Thursday Reads: “And Now His Voice Is Everywhere.”

Eastman Johnson (American genre painter, 1824-1906)

Good Morning!!

I’m going to begin today by quoting a NYT newsletter that arrives in my email every day even though I never requested it. This one is from Times columnist Roger Cohen:

You grow numb. You grow weary. I recall discovering a few weeks back that President Trump had lied about two phone calls, one from the president of Mexico and one from the head of the Boy Scouts. The calls, supposedly to congratulate him, did not exist. They never happened. They were pure inventions. Asked if Trump had lied, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said, “I wouldn’t say it was a lie.”

I actually remember shrugging. The shrug was terrifying. This is how autocrats — or would-be autocrats — cement their power. They wear you down with their lies. They distract you. They want you to believe that 2+2=5. They want you to forget that freedom withers when the distinction between truth and falsehood dies. In a dictatorship there is a single font of “truth”: the voice of the dictator. Remember Trump at the Republican National Convention a little over a year ago: “I am your voice.” And now his voice is everywhere.

There’s the scripted Trump voice, which is fake. There’s the unscripted voice, which is genuine. The two tend to alternate; call this the choreography of disorientation. It’s confusing, like having a president who isn’t really a president but instead acts like the leader of a rabble-rousing movement. The Oval Office is a useful prop, no more than that. He’s held eight rallies since becoming president in January. The latest was in Phoenix, where he called the media “very dishonest people.” He led the crowd in a chant of “CNN sucks.” He attacked the “failing New York Times.”

It’s familiar. That familiarity is menacing. It led me to think of my half-repressed shrug at the beginning of this month. Trump has one fundamental talent: a ruthless ability to mess with people’s minds and turn their anger into the engine of his ambition. A dishonest president calls the media that report on his dishonesty dishonest for doing so. This is where we are. This is the danger that Trump represents.

Harold Knight. (English artist, 1874 – 1961) Morning Sun

He said of the Charlottesville violence: “There is blame on both sides.” He equated neo-Nazi bigots with blood on their hands and leftist protesters. For this president, they stand on the same moral place. But when the press reminds him of that, he lashes out. Phoenix was a reminder of that. Don’t shrug.

“And now his voice is everywhere.” That is chilling and of course Orwellian. I never shrug off Trump’s words or deeds, and I suppose that’s why I get so tired. But we must stay conscious and aware of what is happening. Trump is a buffoon, but he still has dedicated followers and he is actively attempting to push the U.S. toward tyranny. He would love to be the American Putin.

And guess who helped put Trump in the White House? Newsweek: Bernie Sanders Voters Helped Trump Win and Here’s Proof.

Bernie Sanders supporters switched their allegiance to Donald Trump in large enough numbers last November to sway the election for the real estate billionaire, according to an analysis of voter data released Tuesday by the blog Political Wire. Since Trump’s shock victory over Hillary Clinton, much discussion has focused on the degree to which passionate Sanders supporters’ refusal to embrace Clinton led to the Republican winding up in the White House.

According to the analysis of the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, fewer than 80 percent of those who voted for Sanders, an independent, in the Democratic primary did the same for Clinton when she faced off against Trump a few months later. What’s more, 12 percent of those who backed Sanders actually cast a vote for Trump….

The impact of those votes was significant. In each of the three states that ultimately swung the election for Trump—Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton was smaller than the number of Sanders voters who gave him their vote.

Francesco Nétti (Italian artist, 1832- 1894)

Please go check it out. It’s an interesting piece. Of course the Hillary-hating media will continue to blame her for everything under the sun, but we know the truth.

CNN broke an important Trump Russia story last night: Exclusive: Top Trump aide’s email draws new scrutiny in Russia inquiry.

Congressional investigators have unearthed an email from a top Trump aide that referenced a previously unreported effort to arrange a meeting last year between Trump campaign officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

The aide, Rick Dearborn, who is now President Donald Trump’s deputy chief of staff, sent a brief email to campaign officials last year relaying information about an individual who was seeking to connect top Trump officials with Putin, the sources said.

The person was only identified in the email as being from “WV,” which one source said was a reference to West Virginia. It’s unclear who the individual is, what he or she was seeking, or whether Dearborn even acted on the request. One source said that the individual was believed to have had political connections in West Virginia, but details about the request and who initiated it remain vague.

Probably Jim Justice, the Governor of West Virginia–the guy who switched parties briefly and then re-registered as a Republican and then appeared at a WV rally with Trump. In 2009 Justice “sold the family’s coal operations in West Virginia to Mechel, a Russian company, and in 2015 bought the operations back for about a penny on the dollar,”

Returning to the CNN story:

Sources said the email occurred in June 2016 around the time of the recently revealed Trump Tower meeting where Russians with Kremlin ties met with the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner as well as then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
While many details around the Dearborn email are unclear, its existence suggests the Russians may have been looking for another entry point into the Trump campaign to see if there were any willing partners as part of their effort to discredit — and ultimately defeat — Hillary Clinton.

Bo von Zweigbergk, 1921. (Swedish painter, 1897 – 1940) Woman in Cafe 1921

Guess who Dearborn worked for before he went to the White House?

Dearborn’s name has not been mentioned much as part of the Russia probe. But he served as then-Sen. Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff, as well as a top policy aide on the campaign. And investigators have questions about whether he played a role in potentially arranging two meetings that occurred between the then-Russia ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, and Sessions, who has downplayed the significance of those encounters.

Dearborn was involved in helping to arrange an April 2016 event at the Mayflower Hotel where Trump delivered a major foreign policy address, sources said. Kislyak attended the event and a reception beforehand, but it’s unclear whether he interacted with Sessions there.

Interesting . . .

Another casualty of the White House purge, according Politico:

W.H. RAPID RESPONSE DIRECTOR IS OUT — ANDY HEMMING left his job on Monday as the White House director of rapid response, according to multiple sources. A source familiar with the move told us it was a “mutually agreed upon” separation, and Hemming now plans to take a vacation (in which golf may play a big part) and then explore future opportunities. Right before his departure, he was profiled by Annie Karni (http://politi.co/2g79s6m) as the staffer the White House pays “$89,000 a year to spot and distribute positive stories from the mainstream media.”

HEMMING WAS SENIOR ADVISER for research at the RNC in the 2016 cycle and director of research on the Trump campaign. At the White House, he worked from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. every weekday and was a regular in reporters’ inboxes, blasting out stories favorable to the administration. Hemming declined to comment. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told us that it was a “[m]utual decision that he could best help promote the president’s agenda on the outside. Andy is smart and very talented and we wish him all the best.”

So who will put those favorable stories on Trump’s desk every day now that Hemming is gone?

I came across an excellent article on Twitter–posted by Republican never-Trumpers. David Roth at The Baffler: The President of Blank Sucking Nullity. The main point of the piece is that Trump’s behavior can be explained by the fact that he’s an asshole. I can’t do it justice with an excerpt, so I hope you’ll go read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

Malcolm T. Liepke American artist, b 1953

 

It is not quite fair to say that Donald Trump lacks core beliefs, but to the extent that we can take apart these beliefs they amount to Give Donald Trump Your Money and Donald Trump Should Really Be on Television More. The only comprehensible throughline to his politics is that everything Trump says is something he’s said previously, with additional very’s and more-and-more’s appended over time; his worldview amounts to the sum of the dumb shit he saw on the cover of the New York Post in 1985, subjected to a few decades of rancid compounding interest and deteriorating mental aptitude. He watches a lot of cable news, but he struggles to follow even stories that have been custom built for people like him—old, uninformed, amorphously if deeply aggrieved.

There’s a reason for this. Trump doesn’t know anything or really believe anything about any topic beyond himself, because he has no interest in any topic beyond himself; his evident cognitive decline and hyperactive laziness and towering monomania ensure that he will never again learn a new thing in his life. He has no friends and no real allies; his inner circle is divided between ostensibly scandalized cynics and theatrically shameless ones, all of whom hold him in low regard and see him as a potential means to their individuated ends. There is no help on the way; his outer orbit is a rotation of replacement-level rage-grandpas and defective, perpetually clammy operators.

