemies list,’ per se, but I wouldn’t want to be on it.”

One aide described it as a proposed “hit list” for Republicans not sufficiently loyal. Courses of action stemming from any related tally is yet to be determined, but the idea and message is that “we’ll remember you.”

Two senior Trump administration officials with direct knowledge of the process told The Daily Beast that Bannon and Trump have taken a “you’re either with us or against us” approach at this point, and that Bannon wants the tally of “against” versus “with us” mounted in his so-called West Wing “war room.”

“Burn the boats,” Bannon (in his typical, pugnacious style) advised Trump, according to one official involved. Burning one’s boats is a reference to when military commanders in hostile territories order his or her troops to destroy their own ships, so that they have to win or die trying.

Now let’s get to the really interesting stuff–the spy news.

Is Mike Flynn already talking to the FBI? I would be if I were in his shoes, and he has been awfully quiet since he belatedly registered as a foreign agent for his work in support of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And yesterday we learned that Flynn proposed kidnapping Erdogan’s sworn enemy Fethullah Gulen, a former Turkish cleric whom Turkey has been trying to get extradited from the U.S.

The Washington Post: Pentagon weighs response to Flynn working on behalf of Turkish interests without U.S. permission.

President Trump’s ousted national security adviser did not seek permission from the U.S. government to work as a paid foreign agent for Turkish interests, U.S. defense officials said, raising the possibility that the Pentagon could dock the retirement pay of Michael T. Flynn.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said that the Defense Department is reviewing the issue. It arose after Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, registered retroactively this month with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for work that his company, Flynn Intel Group, carried out on behalf of Inovo BV, a Netherlands-based company. It is owned by Ekim Alptekin, a Turkish businessman who is not a part of the Turkish government, but has links to it.

The Inovo assignment centered on researching Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric whom Ankara blames for fomenting a coup attempt last summer and wants extradited from the United States, where he has lived in exile for years. That led Flynn’s company to conclude that the work “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey,” according to a letter sent by Flynn’s attorney, Robert K. Kelner, to the Justice Department, along with the filing.

Flynn Intel Group received a total of $530,000 in three payments between September and November from Inovo BV before discontinuing the arrangement after Trump was elected president, according to Flynn’s filings. It is unclear from the paperwork how much Flynn personally profited from the deal, but he is the majority owner and chief executive officer of the firm. Kelner, reached by phone Wednesday night, declined to comment on the deal.

Flynn is in deep trouble, and now that tRump has thrown him under the bus in The National Enquirer, Flynn has plenty of motivation to start telling what he knows about the tRump campaign’s coordination with Russia to hurt Hillary Clinton.

In addition, we learned yesterday that the three other tRump guys who are under investigation, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Carter Page, have offered to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.

Next, we have the very strange behavior of Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the Intel Committe, who appears to be working as a double agent for tRump. Nunes has given three bizarre press conferences about supposed secret information he got access to that may or may not show that members of the tRump transition team were caught up in surveillance of foreign actors. It’s obvious that Nunes is way over his head and doesn’t really understand whatever it is he saw. So far he hasn’t shared anything with the members of his committee. But where did he get this mysterious information? He isn’t saying, but here’s some background from Tim Mak at The Daily Beast: Devin Nunes Vanished the Night Before He Made Trump Surveillance Claims.

Rep. Devin Nunes was traveling with a senior committee staffer in an Uber on Tuesday evening when he received a communication on his phone, three committee officials and a former national security official with ties to the committee told The Daily Beast. After the message, Nunes left the car abruptly, leaving his own staffer in the dark about his whereabouts.

By the next morning, Nunes hastily announced a press conference. His own aides, up to the most senior level, did not know what their boss planned to say next. Nunes’ choice to keep senior staff out of the loop was highly unusual.

The Republican chairman had a bombshell to drop.

“The intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition,” Nunes told reporters Wednesday morning.

Nunes reviewed “dozens of reports” produced by the U.S. intelligence community that showed this, he added….

Where Nunes went and who his source was for this information—which he said was still incomplete—is now a mystery with serious repercussions for the independence of his investigation into Russian interference with U.S. elections.

“This information was legally brought to me by sources who thought that we should know it,” Nunes added.

Suspicions have been raised that Nunes may have gotten his information from the White House, and so far he has refused to deny it. So who could have been incidentally picked up on wiretaps? Yesterday, Dakinikat posted some links that suggest that person could have been Mike Pence. I’m reposting them here.

DailyKos, 3/22/17: Manafort made Pence the VP, they talked regularly during the transition.