Trump now “executes” by way of the The Junior Soprano Method. When he senses that his staff is trying to get him to do one thing, Trump defiantly does the opposite; otherwise he bathes in the commodified reactionary grievance of partisan media, looking for stories about himself. It takes days for his oafish and overmatched handlers to coax him into even a coded and qualified criticism of neo-Nazis, and an instant for him to willfully undo it. Of course he brings more vigor to the latter than the former; he doesn’t really understand why he had to do the first thing, but he innately and deeply understands why he did the second. The first is invariably about someone else—some woman, there was a car accident, like during or maybe after that thing—and therefore, as an asshole, he does not and cannot really care about it. The second is about him and therefore, as an asshole, he really, really does.

To understand Trump is also to understand his appeal as an aspirational brand to the worst people in the United States. What his intransigent admirers like most about him—the thing they aspire to, in their online cosplay sessions and their desperately thirsty performances for a media they loathe and to which they are so helplessly addicted—is his freedom to be unconcerned with anything but himself. This is not because he is rich or brave or astute; it’s because he is an asshole, and so authentically unconcerned.

That’s all I have for you today. What else is happening? What stories are you following?

 

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Thursday Reads: Trump Has Left the U.S. and All Hell is Breaking Loose.

Good Morning!!

I’ve been having another one of those mornings when I’m so shocked that I feel almost paralyzed. I realize now that I was becoming accustomed to the daily jolts of breaking news about Traitor Trump. How much worse can it get? I think it’s going to get a whole hell of a lot worse. Last night a story broke that knocked me back into that overwhelming feeling of unbelief.

Business Insider: House Democrats want to know why a major Russian money-laundering case was abruptly settled.

Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday asking why the Department of Justice settled a major money-laundering case involving a real-estate company owned by the son of a powerful Russian government official whose lawyer met with Donald Trump Jr. last year….

That attorney, Natalia Veselnitskaya, represents the family of Pyotr Katsyv, the former vice governor of the Moscow region, whose son, Denis, owns the real-estate company Prevezon. The DOJ had been investigating whether Prevezon laundered millions of dollars through New York City real estate when the case was unexpectedly settled two days before going to trial in May.

“Last summer, Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected attorney in an attempt to obtain information ‘that would incriminate Hillary,'” the Democrats wrote, citing the emails he published. “Earlier this year, on May 12, 2017, the Department of Justice made an abrupt decision to settle a money laundering case being handled by that same attorney in the Southern District of New York.

“We write with some concern that the two events may be connected — and that the Department may have settled the case at a loss for the United States in order to obscure the underlying facts.”

The case was settled for only $6 million, and here’s how the lawyers for the Russians reacted.

“We reluctantly agreed to accept the government’s offer when it became clear that the fine proposed was no more than we would have spent fully litigating the case, and that no admission of guilt, forfeiture, or continued seizure of any assets was required,” Dillard added. “Essentially, the offer was too good to refuse.”

Sergei Magnitsky

This was a case that Preet Bharara was prosecuting at the time he was fired. I’ve long suspected that when Jeff Sessions fired all of the U.S. Attorneys it was really a cover for the Trump administration’s desired to get rid of Bharara and hush up this case and possibly other investigations of the Trump organization. Foreign Policy reports:

The civil forfeiture case was filed in 2013 by Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York — who was fired by Trump in March. The case alleged that 11 companies were involved in a tax fraud in Russia and then laundered a portion of the $230 million they got into Manhattan real estate.

The forfeiture case was heralded at the time as “a significant step towards uncovering and unwinding a complex money laundering scheme arising from a notorious foreign fraud,” Bharara said. “As alleged, a Russian criminal enterprise sought to launder some of its billions in ill-gotten rubles through the purchase of pricey Manhattan real estate.”

But Instead of proceeding with the trial as scheduled, the Trump Justice Department settled the case two days before it was due to begin. By then, Bharara had already been axed by the president. Bharara’s assistant did not immediately respond to request for comment.in

The case stemmed from the work of Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, who was likely murdered in prison in an effort to hush up the fraud. After Magnitsky’s death, the U.S. Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, which personally sanctioned certain named Russian oligharchs. One of the attorneys in the case is the woman who met with Donald Trump Jr. in June, 2016. Vladimir Putin then retaliated by ending American adoptions of Russian orphans.

Also the attorney representing the Russian companies in the DOJ case, [Natalia] Veselnitskaya, is the same one who organized a meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. and top Trump campaign officials in June 2016 to offer material that could “incriminate” Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “Love it,” responded Trump, Jr. to an intermediary.

Donald J. Trump with the Russian pop singer Emin Agalarov, left, and his father, Aras Agalarov, on the red carpet at the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.

This sets up a very troubling timeline if you combine what was happening with this case and in the Trump Campaign at the same time. That link goes to a NYT timeline of campaign events published last night. A brief excerpt:

At 6:14 p.m. on June 7, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. clicked the send button on an email to confirm a meeting with a woman described as a “Russian government attorney” who would give him “information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.”

Three hours later, his father, Donald J. Trump, claimed victory in the final primary races propelling him to the Republican presidential nomination and a general election contest against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In his victory speech, Mr. Trump promised to deliver a major address detailing Mrs. Clinton’s “corrupt dealings” to give “favorable treatment” to foreign governments, including “the Russians.” ….

The meeting with the Russian lawyer came at a crucial stage in the elder Mr. Trump’s against-the-odds campaign as he pivoted toward taking on Mrs. Clinton, who was widely seen as the front-runner for the presidency. With Mr. Trump’s party still divided, his team was eager for information that could be used against his Democratic opponent, just as any nominee would be at that stage. The difference was that the Kremlin, according to intelligence reports, was eager to play a role in the campaign, and was in the midst of unleashing an operation to damage Mrs. Clinton.

Please read the rest at the NYT. I can’t tie all this together in a blog post, but it all seems very suspicious. A couple other relevant reads:

Josh Rogin at The Washington Post: Inside the link between the Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump dossier. You’ll need to read the whole thing to make the connections. The Trump gang is trying to twist this story in such a way as to blame Democrats.

This week’s revelations about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyerhave shined a new spotlight on a small Washington opposition research firm that worked with her on a legal case for years and then subsequently commissioned a dossier full of salacious allegations of the Russian government’s attempts to collude with the Trump presidential campaign.

The firm, Fusion GPS, will be one subject of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing next week that was planned well before the story broke of Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Fusion GPS says it had no involvement in the meeting although it did work on a lawsuit that involved Veselnitskaya for more than two years. The firm’s work on the Trump dossier was on a different timeline. Nevertheless, Trump’s legal team is already conflating the two issues as part of their defense of the president’s son.

Natalia Veselnitskaya

The Trumpies are suggesting that evil Democrats somehow set up poor, innocent Don Jr. But Fusion GPS was also representing Prevezon, the “holding company” involved in the Russian money laundering case.

Fusion GPS has said that it was working for the law firm BakerHostetler, which was representing Prevezon, a Russian holding company based in Cyprus, in its defense against Justice Department allegations that Prevezon laundered money stolen in the fraud Magnitsky uncovered. Veselnitskaya was Prevezon’s lawyer. Fusion GPS started working on the case in 2013 and the case settled in May with no admission of guilt by Prevezon.

Fusion GPS told me its work on the Prevezon case had nothing to do with the 2016 presidential election and they were not involved in the outreach to the Trump campaign.

“Fusion GPS learned about this meeting from news reports and had no prior knowledge of it,” the company told me in a statement. “Any claim that Fusion GPS arranged or facilitated this meeting in any way is false.”

As a subcontractor for BakerHostetler, Fusion GPS would not have been required to register under FARA. Senators may want to know why BakerHostetler decided that it did not need to register. Neither Veselnitskaya nor Mark Cymrot of Baker Hostetler, who handled the Prevezon case, responded to requests for comment.

Sam Thielman at TPM: Inside The Russian Lawyer’s And An Accused Spy’s ‘Adoption’ Crusade.