The Daily Beast: 11/30/16: Paul Manafort Is Back and Advising Donald Trump on Cabinet Picks.

Finally, Bill Palmer pull the conspiracy theory together: Mike Pence appears to be the “Donald Trump transition team” member caught on wiretap.

This week House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes got his hands on some kind of classified intelligence through unofficial channels, and it spooked him to the point that he broke every protocol – and may have broken his career in the process. Nunes insists someone on the Donald Trump transition team was legally picked up on a wiretap that was targeted at someone else. And it appears the person incidentally surveilled was Vice President Mike Pence.

Based on Nunes’ description, someone on the Trump transition team was picked up while speaking on the phone with someone who was the subject of a FISA warrant. Widespread media reports have long pegged four people in the Trump campaign’s orbit as being under FBI investigation: Michael Flynn, Carter Page, Roger Stone, and Paul Manafort. These are the four who could realistically have been the subject of a judge-issued FISA surveillance warrant.

Of the four men, the only one who is known to have had phone conversations with anyone on the Trump transition team during the transition was Manafort. And the one person Manafort kept calling? Mike Pence (source: Daily Kos. The two have long been aligned; Manafort went to great lengths to ensure Pence was Trump’s running mate. So it appears that Devin Nunes learned this week that Pence had been caught saying something disconcerting on Manafort’s wiretap. And that may explain why Nunes did what he did from there.

More at the link.

And we can’t forget James Comey’s surprise appearance at the White House yesterday. Will more shoes drop over the weekend? I sure hope so!

What stories are you following?


Lazy Saturday Reads

Paul Newman at the beach, 1963

Paul Newman at the beach, 1963

Good Afternoon!!

I’m illustrating this post with some beautiful people, mostly engaged in outdoor activities–just because I feel like it.

The news continues to be mostly ugly, unfortunately. There’s the latest terrorist attack in Bangladesh, the endless saga of Bernie Sanders’ refusal to accept reality, and of course the very real danger that racist misogynist xenophobe Donald Trump could somehow gain the presidency.

Before I get started on the bad news, here’s a bit of exciting news for Hillary supporters. The Clinton campaign announced yesterday that it raised nearly $70 million in June. Politico reports:

Hillary Clinton’s campaign reported Friday that it had raised more than $68.5 million for Hillary for America, the Democratic National Committee and state parties in the month of June.

Of that total, $40.5 million went to the campaign, while the remaining $28 million went to the DNC and state parties through the Hillary Victory Fund and the Hillary Action Fund, putting Clinton’s total cumulative fundraising at $288 million for the campaign and $90 million for the joint fundraising agreements. Clinton begins July with more than $44 million on hand, with an average donation of $48 to the campaign itself.

Now for the awful news. There’s been another horrible terrorist attack in Bangladesh, just a short time after the massacre in Turkey.

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen

CNN: Dhaka cafe attack ends with 20 hostages dead, 13 rescued.

Bangladeshi troops stormed an upscale bakery in Dhaka’s diplomatic enclave Saturday morning, ending an 11-hour siege by militants who killed 20 hostages and two police officers, officials said.

It was the deadliest and boldest act of terror in a country that has become increasingly numb to ever-escalating violence by Islamist militants.

The victims — most of them foreigners — were among roughly three dozen people taken hostage when attackers stormed the Holey Artisan Bakery on Friday evening with guns, explosives and other, sharp weapons Friday evening, authorities said.
Some guests and workers managed to escape, jumping from the bakery’s roof. Others crouched under chairs and tables as the gunmen fired indiscriminately, witnesses said.

Early Saturday morning, military commandos moved in. By the end, 13 people had been rescued and 20 were dead at the restaurant, officials said. Two police officers had been killed in a gunfire exchange earlier in the standoff, authorities said.

Six terrorists were killed and one was captured alive, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed said.

Exactly who was behind the attack is unclear.

Clint Eastwood skateboarding

Clint Eastwood skateboarding

Update to the story:

At least 12 of the 20 hostages who were killed in an hours-long attack at a cafe in Bangladesh’s capital over the weekend have been publicly identified, including three people who attended college in the United States.

Two of the students attended Georgia’s Emory University. That included Abinta Kabir of Miami, who was a sophomore at Emory’s campus in Oxford, Georgia. She was in Dhaka visiting family and friends, the school said.

The other was Faraaz Hossain, of Dhaka, a junior at Emory’s Goizueta Business School in Atlanta….

The third student was Indian citizen Tarushi Jain, 19, who was studying at the University of California at Berkeley, according to India’s minister of external affairs, Sushma Swaraj.

At least nine of the dead were Italian nationals, Italy’s Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said Saturday.

According to the Italian foreign ministry, they were: Adele Puglisi; Marco Tondat; Claudia Maria D’Antona; Nadia Benedetti; Vincenzo D’Allestro; Maria Rivoli; Cristian Rossi; Claudio Cappelli; and Simona Monti.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed on Saturday declared two days of mourning for the victims.

It’s all so senseless. What can I say?

Elvis with his bike

Elvis with his bike

CNN has news on the attack in Turkey: Istanbul airport attack: Planner, 2 bombers identified, report says.

Two of the three assailants in the terror attack that killed 44 people at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport have been identified as Rakim Bulgarov and Vadim Osmanov, according to Turkey’s state news agency Anadolu, citing an anonymous prosecution source.

The Friday report did not identify the third attacker.

The report did not reveal their nationalities. But officials have said they believe the three attackers are from Russia, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, and entered Turkey a month ago from Syria’s ISIS stronghold of Raqqa.

The report came a day after U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said the man who directed the attackers is Akhmed Chatayev, a terrorist from Russia’s North Caucasus region.

Bernie Sanders is never going to go away. I’m convinced that he agrees with Susan Sarandon that if Trump is elected president, Bernie’s long wished-for “political revolution” will magically take place. As I’ve said before, I don’t even want him to endorse Hillary, and I certainly don’t want him out campaigning for her. He would only be his passive aggressive self–seeking new ways to undercut her while pretending he doesn’t want Trump to win.

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman

From Politico: Sanders is itching for a convention fight.

Bernie Sanders is still spoiling for a convention fight.

It seemed like Democrats could finally claim unity when no member of the Democratic National Committee’s 15-person convention drafting committee voted against the draft of the policy platform draft during a meeting in St. Louis this past weekend: 13 members of the panel voted for the draft, one abstained and one missed the vote. But since then, Sanders-aligned members have teed off on the draft for not going far enough in key areas.

While both neutral national Democrats and Hillary Clinton-aligned Democrats on the DNC standing committees have hailed the draft document — which is headed to a full vote before the 187-member platform committee on July 8 and 9 in Orlando, Florida — as both satisfactory and historically progressive, Sanders supporters insist the draft remains unpalatable. Among the issues they’ve identified: the platform draft’s treatment of Medicare expansion, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a carbon tax, and a ban on fracking. Sanders and his allies are vowing to fight for changes in Orlando — and all the way to the convention in Philadelphia, if necessary.

Nothing is ever enough for Bernie and his bros.

Bogie and Bacall

Bogie and Bacall

So far, Sanders and his team have locked up draft policy wins on language for abolishing the death penalty, expanding Social Security through raising the cap on how much Americans earning $250,000 or more pay to expand benefits, and breaking up the country’s largest banks. But that’s not everything on Sanders’ lengthy priority list, so the senator and his allies are vowing to keep pushing hard.

While he admits that some gains are better than none at all, Sanders himself has already begun voicing his dissatisfaction. In an email to supporters on Thursday (titled “We’re going to the convention”) Sanders wrote that “we are going to take our political revolution into the halls of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia where we will fight to place a $15 minimum wage, opposition to TPP, and a ban on fracking directly into the Democratic Platform.”

That email came one day after the campaign asked its supporters to sign a petition demanding language against TPP be included in the platform — a top Sanders priority.

“The most significant issue for us is the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The Clinton team has said there’s absolutely no daylight between their position on TPP and ours,” Sanders policy director Warren Gunnels said. “We want to make that clear in the Democratic Party platform. That the TPP should not receive a vote in the lame-duck session and beyond.

Bernie is a horrible excuse for a human being. He’s nothing but a swollen-headed narcissist with delusions of grandeur. At least we haven’t heard much from Jane lately. Maybe she’s disgusted with him too.

Katharine Hepburn skateboarding

Katharine Hepburn skateboarding

Huffington Post’s Sam Stein: Bernie Sanders’ Endgame Is Increasingly Bewildering To Team Clinton.

Democrats have for weeks treated the still-operational presidential campaign ofSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) with a mix of deference and caution, worrying about too strongly pushing the occasionally irascible senator and his legion of devoted followers.

But as time has passed and the party’s convention nears, supporters of Hillary Clinton really want to know what Sanders’ endgame actually is.

The question has been prompted by some recent muddled messaging from Sanders himself. The senator has said he’ll vote for Clinton, but is declining to actually endorse her candidacy. On Tuesday, he raised the specter of convention disorder over the nuts and bolts of the party platform, all while insisting he will do everything in his power to ensure that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump loses.