…that June 2016 meeting, which the President’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort also attended, served another purpose for the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskya, and her wealthy client Denys Katsyv: It was a stop on a major PR tour against a sanctions bill.Katsyv had retained

Pytor Katsyv

Veselnitskaya had been accused of lobbying U.S. officials on behalf of the foundation before. The foundation had just two registered lobbyists, one of whom, Rinat Akhmetshin, had worked for Russian counterintelligence. And the foundation wasn’t asking for the reinstatement of an adoption program; it was, at least by implication, offering it. The group sought the alteration of a U.S. sanctions program that was about to become law, the Global Magnitsky Act, which was named after a dead Russian whistleblower. The original Magnitsky Act, enacted in 2012, had annoyed Russian President Vladimir Putin so much that he banned American adoptions of Russian children in retaliation; the expanded version had him enraged.

“What’s happening around the time of her meeting with Don, Jr. is the most serious-resourced and aggressive counterattack ever that the Kremlin has mounted on the Magnitsky Act,” one congressional aide told TPM. “They have learned over the years in their attempts to fight and derail this and they have gotten better at it. They’ve involved less ham-handed folks, and less people who might be out of central casting.”

Read the rest at the link. I’m sorry I can’t tie this all together, but I’m sure Bob Mueller is working on it with his dream team of federal prosecutors.

That’s not the only big story that broke last night. The Wall Street Journal was kind enough to leave this one outside the paywall: Russian Officials Overheard Discussing Trump Associates Before Campaign Began.

Investigators are re-examining conversations detected by U.S. intelligence agencies in spring 2015 that captured Russian government officials discussing associates of Donald Trump, according to current and former U.S. officials, a move prompted by revelations that the president’s eldest son met with a Russian lawyer last year.

In some cases, the Russians in the overheard conversations talked about meetings held outside the U.S. involving Russian government officials and Trump business associates or advisers, these people said….

The Devil Incarnate

The 2015 conversations were detected several months before Mr. Trump declared his candidacy for the White House. The conversations have been in investigators’ possession for some time, but officials said the Donald Trump Jr. news this week prompted them to look at them again.

In 2015, intelligence agencies weren’t sure what to make of the surveillance reports, which they viewed as vague and inconclusive, the current and former officials said. But the volume of the mentions of Trump associates by the Russians did have officials asking each other, “What’s going on?” one former official said….

Now, in light of the release of emails Tuesday by the president’s eldest son, describing a 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, investigators are going back to those early reports. They are seeking new leads as they probe whether the Trump campaign colluded in what several U.S. intelligence agencies say was a Russian government-sponsored effort to meddle in the election to benefit Mr. Trump.

Did the collusion between Trump and Russian begin before anyone even knew Trump would run for president?

And what the hell is going on in the Department of Justice. From NPR this morning: Justice Department Defies Court Deadline To Release Sessions’ Contacts With Russians.

In defiance of a court order, the Justice Department is refusing to release part of a security form dealing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ contacts with the Russian government.

On June 12, a judge had ordered the agency to provide the information within 30 days, a deadline that passed on Wednesday.

A recently launched ethics watchdog group called American Oversight filed a Freedom of Information Act request in March for sections of the Standard Form 86 relating to Sessions’ contact “with any official of the Russian government.”

The group then filed a lawsuit in April after it said the government didn’t provide the documents.

“Jeff Sessions is our nation’s top law enforcement officer, and it is shocking one of his first acts after being named Attorney General was to mislead his own agency about a matter of national security,” the group’s executive director, Austin Evers, said in a statement.

He continued: “The court gave DOJ thirty days to produce Attorney General Sessions’s security clearance form, DOJ has already confirmed its contents to the press and Sessions has testified about it to Congress, so there is no good reason to withhold this document from the public.”

The DOJ has now released a heavily redacted document.

I hope this post isn’t too confusing. I’m probably going to spend the rest of the day trying to sort out all this madness.

So . . .what stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Wag The Dog

Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday Lawrence O’Donnell tweeted about what many of us have been thinking:

O’Donnell devoted his show last night discussing the fact that we cannot possibly be sure that Trump didn’t unleash his ineffectual missile strike on a Syrian air base in coordination with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Here is O’Donnell’s epic rant:

 

Are we really supposed to believe that this classic narcissist, who clearly care not a whit for anyone but himself, has suddenly developed a conscience because he saw suffering Syrian children on TV? These are the same Syrian children whom he refuses to let into the U.S. because he fears they will grow up to be terrorists. Come on.

Of course plenty of young white male “journalists” swallowed the charade whole. Even Fareed Zacharia, who is usually quite prescient, plagiarized Van Jones’s pronouncement after Trump’s embarrassing exploitation of the wife of the Navy Seal who died in Trump’s first botched military action in Yemen.

What did Trump’s strike on Syria accomplish? Planes were taking off from the deliberately undamaged runways the next day, and The Washington Post reports today that: Warplanes return to Syrian town devastated by chemical attack.

Residents of the Syrian town devastated by a chemical-weapons attack earlier this week said that warplanes had returned to bomb them Saturday as Turkey described a retaliatory U.S. assault as “cosmetic” unless President Bashar al-Assad is removed from power.

At least 86 people died in Tuesday’s attack on the northwestern town of Khan Sheikhoun, which left hundreds choking, fidgeting or foaming at the mouth.

Eyewitnesses said Saturday that fresh airstrikes on the area — now a virtual ghost town — had killed one woman and wounded several others. Photographs from the site showed a pair of green slippers, abandoned by a blood-spattered doorway.

The U.S. military launched 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield early Friday in the first direct American assault on Assad’s government since that country’s six-year civil war began. Although American officials have predicted that the strikes would result in a major shift of Assad’s calculus, they appear to be symbolic in practice.

Within 24 hours of the American strikes, monitoring groups reported that jets were once again taking off from the bombed Shayrat air base.

The strikes also gave Putin an excuse to cancel a previous deal with the U.S. that the two countries won’t directly engage each others’ forces–recall that Trump has already sent U.S. ground troops into Syria.

From the Associated Press: AP Explains: What is the US/Russia “deconfliction line?”

A U.S.-led coalition has been bombing Islamic State-held territory across Syria, launching 24 strikes on Thursday alone, according to the U.S. military’s Central Command. The coalition includes some 60 countries, with some launching their own strikes into Syria. Russia is waging its own bombing campaign in support of President Bashar Assad’s forces, while the Syrian government has its own air force and air defense systems. That means a lot of aircraft are flying in a small airspace, which raises the danger for pilots. In November 2015, for instance, NATO member Turkey shot down a Russian jet fighter, nearly sparking an international conflagration….

To protect pilots, Moscow and Washington opened a so-called “deconfliction line” after Russia began its bombing campaign in September 2015. On the U.S. side, it is run out of the Combined Air and Space Operations Center at the vast al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which hosts the forward headquarters of U.S. Central Command. There, air traffic controllers and senior military officers are in contact with their Russian counterparts in Syria. They share coordinates and other data to avoid midair collisions or confrontations. One U.S. pilot flying missions over Syria credited his safety to it in a recent Associated Press interview….

On Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike on the Shayrat air base, southeast of Homs, over a chemical weapons attack he blamed on Syria’s government. The U.S. used the “deconfliction line” to warn Russia ahead of time that the strike was coming. In the aftermath of the attack, which Syria said killed at least seven people, Russia announced it would suspend its cooperation in the information-sharing campaign, the first time the line has been severed. Russia still has several dozen warplanes and batteries of air defense missiles at its base near Latakia, Syria.

The article goes on the explain that the U.S. will try to keep negotiating with Russia on this issue. And guess what’s happening next week? The AP, via The Denver Post: Tillerson to visit Moscow as US, Russia face fresh tensions.

Tillerson will make the first visit to Russia by a Trump administration official just days after the U.S. launched cruise missiles against an air base in Syria, where Russia’s military is on the ground propping up its ally, President Bashar Assad. Until Thursday, the U.S. had avoided striking Assad’s forces, largely out of concern about being pulled into a military conflict with Russia.