The problem is, Sanders is actually doing everything in his power to help Trump win.

“So far [Sanders] has been riding a wave of good feelings in the sense he ran an incredible campaign,” said former Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who served with Sanders and Clinton but has endorsed the latter.

“But that has a pretty short shelf life and then people start looking at you through a different lens, and that lens is: Are you a team player and do you have the larger picture in mind or are you just focused on yourself?” Conrad said. “At some point, pretty soon, he crosses the threshold. He may have already crossed it.”

He crossed it long ago, in my opinion.

Marilyn Monroe and James Dean

Marilyn Monroe and James Dean

With weeks to go before the party convenes in Philadelphia, Sanders’ role in that coronation of Clinton remains a mystery. He said Tuesday on MSNBC that he was taking his campaign to the convention floor in an effort to affect the platform.

“Politics is not a baseball game with winners or losers,” Sanders said at the time. “What politics is about is whether we protect the needs of millions of people in this country who are hurting.”

But changing the platform with the dramatic stripes that would satisfy the senator and his supporters seems unlikely. The party, for example, will be hard-pressed to formally disavow trade deals that its leader (President Barack Obama, not Clinton) still supports.

“You can’t have a platform that will embarrass the president,” said one prominent Democratic National Committee official.

But that’s what Bernie wants. And frankly, he has already embarrassed President Obama. He has also made a fool of himself. But I don’t think he’ll quit–maybe not even after the convention.

I’ll end with a silly story about Clinton Derangement Syndrome from The Washington Post: Watch people attack Hillary Clinton for dishonesty — while lying through their teeth.

Jimmy Kimmel’s “Lie Witness News” took to the streets to ask people about the approximately 160 previously unreleased Clinton emails this week. The show, of course, totally made up what was actually in the rather bland emails — saying Clinton was responding to spam from Nigerian princes and asking Vladimir Putin for shirtless pictures, for instance. But that didn’t stop these people from describing how they had read about these non-existent emails and berating Clinton over them.

The best part? The interviewer gets almost all of these liars to attack Clinton for her lack of honesty.

Here’s the video. It’s maddening but funny.

Have a fabulous Fourth of July Weekend Sky Dancers!!


Lazy Saturday Afternoon Reads

Spring is on the way!

Spring is on the way!

 

Good Afternoon!!

I woke up this morning with my eyes so scratchy and watery that I couldn’t read anything on-line until I took a long hot shower. It’s either a cold, a sinus infection, or very early pollen in the air–or maybe all three. Who knows? Anyway, I’m feeling better now.

There’s plenty of news this morning, but not a lot of *new news,* if you know what I mean. The Middle East is still in chaos, Malaysian Airlines 370 is still missing, Republicans are still insane; yet the Earth still continues to turn on its axis. I’ve tried to find a few stories worthy of your attention–I’ll let you be the judge.

UPDATE (11:57 Eastern):

There actually is some breaking news from Ukraine. BBC News is reporting that Russian troops storm[ed a] Ukraine airbase in Crimea, shots fired.

Shooting and explosions have been heard as Russian troops – backed by armoured vehicles – stormed a Ukrainian airbase in Crimea.

Reports say at least one person was injured during the assault on Belbek base, near Sevastopol. The base is now said to be under Russian control.

Earlier, several hundred unarmed protesters seized a Ukrainian naval base at Novofedorivka, western Crimea.

Pro-Russian militia has also been seizing Ukrainian Navy ships.

The BBC’s Ian Pannell, in Crimea, says the Ukrainian troops on the peninsula feel beleaguered and abandoned by their chiefs in Ukraine….

In Belbek, two armoured personnel carriers burst through the wall of the base followed by Russian troops firing weapons in the air.

An ambulance was then seen entering the base amid reports that at least one person was injured.

The Ukrainian soldiers were later gathered at the base main square in front of the heavily armed Russian troops.

The storming followed an ultimatum by the Russians to surrender.

Did you hear that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blocked Twitter in his country?

Reuters: Furious reaction, political split after Turkey bans Twitter.

A court blocked access to Twitter after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s defiant vow, on the campaign trail on Thursday ahead of March 30 local elections, to “wipe out” the social media service, whatever the international community had to say about it.

Industry Minister Fikri Isik said talks with Twitter were taking place and the ban would be lifted if the San Francisco-based firm appointed a representative in Turkey and agreed to block specific content when requested by Turkish courts.

Twitter turkey

What’s Erdogan’s problem with social media?

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 11 years, is battling a corruption scandal that has been fed by social media awash with alleged evidence of government wrongdoing. He did not mention the Twitter ban at two campaign rallies on Friday.

Turkey’s main opposition party said it would challenge the ban and file a criminal complaint against Erdogan on the grounds of violating personal freedoms. The country’s bar association filed a separate court challenge.

Twitter users called the move a “digital coup”, some comparing Turkey to Iran and North Korea, where social media platforms are tightly controlled. There were also calls for protests.

“Waking up to no Twitter in Turkey feels like waking up to a coup. The modern equivalent of occupying the radio stations,” U.S. author and journalist Andrew Finkel, who has reported from Turkey for more than 20 years, said on his Twitter account.

This morning Reuters reports that

Turks attempting to access Twitter have found an Internet page carrying court rulings saying that a “protection measure” has been taken, blocking the site.

But many have been able to get around the ban, either by using virtual private network (VPN) software or changing their Domain Name System (DNS) setting, effectively disguising their computers’ geographical whereabouts.

By Saturday, though, computers that had been set with DNS numbers widely circulated to help people get around the ban were not able to access the Internet at all.

“Apparently alternate DNS servers are also blocked in Turkey. New settings are being circulated,” wrote one Twitter user.

Apparently twitter is very popular in Turkey. The Washington Post has lots more reactions to the Turkish Twitter ban.

I know everyone is sick of the missing MH370 story, so I’ll just give you one link to a minor update.

WaPo: Australia expands search for missing jetliner as China investigates new satellite image.

Chinese satellite image

Chinese satellite image

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — China released a new image of a “suspected floating object” in the Indian Ocean on Saturday, in the vicinity of an Australian-led search that has brought fresh hope to the hunt for a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner.

China has sent ships to investigate, according to the Malaysian government.

The Chinese government said one of its satellites spotted the object on March 18, about 75 miles west of the location released by Australia earlier this week.

A grainy image of the latest find was tweeted Saturday by Chinese state television, CCTV. It is dated two days after the two images released by Australia.

The search for the missing airliner has now entered a third week, with the main hope for a breakthrough hinging on planes and ships being able to locate floating objects picked up by satellites in a desolate stretch of ocean almost as close to Antarctica as to Australia.

Michelle Obama is on a good will tour of China with her mother and two daughters. Time reports on the First Lady’s defense of “the free internet” in a speech at Peking University.

First Lady Michelle Obama used a trip to China Saturday to promote the liberating “power of technology” in a veiled swipe at the harshly restrictive Internet and media environment in the country.

At her first—and only—major speech scheduled during her…trip…Obama said that new technology can “open up the entire world and expose us to ideas and innovations we could never have imagined.”

“It is so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the Internet and through the media,” she said. “Because that’s how we discover the truth, that’s how we learn what’s really happening in our communities, in our country and our world.”

President Xi Jinping and his wife welcomed U.S. first lady and her mother and daughters

President Xi Jinping and his wife welcomed U.S. first lady and her mother and daughters

 

I never watch the Sunday talk shows, because they are horrible; but Paul Waldman of WaPo’s The Plum Line apparently hasn’t given up on them.

Waldman asks: Can the Sunday shows get better?

Most members of Congress would kill to be interviewed on one of the shows, since getting such an appearance instantly brands you as an important person whose opinions are worth listening to. But “Meet the Press,” the oldest and most venerated of the shows, has been struggling of late, falling behind “This Week” and “Face the Nation” in the ratings, leading to some rumors about David Gregory’s future. But as Michael Calderone reports in the Huffington Post, the network is “doubling down” on Gregory as it tries to gingerly step its way into the digital world. The problem, though, is what they put on the air every Sunday.

There’s a conceit about the Sunday shows, that they hold the powerful accountable. It’s where “newsmakers” come to be raked over the coals, unable to escape the probing queries of savvy and unrelenting interrogators. But it’s awfully hard to watch the shows and believe that’s true. What happens instead is that the powerful come on the shows, and the hosts try (and almost always fail) to trap them with various kinds of “gotcha” questions, which the powerful handle by returning again and again to their carefully planned messages. The result, even for those of us who love listening to and talking about politics and policy, is remarkably tedious.

Meet the press

So how can these awful shows be improved?