Tillerson receives the Russian Order of Friendship

Yes, Tillerson, who was awarded the Russian Order of Friendship after inking an oil deal in 2012 with the Russian oil company Rosneft. Yes, the company that was mentioned in the famous Christopher Steele dossier. From Foreign Policy in February:

The dossier claims that a representative from Trump’s presidential campaign, Carter Page, met last July with Igor Sechin, head of the Russian oil monopoly Rosneft and a senior Kremlin official. Sechin reportedly offered brokerage on a 19 percent stake in Rosneft in exchange for lifting sanctions, and Page was “non-committal in response.”

As CEO of Exxon, Tillerson represented a giant corporation that is desperate for the U.S. Sanctions on Russia to be lifted. Of course Tillerson and Trump can’t immediately lift the sanctions. That would be too obvious and would not be accepted by most members of Congress. But perhaps there is a plan.

Remember that meeting in the Seychelles between Betsy DeVos’s brother and huge Trump supporter Erik Prince with a close Putin confidant? From the Washington Post:

The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials.

The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.

Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian.

Prince was an avid supporter of Trump. After the Republican convention, he contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. And Prince was seen in the Trump transition offices in New York in December.

U.S. officials said the FBI has been scrutinizing the Seychelles meeting as part of a broader probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and alleged contacts between associates of Putin and Trump. The FBI declined to comment.

But . . . . according to the Post,

The Seychelles meeting came after separate private discussions in New York involving high-ranking representatives of Trump with both Moscow and the Emirates…

Flynn and Kushner were joined by Bannon for a separate meeting with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who made an undisclosed visit to New York later in December, according to the U.S., European and Arab officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters….

In an unusual breach of protocol, the UAE did not notify the Obama administration in advance of the visit, though officials found out because Zayed’s name appeared on a flight manifest.

Officials said Zayed and his brother, the UAE’s national security adviser, coordinated the Seychelles meeting with Russian government officials with the goal of establishing an unofficial back channel between Trump and Putin.

Could they have been discussing plans for coordination in the Syrian conflict? Could Trump and Putin be planning and escalation of conflicts between U.S. and Russian forces that later could be “resolved” by loosening the U.S. sanctions?

Of course no one is talking about all these “coincidences” anymore, because Trump impressed so many male pundits with his “beautiful” missile display.

The media needs to stop the macho swaggering and get back to the Russia investigation immediately. I don’t know for sure what’s going on here, but there’s enough smoke emanating from the Trump gang to be signaling an eight-alarm fire.

I’m going to wrap this up, because this post is so late, but I want to share one more story. Alex Morris of Rolling Stone weighed in on Trump’s narcissism a few days ago: Trump and the Pathology of Narcissism. Here’s the intro:

At 6:35 a.m. on the morning of March 4th, President Donald Trump did what no U.S. president has ever done: He accused his predecessor of spying on him. He did so over Twitter, providing no evidence and – lest anyone miss the point – doubling down on his accusation in tweets at 6:49, 6:52 and 7:02, the last of which referred to Obama as a “Bad (or sick) guy!” Six weeks into his presidency, these unsubstantiated tweets were just one of many times the sitting president had rashly made claims that were (as we soon learned) categorically untrue, but it was the first time since his inauguration that he had so starkly drawn America’s integrity into the fray. And he had done it not behind closed doors with a swift call to the Department of Justice, but instead over social media in a frenzy of ire and grammatical errors. If one hadn’t been asking the question before, it was hard not to wonder: Is the president mentally ill?

It’s now abundantly clear that Trump’s behavior on the campaign trail was not just a “persona” he used to get elected – that he would not, in fact, turn out to be, as he put it, “the most presidential person ever, other than possibly the great Abe Lincoln, all right?” It took all of 24 hours to show us that the Trump we elected was the Trump we would get when, despite the fact that he was president, that he had won, he spent that first full day in office focused not on the problems facing our country but on the problems facing him: his lackluster inauguration attendance and his inability to win the popular vote.

Since Trump first announced his candidacy, his extreme disagreeableness, his loose relationship with the truth and his trigger-happy attacks on those who threatened his dominance were the worrisome qualities that launched a thousand op-eds calling him “unfit for office,” and led to ubiquitous armchair diagnoses of “crazy.” We had never seen a presidential candidate behave in such a way, and his behavior was so abnormal that one couldn’t help but try to fit it into some sort of rubric that would help us understand. “Crazy” kind of did the trick.

The article summarizes the psychological assessments that have gradually emerged from professionals who were initially hesitant to discuss Trump’s personality because of the so-called “Goldwater Rule.” It’s a long, fascinating read.

What stories are you following today? Please share in the comment thread and have a great weekend!


Thursday Reads: A Baby-Man In Charge

 baby-man-1Good Morning!!

Just one more day before the authoritarian baby-man becomes the “leader” of our once-great nation. It’s obvious that he’s not qualified for the job and he has done very little to prepare himself to do it. He has surrounded himself with other wealthy men who in many cases have no experience in government service. Will we survive this catastrophe? We’ll have to wait and see.

Jonathan Bernstein at Bloomberg yesterday: The Empty Trump Administration.

We’re two days away from having a new president. But we’re apparently a lot longer than that from having a Trump administration with even a minimally functional ability to govern.

Politico’s Michael Crowley has a nice piece explaining the missing National Security Council staffers, and the dangers that could cause if there’s an early crisis. Hundreds of briefing papers have been created by Obama’s NSC and sent to Team Trump, but the New York Times reports that no one knows if they’ve been reviewed.

Yet the NSC is ahead of the curve for this administration. Look at the big four departments. There’s no Trump appointee for any of the top State Department jobs below secretary nominee Rex Tillerson. No Trump appointee for any of the top Department of Defense jobs below retired general James Mattis. Treasury? Same story. Justice? It is one of two departments (along with, bizarrely, Commerce) where Trump has selected a deputy secretary. But no solicitor general, no one at civil rights, no one in the civil division, no one for the national security division.

And the same is true in department after department. Not to mention agencies without anyone at all nominated by the president-elect.

Overall, out of 690 positions requiring Senate confirmation tracked by the Washington Post and Partnership for Public Service, Trump has come up with only 28 people so far.

The Atlantic’s Russell Berman had a good story two weeks ago about how far behind Trump was. Since then? If anything, it’s getting worse — he’s added only two of those 28 since Jan. 5. As Berman reported, the Partnership for Public Service suggested a president should have “100 Senate-confirmed appointees in place on or around Inauguration Day.” At this pace, he won’t have 100 nominees by the end of February, let alone having them confirmed and hard at work.

Please read the rest at Bloomberg View.

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Politico: Distrust and empty desks could stunt Trump’s government.

Just days before he ascends to the presidency, there are lingering questions about whether President-elect Donald Trump’s team is fully prepared to take over the sprawling federal government, according to more than two dozen interviews with Trump and Obama administration officials, lobbyists, experts and others close to the process.

A deep distrust has taken hold between Trump’s transition officials and Obama’s political appointees at a number of federal agencies, slowing down the handover of agency responsibilities on everything from meat inspections to drug pricing. There’s confusion over policy on several major agenda items, as Trump gives conflicting signals and often disagrees with his Cabinet nominees. And a number of federal agencies are far from having the staff they need to run on Day One, people close to the transition say….

“They look like they are designed for chaos,” said Stephen Hess, an expert on transitions at the Brookings Institution. “It’s just, there is no other word for it, weird for those of us who have been involved in government for decades.”

Trump transition officials insist that they are prepared. They say they have written detailed action plans for every major agency, adding they’ve even been charting a path forward at more obscure subagencies and departments. They note that securing the confirmation of their nominees is the most important near-term task and that they will soon announce hundreds of hires.

Much more at the link.

Many of us are apprehensive about tRump having the sole power to order a nuclear strike. But what about the man tRump has chosen (perhaps unknowingly) to maintain and manage the U.S. nuclear arsenal?

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The New York Times: ‘Learning Curve’ as Rick Perry Pursues a Job He Initially Misunderstood.

When President-elect Donald J. Trump offered Rick Perry the job of energy secretary five weeks ago, Mr. Perry gladly accepted, believing he was taking on a role as a global ambassador for the American oil and gas industry that he had long championed in his home state.

In the days after, Mr. Perry, the former Texas governor, discovered that he would be no such thing — that in fact, if confirmed by the Senate, he would become the steward of a vast national security complex he knew almost nothing about, caring for the most fearsome weapons on the planet, the United States’ nuclear arsenal.

Two-thirds of the agency’s annual $30 billion budget is devoted to maintaining, refurbishing and keeping safe the nation’s nuclear stockpile; thwarting nuclear proliferation; cleaning up and rebuilding an aging constellation of nuclear production facilities; and overseeing national laboratories that are considered the crown jewels of government science.

“If you asked him on that first day he said yes, he would have said, ‘I want to be an advocate for energy,’” said Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist who advised Mr. Perry’s 2016 presidential campaign and worked on the Trump transition’s Energy Department team in its early days. “If you asked him now, he’d say, ‘I’m serious about the challenges facing the nuclear complex.’ It’s been a learning curve.”

Unreal. And this is one of the departments presidential candidate Perry said he wanted to eliminate.

Mr. Perry, who once called for the elimination of the Energy Department, will begin the confirmation process Thursday with a hearing before the Senate Energy Committee. If approved by the Senate, he will take over from a secretary, Ernest J. Moniz, who was chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology physics department and directed the linear accelerator at M.I.T.’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science. Before Mr. Moniz, the job belonged to Steven Chu, a physicist who won a Nobel Prize.

For Mr. Moniz, the future of nuclear science has been a lifelong obsession; he spent his early years working at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Mr. Perry studied animal husbandry and led cheers at Texas A&M University.

Mr. Moniz had such deep experience with nuclear weapons that in 2015, President Obama made him a co-negotiator, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, of the Iran nuclear deal.

Mr. Perry would sit atop the men and women making the judgments about whether Iran is complying with that accord. In the basement of the Energy Department’s headquarters, the agency’s intelligence unit monitors compliance, working closely with the C.I.A., the National Security Agency and other intelligence bodies.

That is just plain frightening. According to Politico, Perry now “regrets” calling for the elimination of the Energy Department.

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Journalists and biographers are still trying to figure out what’s going on in tRump’s psyche.

Politico: ‘He Has This Deep Fear That He Is Not a Legitimate President.’ I’d say that fear is very well-founded. The piece is a follow up to a previous one in which Politico talked to tRump’s biographers.

Now, after more than two months of Trump’s norm-shattering transition, we gathered Gwenda Blair, Michael D’Antonio and Tim O’Brien by conference call (Wayne Barrett, the dean of Trump reporters, could not participate because of illness) to assess whether Trump has continued to surprise them. Their collective wisdom? In a word, no.

From his pick of nominees for posts in his cabinet to his belligerent use of Twitter (our conversation was a day before he traded barbs with Congressman John Lewis) to his unwillingness to cut ties with his business to avoid conflicts of interest, they see the same person they’ve always seen—the consummate classroom troublemaker; a vain, insecure bully; and an anti-institutional schemer, as adept at “gaming the system” as he is unashamed. As they look ahead to his inauguration speech in two days, and to his administration beyond, they feel confident predicting that he will run the country much as he has run his company. For himself.

“He’s not going to be that concerned with the actual competent administration of the government,” D’Antonio said. “It’s going to be what he seems to be gaining or losing in public esteem. So almost like a monarch. The figurehead who rallies people and gets credit for things.”

Read the rest at Politico.

One more interesting read from Thomas Edsall at The New York Times: What Does Vladimir Putin See in Donald Trump?

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At noon on Friday, Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. Millions of Americans will rejoice at the sight, and millions more will not. As a rule, foreign leaders don’t attend the inauguration of American presidents, but Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, will be there in spirit. To understand why and to understand what’s happening as Trump takes over the White House, we need to go back two weeks.

On Jan. 6, the C.I.A., the F.B.I. and the National Security Agency asserted with “high confidence” that “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election” formed part of a broader, worldwide agenda “to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order.”

According to the intelligence report, “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” Vladimir Putin

ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.

The intelligence assessment raises the question: what made Trump an attractive vehicle through which to attempt to weaken the liberal democratic order. Why him?

The article is an excellent summary of reporting and opinions on Russia’s successful campaign to elect their own puppet to the U.S. presidency. Now we will have a baby-man in charge. It’s going to get very hairy folks.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy our country’s final day of sane, adult leadership.


Tuesday Reads: Civil Rights Legend vs. Shameless Racist Demagogue? No Contest.

John Lewis marching from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. Martin Luther King and other Civil Rights leaders.

John Lewis (right) marching from Selma to Montgomery with Dr. Martin Luther King and other Civil Rights leaders.

Good Morning!!

As we approach the dark day when tRump will take the oath of office, my feeling of living in an apocalyptic scifi novel grows ever stronger. How can this be happening?

This morning marks day 4 of tRump’s attacks on civil rights hero and member of Congress John Lewis; and over in Russia, Vladimir Putin went on state TV to defend his puppet from American criticism

Bloomberg: Putin Says Doesn’t Believe Trump Met Prostitutes in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he doesn’t believe that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump met with prostitutes in Russia, calling the accusations part of a campaign to undermine the election result.

Unsubstantiated allegations made against Trump are “obvious fabrications,” Putin told reporters in the Kremlin on Tuesday. “People who order fakes of the type now circulating against the U.S. president-elect, who concoct them and use them in a political battle, are worse than prostitutes because they don’t have any moral boundaries at all,” he said.

Putin said that Trump wasn’t a politician when he visited Moscow in the past and Russian officials weren’t aware that he held any political ambitions. It’s “complete nonsense” to believe that Russian security services “chase after every American billionaire,” he said.

The Kremlin has denied that it holds any compromising material on Trump after U.S. intelligence officials informed the president-elect about unsubstantiated reports that Russia had compiled potentially damaging personal information on him….

Trump is “a grown man, and secondly he’s someone who has been involved with beauty contests for many years and has met the most beautiful women in the world,” Putin said. “I find it hard to believe that he rushed to some hotel to meet girls of loose morals, although ours are undoubtedly the best in the world.”c

Well I guess that settle that then . . . not. Does Putin actually think he’s helping tRump or is he trying to undermine his chosen POTUS? Who knows? Can anyone recall a foreign dictator defending an U.S. president-elect before?

20 May 1961, Montgomery, AL, wo battered Freedom Riders, John Lewis (left) and James Zwerg (right) stand together after being attacked and beaten by pro-segregationists in Montgomery, Alabama. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

20 May 1961, Montgomery, AL, two battered Freedom Riders, John Lewis (left) and James Zwerg (right) stand together after being attacked and beaten by pro-segregationists in Montgomery, Alabama. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Putin may be defending tRump, but he has already rejected the president-elect’s offer to remove sanctions on Russia in return for reductions in their nuclear arsenal.  Radio Free Europe reports:

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters at the United Nations in New York on January 16 that Moscow was willing to talk to the United States about nuclear disarmament, but it was not going to discuss arms control as part of a deal to lift sanctions.

“Sanctions are not a subject for dialogue,” Ryabkov said. “We have never discussed any criteria for the listing of sanctions and are not doing it now. All these sanctions were introduced under contrived and illegitimate pretexts.”

Ryabkov said Russia was open to discussion on the subject of curbing nuclear arms, but stressed that Moscow would not make concessions on arms in exchange for the United States lifting sanctions.

“Without dialogue nothing will happen at all, but it would be too naive to think Moscow would change its [defense posture] for that or other reasons,” Ryabkov said.

Meanwhile back in the USA, tRump appears to be the least popular president-elect in history, according to two new polls.

CNN: CNN/ORC Poll: Confidence drops in Trump transition.

Donald Trump will become president Friday with an approval rating of just 40%, according to a new CNN/ORC Poll, the lowest of any recent president and 44 points below that of President Barack Obama, the 44th president.