Let me make a couple of suggestions I know they’d never consider. First, ban all party chairs, White House communication staff, party “strategists,” and anyone else whose primary objective is to spin from ever, ever, ever appearing on the show. Ever. To ask a question I’ve raised elsewhere: Has anyone anywhere in the United States turned off their TV and said, “Wow, that interview with Reince Priebus was really interesting”? Of course not, and the same applies to his Democratic counterpart, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. That’s because their job is to deliver talking points, and they do so with a discipline worthy of the Marine Honor Guard, no matter what questions they’re asked. And they get plenty of time on cable, so why waste valuable minutes on a Sunday show by letting them repeat the same talking points they’ve recited 100 times that that week?

And while we’re at it, why not go farther and cut down the interviews with elected officials and candidates by three-quarters or so? I’m serious. When was the last time you saw a truly edifying interview on a Sunday show with a senator or member of Congress? If you want to talk about what’s going on in Ukraine, I could hardly care less what John McCain (the shows’ most frequent guest) thinks about it, and I doubt I’m alone. He knows next to nothing about the situation, and as a minority party senator with almost no support among his colleagues, he’ll have precisely zero impact on the outcome of events. So how about, as a first rule, the people you bring on should 1) know as much as possible about the things you’re going to discuss, and 2) have little if any interest in spinning?

Good luck with that. I’d say the very best thing that could be done is to ban both John McCain and Lindsey Graham from ever appearing on Sunday shows. And for heaven’s sake get rid of David Gregory and put Bob Schieffer permanently out to pasture. BTW, Bob’s guest tomorrow will be Mitt Romney because he undoubtedly has all the answers on what’s up with Russian and Ukraine.

A few more quick hits . . .

Politico: Judge strikes down Mich. same-sex marriage ban

Reuters: Pope appoints former child victim to church group on sex abuse

Talking Points Memo: Creationists Complain Tyson’s ‘Cosmos’ Isn’t Giving Them Airtime

Business Insider: North Dakota State Is America’s Team

So . . . what stories are you following today? Let us know in the comment thread and have a terrific weekend!


Tuesday Reads: McCain Plays “Pretend President,” Pressure Cookers, Upcoming Zimmerman Trial, and Other News

Matisse-Woman-Reading-with-Tea1

Good Morning!!

Last night Josh Rogin reported that warmongering Senator John McCain had sneaked across the Syrian border from Turkey and talked to Gen. Idris Salem, head of the “Free Syrian Army.”

McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator. Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.

Idris praised the McCain visit and criticized the Obama administration’s Syria policy in an exclusive interview Monday with The Daily Beast.

“The visit of Senator McCain to Syria is very important and very useful especially at this time,” he said. “We need American help to have change on the ground; we are now in a very critical situation.”

Apparently McCain decided to play Pretend President to celebrate Memorial Day. I haven’t been paying close attention to the news for the past few days, but I think I would have seen any reports that the White House or the State Department had requested Senator McNasty’s help in reaching out to opposition forces in Syria.

Prior to his visit inside Syria, McCain and Idris had separate meetings with two groups of FSA commanders and their Civil Revolutionary Council counterparts in the Turkish city of Gaziantep. Rebel military and civilian leaders from all over Syria came to see McCain, including from Homs, Qusayr, Idlib, Damascus, and Aleppo. Idris led all the meetings.

The entire trip was coordinated with the help of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American nonprofit organization that works in support of the Syrian opposition.

john_mccain_syria_visit

More from Dan Roberts of The Guardian:

McCain’s office confirmed to the Guardian that he had slipped into the country in recent days but declined to comment on the outcome of his talks with the rebel groups or whether it had hardened his views on arming them.

The Arizona senator has been leading efforts in Congress in recent weeks to force Barack Obama to intervene in Syria following reports of alleged chemical weapons use by forces loyal to Assad.

As the most senior US politician to have visited Syria, his intervention is likely to strengthen the hand of hawks in Washington at a time when parallel efforts are being made by the French and British governments to persuade the European Union to lift the arms embargo.

At the same time, actual US Secretary of State John Kerry was working toward a different goal than loud-mouthed Obama critic McCain.

Meanwhile the US State Department continues to pursue diplomatic efforts to bring the civil war to an end, successfully encouraging the Russians to persuade Assad to take part in peace talks in Geneva next month.

Capping off an eight-day trip to the Middle East and Africa, secretary of state John Kerry flew into Paris on Monday to see Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and exchange updates on their respective diplomatic efforts.

No word yet on any reactions from the Obama administration to McCain’s attempt to influence its foreign policy decisions.

The EU is also pushing for intervention in Syria. CNN reports:

The EU lifted its arms embargo on Syrian rebels Monday, a move that could level the playing field and alter the course of Syria’s gruesome civil war.

While there are no immediate plans to ship weapons to rebels, the move sends a strong message to Syria’s defiant president: Negotiate or face consequences.