Following a tumultuous transition period, approval ratings for Trump’s handling of the transition are more than 20 points below those for any of his three most recent predecessors. Obama took the oath in 2009 with an 84% approval rating, 67% approved of Clinton’s transition as of late December 1992 and 61% approved of George W. Bush’s transition just before he took office in January 2001.

Trump’s wobbly handling of the presidential transition has left most Americans with growing doubts that the President-elect will be able to handle the job. About 53% say Trump’s statements and actions since Election Day have made them less confident in his ability to handle the presidency, and the public is split evenly on whether Trump will be a good or poor president (48% on each side).

The President-elect dismissed the poll findings on Twitter: “The same people who did the phony election polls, and were so wrong, are now doing approval rating polls. They are rigged just like before.”

John Lewis, beaten during Selma to Montgomery march.

John Lewis, beaten during Selma to Montgomery march.

The Washington Post: Here’s just how brutal Donald Trump’s pre-inauguration poll numbers are, in context.

Donald Trump will take the oath of office as the most unpopular president in at least four decades, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. Just 40 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Trump right now. A majority — 54 percent — have an unfavorable one.

And that probably undersells just how historically unpopular our new president is right now. The only reason we can’t go back further than four decades is because we simply don’t have the data; polls weren’t as plentiful back then.

The data we do have suggest most every non-Trump president experienced an outpouring of goodwill in the two months between their election and their swearing in. Trump just hasn’t gotten it.

The pre-inauguration favorable numbers for the six presidents to come before him, in fact, were all significantly higher than their share of the popular vote. For Obama, it was 26 points higher (79 percent favorable versus 53 percent of the vote). Every other recent president except Ronald Reagan was at least double-digits higher — as much as 28 points for Jimmy Carter. (Reagan’s was 7 points higher.)

The favorable rating for Trump, meanwhile, is actually six points below his vote share (46 percent).

More results from the poll at the WaPo link above.

Another shot of John Lewis during the Selma to Montgomery march.

Another shot of John Lewis during the Selma to Montgomery march.

The New York Daily News reports that scalpers are losing money on Inauguration tickets.

Donald Trump will take office as one of the most unpopular President-elects in recent history — and even scalpers may feel the pain.

Some flippers, who acquired tickets to Trump’s inauguration with the intent of reselling them on the secondary market, are striking out in their efforts to peddle them and are now looking at some relatively “yuge” losses.

Yossi Rosenberg, 36, of upper Manhattan, told the Daily News he bought a pair of tickets to Friday’s Washington, D.C. event from a woman in Westchester County for $700, thinking he could flip them for at least twice as much.

“Nobody wants to buy them,” Rosenberg told The News. “It looks like I’m stuck with them, I might even have to go.”

As tRump would say, “Sad.”

It’s difficult to see how tRump’s attacks on John Lewis could be helping him. Petula Dvorak at The Washington Post: Where was Donald Trump when John Lewis was fighting for civil rights? Let’s compare.

We can start in 1960, when Trump was 14 and Lewis was 20. They both clearly showed their leadership potential early.

At New York Military Academy in Cornwall, N.Y., Donald Trump won a “neatness and order medal.”

That same year, John Lewis became one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, defying laws that prohibited blacks and whites from sitting next to each other on public transportation, some people then started to use other ways as cars or a scooter to travel different places.

Three years later in 1963, man-of-action Trump led his private school’s white-gloved drill team in the Columbus Day parade in New York. But he was also removed from that drill team command, classmates said, because he hazed younger students.

That same year, Lewis helped organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and spoke alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

In 1965, Trump got his second Vietnam draft deferment as a Fordham University student.

In 1965, on a day that became known as Bloody Sunday, Lewis helped lead 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala. When the marchers stopped to pray, they were tear-gassed and beaten by troopers. Lewis’s skull was fractured.

In 1973, Trump’s actions got him sued by the Department of Justice. He was managing his dad’s properties and wouldn’t rent apartments to African Americans. The Trumps eventually settled the lawsuit without any admission of wrongdoing.

That same year, John Lewis was running the Voter Education Project, which pushed to register minority voters across the country.

John Lewis, with bandaged head sits next to MLK during press briefing.

John Lewis, with bandaged head sits next to MLK during press briefing.

Trump owned the ’80s, right? His actions that decade?

In 1981, Trump bought a 14-story building facing New York City’s Central Park and began a campaign to drive out the rent-stabilized tenants so he could begin gutting and renovating the building. According to lawsuits, Trump cut heat and water to the remaining tenants.

In 1981, John Lewis was elected to the Atlanta City Council.

In 1987, Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal,” became a bestseller. Action? He didn’t even write it; talk about talk talk talk. And his ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, now regrets the picture he painted of Trump in that book.

In 1987, Lewis was elected to Congress.

The truth is that tRump likely had no idea who John Lewis was; and after someone told him he still didn’t feel any shame. Psychopaths don’t feel shame like normal people do.

At The National Memo, Froma Harrop has some good advice for the media: treat him like a toddler. Too bad they probably won’t listen.

Dog trainers have long advised owners against reacting to their pets’ attention-seeking antics — the barking, jumping and pushiness.

“Dog owners often inadvertently reinforce (reward) these behaviors by interacting with the dog,” writes veterinary behaviorist Lisa Radosta. “Any attention can be regarded as a reward, even yelling.”

Similar advice is doled to parents of whining, tantrum-throwing toddlers. Many in the media could use it, as well. All that sputtering over Donald Trump’s personal taunts and stupid tweets is exactly what the president-elect seeks. Turn away. Turn away.

If Trump won’t take questions from serious journalists at a news conference, it’s not a news conference. Reporters are merely playing “straight man” on a reality TV show — complete with paid hecklers and promotions for Trump properties. They don’t have to be there.

Their job is to cover what Trump does, which includes his appointments and ties to foreign adversaries. If Trump publicly insults U.S. or foreign leaders, that’s still news. If he insults newspeople, so what?

Unfortunately, most in the “thin skinned” media will probably be more upset by his attacks on them than by his policies.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread, and have a great Tuesday!


Thursday Reads

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Good Morning!!

Where to begin? Each day since the 2016 election brings with it more insanity, more chaos, more despair. What are we to do with a president-elect who is utterly unqualified for the office as well as shockingly dishonest and seemingly mentally incompetent? We are headed into dangerous waters in a ship with no captain.

Yesterday Donald Trump held his first press conference since last July, and it was a doozy. Dan Balz at The Washington Post: After an aggressive news conference, questions linger about Trump’s readiness.

President-elect Donald Trump’s first news conference in six months was a vintage performance. He was self-assured, aggressive, combative, at times willing to offend and at times trying to sound conciliatory. What it added up to was a reminder of the challenges he will face in gaining and maintaining full public trust once he is sworn in as president.

No president in memory has come to the brink of his inauguration with such a smorgasbord of potential problems and unanswered questions, or with the level of public doubts that exist around his leadership. Though he dealt with the issues directly on Wednesday, what he could not answer — what he cannot answer until he is in the Oval Office — is whether he can avoid having these kinds of questions plague and possibly debilitate his presidency over the next four years.

Trump and his advisers have dismissed much of the pre-inaugural controversy as part of an effort to delegitimize his election victory and undermine his presidency even before he takes office. Still, the questions swirling around him as he came to the lobby of Trump Tower were an unprecedented mixture of the personal, the financial and the substantive.

Has he been compromised by the Russians, the most explosive and newest of allegations? (He denied all as fake news.) Are he and his party in conflict over U.S.-Russia relations? Will he truly separate himself from his sprawling business empire in a way that avoids conflicts of interest? Can he and Congress find common ground on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act? Will he live up to the promises he made as a candidate?

The news conference put on display everything the country has come to recognize in Trump from the presidential campaign….Right from the start, he swung back hard against salacious and unsubstantiated claims of personal misbehavior contained in a document prepared by a former Western intelligence officer and now in the hands of the federal government. He aggressively chastised BuzzFeed for publishing the entire document online and CNN for promoting the story about its existence (though CNN did not publish the document).