“It was a difficult decision for some countries, but it was necessary and right to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a written statement.

“It was important for Europe to send a clear signal to the Assad regime that it has to negotiate seriously, and that all options remain on the table if it refuses to do so.”

SCOTUS

In domestic news, CNN calls attention to the important rulings that could come from the Supreme Court in June.

Four weeks. Four major legal rulings. What the Supreme Court decides by the end of June could fundamentally change lives and legacies on a range of politically explosive issues.
The justices will meet in at least five public sessions to release opinions in its remaining 30 cases, among them some the most strongly-contested legal and social issues they have confronted in decades:

— Same-sex marriage: A pair of appeals testing whether gays and lesbian couples have a fundamental constitutional right to wed.

— Affirmative action: May race continue to be used as a factor in college admissions, to achieve classroom diversity?

— Voting rights: The future of the Voting Rights Act, and continued federal oversight of elections in states with a past history of discrimination.

— Gene patents: Can “products of nature” like isolated parts of the human genome be held as the exclusive intellectual property of individuals and companies, through government-issued patents?

For more detailed summaries of these cases from CNN, click here.

“It’s almost unimaginable the number of things that the Supreme Court is going to decide that will affect all Americans in the next month,” said Thomas Goldstein, a top Washington attorney and publisher of SCOTUSblog.com.

“What would surprise me this term is if the court upheld use of affirmative action or the (enforcement tool behind the) Voting Rights Act. And I think it would be a big surprise if the court did anything radical when it came to same-sex marriage — either saying there was a constitutional right to it, or rejecting that claim outright and forever. I think that’s something they’re going to try and tread that middle ground path.”

Meanwhile, two Democratic Congressmen, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Keith Ellison of Minnesota are proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would establish a right to vote for every American citizen.

“Most people believe that there already is something in the Constitution that gives people the right to vote, but unfortunately … there is no affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. We have a number of amendments that protect against discrimination in voting, but we don’t have an affirmative right,” Pocan told TPM last week. “Especially in an era … you know, in the last decade especially we’ve just seen a number of these measures to restrict access to voting rights in so many states. … There’s just so many of these that are out there, that it shows the real need that we have.”

The brief amendment would stipulate that “every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.” It would also give Congress “the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

After investigating the issue, Pocan said he and Ellison decided this type of amendment was the best way to combat measures to restrict voting access.

“Essentially, what it would do is it would put the burden on any of these states that try to make laws that are more restrictive that they would have to prove that they’re not disenfranchising a voter. Rather than, currently, where a voter has to prove they’ve somehow been wronged by a state measure,” said Pocan.

Of course that’s pretty much pie in the sky considering how difficult it is to pass a Constitutional amendment and get it approved by three-quarters of state legislatures.

California Senator Barbara Boxer is calling for the Justice Department to investigate whether Southern California Edison

deceived federal regulators about an equipment swap at the San Onofre nuclear power plant that eventually led to a radiation leak, The Associated Press has learned.

The California Democrat obtained a 2004 internal letter written by a senior Southern California Edison executive that she said “leads me to believe that Edison intentionally misled the public and regulators” to avoid a potentially long and costly review of four replacement steam generators before they went into service.

The twin-domed plant between Los Angeles and San Diego hasn’t produced electricity since January 2012, after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusually rapid wear inside hundreds of tubes that carry radioactive water in the nearly new generators….

The letter [to Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which manufactured the generators] goes to a central issue at San Onofre, where Edison is seeking federal permission to restart the Unit 2 reactor and run it at reduced power in an effort to halt tube damage.

The replacement generators were different than the originals — they were far heavier and hundreds of additional tubes were added as part of design changes, for example. Edison installed the equipment in a $670 million overhaul in 2009 and 2010 without an extended NRC review after concluding the new machines met a federal test to qualify as largely the same as the ones they replaced, requiring little or no changes to safety systems or components in the plant.

Just one more reminder that we have potential Fukushima disasters right here in the USA.

pressure-cooker

Police in Michigan are still freaking out over random pressure cookers after the common cooking utensils were used to make two bombs that exploded at the Boston Marathon in April.

Police in Dearborn are trying to understand why a pressure cooker was left in the restroom of the Adoba Hotel, forcing the evacuation of guests until the early morning hours.

The evacuation also canceled Sunday night’s banquet of the University of Muslim Association of America….

The pressure cooker discovered at the hotel was detonated by police as a precaution, but contained no explosives.

Dearborn officers have determined that the pressure cooker had not been converted into any type of explosive device.