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BTW, Trump referred to Buzzfeed as a “failing pile of garbage.” The site is now selling T-shirts and limited edition trash cans bearing Trump’s words.

Think Progress: Trump shouted down CNN’s Jim Acosta as ‘fake news’ then took a question from Breitbart.

One of the stranger moments in Wednesday’s deeply strange Donald Trump press conference came when the president-elect got into a shouting match with CNN’s Jim Acosta, who was trying to ask him a question.

Earlier in the presser — his first one since July — Trump had attacked CNN for disseminating “fake news” because it broke the story that both the sitting president and the president-elect had been briefed on allegations that Russia has “compromising personal and financial information” regarding Trump.

“Since you’re attacking us, can you give us a question?” Acosta asked during a Q&A portion of the presser. Trump replied, “Not you, not you, your organization is terrible.”

“I am not going to give you a question,” the president-elect said. “You are fake news.” ….

Shortly after he successfully shouted down Acosta, Trump took a question from Breitbart News — a website closely associated with the white nationalist “alt-right,” and an avid promulgator of misleading or inaccurate information that supports hard-right beliefs. Trump’s top adviser, Steve Bannon, is the former chairman of Breitbart.

I have to assume there won’t be many more press conferences from this thin-skinned wannabe dictator.

Quite a few reporters who gloatingly published unverified hacked emails from the DNC and John Podesta condemned Buzzfeed for publishing the salacious dossier of supposedly compromising information the Russians may have on Trump. But the prestigious Columbia Journalism Review disagrees: BuzzFeed was right to publish Trump-Russia files.

EARLY TUESDAY EVENING, spurred by a CNN story, BuzzFeed published a 35-page dossier on Donald Trump’s alleged long-term relationship with Russia. The documents contain references to compromising information the Russians purportedly gathered about the president-elect and accusations that Trump’s campaign was in regular contact with Russian officials. Within hours, The Guardian,The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among many others, slammed the digital powerhouse for its decision, while pointing out that they, too, had seen the documents but declined to make them public.

BuzzFeed explained that it was publishing the dossier “so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.” But the Post’s Erik Wemple countered that “Americans can only ‘make up their own minds’ if they build their own intelligence agencies, with a heavy concentration of operatives in Russia and Eastern Europe.” The Guardian, meanwhile, complained that BuzzFeed’s “decision…forced other media outlets to repeat the allegations or ignore a story that lit up the internet.” That writer was quick to note that his paper, too, “had obtained and reviewed the documents in recent weeks but declined to publish because there was no way to independently verify them.”

The media’s full-throated condemnation of BuzzFeed is both self-righteous and self-serving. BuzzFeed noted up front that the documents contained “explosive—but unverified—information,” and Editor in Chief Ben Smith convincingly defended the decision in a staff memo, arguing that the dossier was being read and talked about “at the highest levels of American government and media. It seems to lie behind a set of vague allegations from the Senate Majority [sic] Leader to the director of the FBI and a report that intelligence agencies have delivered to the president and president-elect.”

I think that was supposed to be a reference to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s letter to James Comey in October. CJR argued that Buzzfeed has now made itself a strong candidate to receive future leaks.

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Meanwhile, BBC News reporter Paul Wood says there is more than one source claiming Russia has compromising information on Trump. BBC News: Trump ‘compromising’ claims: How and why did we get here?

I understand the CIA believes it is credible that the Kremlin has such kompromat – or compromising material – on the next US commander in chief. At the same time a joint taskforce, which includes the CIA and the FBI, has been investigating allegations that the Russians may have sent money to Mr Trump’s organisation or his election campaign.

Claims about a Russian blackmail tape were made in one of a series of reports written by a former British intelligence agent, understood to be Christopher Steele.

As a member of MI6, he had been posted to the UK’s embassy in Moscow and now runs a consultancy giving advice on doing business in Russia. He spoke to a number of his old contacts in the FSB, the successor to the KGB, paying some of them for information.

They told him that Mr Trump had been filmed with a group of prostitutes in the presidential suite of Moscow’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. I know this because the Washington political research company that commissioned his report showed it to me during the final week of the election campaign….

And the former MI6 agent is not the only source for the claim about Russian kompromat on the president-elect. Back in August, a retired spy told me he had been informed of its existence by “the head of an East European intelligence agency”.

Later, I used an intermediary to pass some questions to active duty CIA officers dealing with the case file – they would not speak to me directly. I got a message back that there was “more than one tape”, “audio and video”, on “more than one date”, in “more than one place” – in the Ritz-Carlton in Moscow and also in St Petersburg – and that the material was “of a sexual nature”.

Read the rest at the link.

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The other news from the press conference was Trump’s ludicrous plan to deal with his massive conflicts of interest. A good start would be to release his tax returns, but he reiterated yesterday that he’s not going to do that. Instead he had his lawyer make a bizarre presentation that did nothing to deal with the problem.

For this I’m going to turn to Deadspin, a sports website that seemingly is not as fearful of the incoming tin-pot dictator and some mainstream outlets: This Is Why You Don’t Kiss The Ring, by Hamilton Nolan.

Today we saw a “press conference” by our incoming president at which he put forth a farcical plan to allow his own sons to continue running his vast business empire while he is president, and spoke at length about his belief that as president it is impossible for him to have meaningful conflicts of interest, which is why he felt comfortable presenting his decision to turn down a $2 billion business deal with a Middle Eastern real estate mogul as something noble, rather than as an obvious decision that would be made as a matter of course under a normal presidential administration. He dismissed serious reporting that reflected poorly on him as “fake news,” and promised to retaliate against news outlets that displeased him. These things are not normal. These things are not okay. These are actions that flout well-established ethical and civil norms. Admittedly, there is something thrilling about watching him do this. What will he do next? It always keeps us tuning in, in the same way that a violent alcoholic father will always keep his children on his toes. But we should not fool ourselves about what is happening in front of our eyes. We are all coming to realize that our civil society institutions may not be strong enough to protect the flawed but fundamentally solid democracy that we thought we had. We are witnessing the rise to power of a leader who does not care about norms. Since these norms were created to prevent political, social, economic, and cultural disasters, we do not need to wonder how this will end. It will end poorly.

Please go read the whole thing.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of today’s news, but I’m out of space and I’m still very tired from moving. I’ll leave it to you to post your own links in the comment thread below.


Lazy Saturday Reads

This apt visual analogy has been going around Twitter for a couple of days.

This apt visual analogy has been going around Twitter for a couple of days.

Good Morning!!

It’s just under two weeks until President Obama steps down and the Kremlin controls our government. Congressional Republicans are salivating–dreaming of taking away health care from millions of people and finally destroying Medicare and Social Security. They just can’t wait to destroy everything President Obama has accomplished, crash the economy again, and destroy as many jobs as they possibly can–all while claiming they are doing good work.

The New York Times: Erasing Obama, by Timothy Egan.

And Obama? He bequeaths the incoming president “the longest economic expansion and monthly job creation in history,” as my colleague Andrew Ross Sorkin noted. Trump, the pumpkin-haired rooster taking credit for the dawn, has already tried to seize a bit of that achievement as his own. Thanks, Obama. But he’s also likely to screw it up, perhaps by a trade war, or a budget-busting tax cut.

Already, Trump has flirted with treason, flouted conflict-of-interest rules, bullied dissidents and blown off the advice of seasoned public servants. He has yet to hold a news conference since winning the election. And did another day just pass without a word of the promise to “reveal things that other people don’t know” about Russian interference with our election? Maybe he’s waiting for more whispers in his ear from the Kremlin

n advance of his farewell adIdress next week, the president has tried to Trump-proof a climate pact that commits the world’s second leading producer of earth-warming pollutants — the United States — to making this little orb of ours a less perilous place for Sasha’s and Malia’s and Ivanka’s kids. Trump has promised to go rogue on the planet, as quickly as he can.

Until Day 1, Trump is just a 70-year-old man with a twitchy Twitter account. But on Jan. 20, he becomes what Grover Norquist wished for in a pliantly conservative president: “A Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen.”