Meanwhile a Saudi man, Hussain Al Khawahir, is still in jail after being arrested at the Detroit airport for having a pressure cooker in his luggage–reportedly a gift for his nephew whom he planned to visit in the US. Al Khwahir is scheduled to be in court today.

A lawyer for Hussain Al Khawahir, arrested at Detroit Metro Airport on May 11 after a pressure cooker was found in his baggage, filed a request for release on bond Monday.
Al Khawahir was arrested by federal agents on suspicion of carrying an altered passport and making conflicting statements to Customs and Border Patrol agents about the pressure cooker….

Defense attorney James Howarth in the request for bond claimed Al Khawahir, a 33-year-old citizen of Saudi Arabia, was carrying one valid passport and one expired passport that contained a visa stamp for his entry to the U.S.

He also argued that the two statements Al Khawahir made about the pressure cooker were not much different.

(Read the motion here .)

“The passport that was purportedly ‘altered’ was the expired document,” Howarth wrote.

Zimmerman

We’re getting closer to the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin. From The Orlando Sentinel:

SANFORD – With just two weeks remaining before his trial, George Zimmerman’s attorneys returned to court this morning for what may be his last pre-trial hearing, a session that could turn into a marathon with his attorneys asking for a trial delay and that an especially-damaging state audio expert be banned from testifying.

Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson will be asked to decide a long list of other issues, things that will determine how the trial plays out and what jurors will see and hear.

For example, defense attorney Mark O’Mara has asked that she take jurors to the scene of the shooting, a middle- to working-class gated townhouse community on Sanford’s west side where Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, Feb. 26, 2012.

Zimmerman says he acted in self-defense. His second-degree murder trial is to begin June 10.

Defense attorneys on Tuesday also will ask the judge to keep jurors’ names a secret, something prosecutors are not expected to oppose.

Read more at the link. I guess we’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the coming weeks. I can’t say I’m really looking forward to the publicly expressed racism that is likely to be unleashed during the trial.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Please post your recommended reads in the comment thread, and have a terrific Tuesday!


Time for Governor Goodhair to Go

I’m having a difficult time understanding why Rick Perry is still allowed into the debates.  He’s shown himself to be pretty damned ignorant on a lot of things.  Plus, he shoots his mouth off with gusto.   I think you might remember his comments on Fed Chair Bernanke.  Back in August, he implied that the central banker was guilty of treason and was basically “treacherous”.  He’s also had the “oops” moment when he forget which government agencies he’d eliminate.  Then, there were the giddy moments and the sleepy moments. Rick Perry is what we’d call a horse’s patoot where I come from.

Rick Perry’s antics have just gone international. He has truly earned a top place in the annals of stupidity.

Turkey’s foreign ministry condemned Texas Gov. Rick Perry Tuesday for saying that Turkey was a “country that is being ruled by what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists.”

Perry made the statement during a spirited debated between Republican presidential candidates in South Carolina Monday night.

Most of Turkey was fast asleep during the live broadcast, and Turkish newspapers had already gone to print by the time Perry declared that Turkey had moved “far away from the country I lived in back in the 1970s United States Air Force. That was our ally that worked with us, but today we don’t see that.”

The Texas governor also argued that it was time for Washington to cut foreign aid to Ankara.

A spokesman for Turkey’s foreign ministry fired back Tuesday, accusing Perry of making “baseless and improper claims.”

In a statement e-mailed to CNN, Selcuk Unal said presidential candidates should “be more informed about the world and be more careful their statements.”

Turkey is a member of NATO and as such is our ally. They play a key role in our anti-ballistic missile defense that shields many of our allies from Irani attacks. I just had to love this official Turkish statement.

While the United States recently deployed four Predator drones to Turkey from Iraq to aid Ankara in its fight against the autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels, Turkey does not receive U.S. foreign aid.

The Turkish statement said Turkey’s leaders were “personalities respected not only in the United States, but in our region and in the world and whose opinions are strongly relied on.”

The Turkish statement said Perry’s low standings in polls were proof that the Republicans in the U.S. do not endorse his opinions.

“Figures who are candidates for positions that require responsibility, such as the U.S. presidency, should be more knowledgeable about the world and exert more care with their statement,” the Turkish statement said.

The Turkish ambassador to Washington, Namik Tan, said: “We do hope this episode in last night’s debate leads to a better informed foreign policy discussion among the Republican Party candidates, one where long-standing allies are treated with respect not disdain.”

All he needs to do is announce that he can see Turkey from his front porch and I’d think this was an SNL skit.