With that pen, the new president can take health care from 20 million Americans, free Wall Street to once again wildly speculate and smash things up for the rest of us, and require schools to let people carry guns into classrooms — all campaign promises.

Please read the whole thing at the NYT.

Fortunately, the intelligence community has stated conclusively that Vladimir Putin ordered his cyberspies to interfere with the election. At this point, tRump can only be seen as an illegitimate POTUS. Unfortunately, tRump is threatening to neuter the intelligence community. He doesn’t need their help, because he gets his orders from Russia. If you think I’m just joking, look what intelligence expert Malcolm Nance had to say about it.

If that doesn’t scare every sane American, nothing will.

Nance published a book months ago about the Russian attack on our democracy, and it’s very similar to the report the intelligence community just issued. It’s fascinating reading, with lots of historical background on Russia’s spying activities.

This is from an ad at Yahoo News, but it’s a good summary of the book: Malcolm Nance, US intelligence expert, delivered Russian hacking details months before the CIA’s report.

In The Plot to Hack America, published one month before the election, New York Times bestselling author and MSNBC contributor Malcolm Nance not only identifies the hackers as Russian but digs deep into the biggest political scandal since Watergate.

In April of 2016, computer technicians at the Democratic National Committee discovered that someone had accessed the organization’s computer servers. In the days and weeks that followed, they learned that the cyberthieves had helped themselves to everything: sensitive documents, emails, donor information, even voicemails. Nance’s investigations led him to none other than Russia’s spy service. Their method: A new hybrid cyber warfare called Kompromat.

In The Plot to Hack America, we learn how technicians discovered that Russia’s spy agency was responsible for the hack, how the Russians have devastated individuals, political groups, and entire nations with their cybercrimes, and how they may have cultivated Donald Trump as an unwitting “asset” to facilitate their ultimate foreign policy goals: disband NATO, dominate Eastern Europe, and replace America as the world’s superpower.

But why would Vladimir Putin want to tip the scales of an American election? Nance follows the fascinating real-life spy story through a labyrinth of cyber espionage, the history of Russia’s spy services, and Vladimir Putin’s rise through the KGB from junior officer to spy-in-chief. And he details Donald Trump’s many disturbing personal associations with Putin and Russia’s oligarchy, as well as Trump’s loose affiliation of advisors nicknamed “the Kremlin Crew.”

The Plot to Hack America reads like a spy thriller, but it’s all too real.

I highly recommend it.

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Fortunately, the intelligence community has stated conclusively that Vladimir Putin ordered his cyberspies to interfere with the election. Unfortunately tRump is threatening to neuter the intelligence community. He doesn’t need their help, because he gets his orders from Russia. If you think I’m just joking, look what intelligence expert Malcolm Nance had to say about it.

Now check this out from WaPo conservative columnist Kathleen Parker: If Obama is a Muslim, is Trump a Russian spy?

No, I don’t really think he’s a spy because, unlike the man himself, I’m not given to crazy ideas. But what’s with this double standard? Under similar circumstances, how long do you think it would have taken for Obama to be called a traitor for defending a country that tried to thwart our democratic electoral process?

Seconds.

How surreal to realize that the man who soon will become president was long committed to a rumor soaked in paranoia and propagated by conspiracy theorists whose pursuit of truth stops at the point where facts and willful ignorance collide.

How perfectly terrifying.

And now? What is so obviously a conspiracy of Russian leadership, hackers and spies, Trump has repeatedly dismissed as lousy intelligence. Why would he do such a thing? Is it that he’s so thin-skinned he can’t tolerate anyone thinking that he might have benefited from the cyberattack? Or is it that he knew about it in advance and doesn’t want to be found out? This is how conspiracy theories get started. Then again, sometimes a conspiracy is just a conspiracy — and a fool is just a fool.

Actually, there’s little doubt that tRump is at least an unwitting tool of Putin; and if you look at his top advisers and cabinet choices, it seems quite likely that there was collusion between Russian spies and the tRump campaign.

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David Remnick: Trump, Putin and the Big Hack.

Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin’s foreign minister, once remarked while on a trip to Berlin in the early days of the Cold War, “The trouble with free elections is that you never know how they will turn out.”

On the morning of November 9th, Molotov’s grandson, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a member of the Russian Duma’s foreign-affairs committee, announced to the parliament, “Three minutes ago, Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the American Presidential elections. And just this second Donald Trump began his speech as President-elect.” The Duma members cheered and applauded.

In the days to come, there were more declarations of acid satisfaction among the Russian élite. Dmitri Kiselyov, the host of “News of the Week,” a popular current-affairs show on state-controlled television, gloated over Trump’s victory and Barack Obama’s inability to prevent it. Obama, he said, was a “eunuch.” Trump was an “alpha male”—and one who showed mercy to his vanquished rival. “Trump could have put the blonde in prison, as he’d threatened in the televised debates,” Kiselyov said on his show. “On the other hand, it’s nothing new. Trump has left blond women satisfied all his life.” Kiselyov further praised Trump because the concepts of democracy and human rights “are not in his lexicon.” In India, Turkey, Europe, and now the United States, he declared, “the liberal idea is in ruins.”

Vladimir Putin did not showboat, but he, too, made his satisfaction plain. His spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, told reporters that the similarity between Trump and Putin’s “conceptual approach to foreign policy” was “phenomenal.” Trump’s victory was the basis for Russia’s “moderate optimism”; now both sides could discuss how “to clear out the Augean stables in our bilateral relations.”

All of this is all the more alarming to recall now, in the light of the latest news: according to U.S. intelligence reports, Putin “ordered an influence campaign” to undermine Clinton and work with “a clear preference” to enhance Trump’s prospects.

Read the rest at The New Yorker.

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Finally, Former CIA Director Michael Morell at The New York Times: Trump’s Dangerous Anti-C.I.A. Crusade.

WHEN I wrote in August 2016, in this newspaper, that Donald J. Trump’s character traits posed a national security threat, I didn’t imagine that the first manifestation of that dynamic could play out with the very organization where I spent the first 33 years of my career, the Central Intelligence Agency.

President-elect Trump’s public rejection of the C.I.A., and by extension the rest of the country’s intelligence community, over the assessment that Russia interfered in our presidential election is not only an unprecedented political challenge for our national security establishment — it is a danger to the nation.

While Mr. Trump’s statement on Friday that he had a constructive meeting with senior intelligence officials on the Russian hacking issue was a step in the right direction, his disparagement of American intelligence officers over the last few months is likely to cause significant damage to the C.I.A.

Mr. Trump has questioned the agency’s competence — repeatedly asking, often via Twitter, how we can trust the organization that incorrectly judged that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (criticism that, in my mind, is unfair for an agency that has changed dramatically in the last 15 years). But he has also accused the agency of being biased and political, implying, in comments to The Times, that the C.I.A. manufactured its Russia analysis to undercut him. Mr. Trump, in essence, said that the agency’s officers were dishonorable. To the men and women of the C.I.A., sworn to protect the nation, this was a gut punch.

Mr. Trump’s behavior will weaken the agency, an organization that has never been more relevant to our nation’s security. The key national security issues of the day — terrorism; proliferation; cyberespionage, crime and war; and the challenges to the global order posed by Russia, Iran and China — all require first-rate intelligence for a commander in chief to understand them, settle on a policy and carry it out.

Please read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

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More News, Links Only

NBC News: U.S. Ethics Office Struggled to Gain Access to Trump Team, Emails Show.

Joe Conason: Investigate The Hackers — And Ignore Trump’s Chaff.

Newsweek: JORDAN TELLS TRUMP: MOVING U.S. EMBASSY TO JERUSALEM A ‘RED LINE.’

Washington Post: Hill Republicans embrace building of border wall, despite cost.

NewJersey.com: N.J. aunt of Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting suspect: ‘He lost his mind’ in Iraq.

New York Times: Jared Kushner, a Trump In-Law and Adviser, Chases a Chinese Deal.

Now I have to get back to packing for my move. Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers!