Thursday, July 19, 2018

This Guy Is Good.

We knew Donald J. Trump lies almost as often as a normal person winks. Moreover, we now have been informed by the New York Times' Sanger and Rosenberg

Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.

The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.

At the meeting at Trump Tower, Trump

was briefed that day by John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director; James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence; and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency and the commander of United States Cyber Command....

According to nearly a dozen people who either attended the meeting with the president-elect or were later briefed on it, the four primary intelligence officials described the streams of intelligence that convinced them of Mr. Putin’s role in the election interference.

They included stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee that had been seen in Russian military intelligence networks by the British, Dutch and American intelligence services. Officers of the Russian intelligence agency formerly known as the G.R.U. had plotted with groups like WikiLeaks on how to release the email stash.

And ultimately, several human sources had confirmed Mr. Putin’s own role....

The same Russian groups had been involved in cyberattacks on the State Department and White House unclassified email systems in 2014 and 2015, and in an attack on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They had aggressively fought the N.S.A. against being ejected from the White House system, engaging in what the deputy director of the agency later called “hand-to-hand combat” to dig in.

The pattern of the D.N.C. hacks, and the theft of emails from John D. Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, fit the same pattern.

The disinformation from the election victor began even before he took office. Sanger/Rosenberg note

After the briefings, Mr. Trump issued a statement later that day that sought to spread the blame for the meddling. He said “Russia, China and other countries, outside groups and countries” were launching cyberattacks against American government, businesses and political organizations — including the D.N.C.

Still, Mr. Trump said in his statement, “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.”

There is unintentional humor in the article:

In the run-up to this week’s ducking and weaving, Mr. Trump has done all he can to suggest other possible explanations for the hacks into the American political system. His fear, according to one of his closest aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity, is that any admission of even an unsuccessful Russian attempt to influence the 2016 vote raises questions about the legitimacy of his presidency.

This is not the reason Donald Trump has implicitly denied that Russia interfered with the election. Charlie Pierce argues that it comes down to the business empire:

I don’t know if I buy this entirely, although it seems to be the spin du jour from the anonymous voices inside the West Wing. I don’t think the president* gives a damn about the legitimacy of his presidency. I don’t think he’s given it a second thought. I certainly don’t think he’s afraid of it. He’s grabbing all he can for as long as he can and the Constitution be damned.

He might care about the legitimacy of his victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton. I could believe that—Winning!—but, even if I did, I can’t see that as motive enough to sell out to Putin and Russia as obviously as he has. No, there’s still something in Putin’s whip hand that the president* fears. As always, I think it’s something to do with the Russian money that’s kept his empire afloat, and his reputation as a shrewd businessman from going completely to tatters.

Realistically, it probably is, though we won't know for sure until and unless the tax returns probably possessed by Special Counsel Mueller are released.  Still, refutation of the notion that Trump is worried about the perception of the legitimacy of his election victory is not dependent upon his financial entanglements with Russians.

It may be simply that once voters uniformly recognize that the Kremlin interfered with the election, they will believe that Trump's campaign colluded with the Russian government, though absent hard evidence indicating election results were changed, the election was legitimate.

Moreover, even if the election is widely considered illegitimate, the President is still President, and the election will not be redone. However, if there was conspiracy between the campaign and outside actors, there are serious legal ramifications extending all the way to the White House.

The notion "that any admission of even an unsuccessful Russian attempt to influence the 2016 vote raises questions about the legitimacy of his presidency" is a diversion. It may be, as Pierce suggests, the spin du jour; it may even be the spin de la mite or the spin dela'nnee. Having in general circulation the notion that Trump worries that his election will be viewed as illegitimate is critical to the "the Democrats are trying to take the election away from us" whine.

But aides may even believe that this is Trump's motivation because he may be telling them this, and they may be buying it.   Consider that Sanger/Rosenberg write

Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on Jan. 6, 2017, which his own intelligence leaders have unanimously endorsed.

This may be yet another example of Donald Trump conning the people he speaks with, insofar as intelligence officials left confident not only that the President-elect believed them, but also that he would act accordingly. He is very persuasive- and would be consistently believed were that much of what he says is objectively and undeniable false.

When the video below was aired, few voters believed Donald Trump would be spending most of his weekends playing golf.

Now ignore facts well known and all common sense.  Pretend you're a "make America great again" kind of guy or gal and make of your mind a blank slate. Watch candidate Donald Trump, serious and focused, explain that he has someone investigating the birthplace of Barack H. Obama. In retrospect, it's hard to believe that seven years later he is yet to have produced the super sleuth he claimed to have sent to Hawaii.

The star of "The Apprentice," who spent years playing to an audience convinced that he was a successful, resolute businessman who could fire someone without blinking an eye, is an exceedingly good actor.  Having fooled his old fans and enough others to become President, the actor is now embarked on another difficult- but winnable in the short term- campaign to convince people that his apparent stubborness about Russian election interference has a benign motivation.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Catch Me If You Can

Look carefully at the posted time: July 17, 2018 at 11:00 a.m.

The time is critical because it would have been easy for Amanda Marcotte to write "Donald Trump wants you to know he's getting away with it: Helsinki gloating fits a long pattern" after President Trump's hostage tape seen in the afternoon of July 17.

Marcotte could have left it at recounting events of the past few days in which Trump has been seen "defiantly rubbing our noses in his undeniable support for Vladimir Putin's efforts to undermine democratic states and international peacekeeping efforts."   Instead, she reminds us

"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters," Trump gloated on the campaign trail.

"My whole life I’ve been greedy, greedy, greedy," Trump exalted at another campaign event. "I’ve grabbed all the money I could get."

During a presidential debate, when Hillary Clinton accused Trump of hiding his history of not paying taxes, he sneered, "That makes me smart."

Marcotte noted there are "hundreds of other examples" in which Trump makes little effort to conceal "unethical and criminal behavior" or, as I've noted, an offensive religious perspective.

There was the time in the summer of 2015 that he told Iowa evangelicals “When I drink my little wine … and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed. I think in terms of ‘Let’s go on and let’s make it right.’ ” In the space of two sentences, he succeeded in ridiculing communion and displaying ignorance about sacrament.

At a church in Council Bluffs, Iowa the following January he "dug several bills out of  his pocket when the communion plate was passed." Everyone loses attention from time to time, even at church, arguably especially at church.  But instead of invoking that inoffensive explanation to which most people could relate, the candidate laughed and claimed "I thought it was for offering."  (That must have been some awfully expensive bread.)

Two weeks earlier, he had been asked about forgiveness and replied "I like to be good. I don't like to have to ask for forgiveness. And I am good. I don't do a lot of things that are bad. I try to do nothing that is bad."

Ask the next 100 people at your church- Protestant, Roman Catholic, or Orthodox- about forgiveness and it's unlikely any will respond in the same manner. 

But Trump knew that, just as he knew it was ridiculous to refer to the elements as "little," to suggest communion pertains to forgiveness, or to brag to Christians that he is "good" and doesn't need to ask God for forgiveness.

Still, evangelicals stood by him, even becoming enthusiastic, whether because he hates liberals or abortion rights or because they can't take a hint (several hints).

And then there was Tuesday afternoon, hours after Amanda Marcotte's argument, when Donald J. Trump, an Academy Award-caliber actor, chose to stare uncomfortably at a handwritten statement and haltingly say

So I'll begin by stating that I have full faith and support for America's great intelligence agencies. Always have. And I have felt very strongly that, while Russia's actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying that -- and I've said this many times -- I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also; there's a lot of people out there.

Could be other people also; there's a lot of people out there. Hit by criticism for his support the previous day of Putin over intelligence agencies, he did not say he agreed with the intelligence community's conclusion but merely "accept(s)" it- and there "could be other people also; there's a lot of people out there." 

Easily debunked, the President couldn't have been more obvious had he been holding a sign reading "I'm trying to put one over on you."  Donald Trump is similar to the individual who commits one or a string of horrific crimes and taunts police, daring them to put together the evidence he has left them.  In most cases, the offender is eventually caught but until he is, he harbors a sense of invincibility. Marcotte on Trump:

His feeling of invincibility is backed up by a Republican party that will, indeed, reject any real accountability for Trump no matter what he does. Sure, a few Republican politicians have offered mealy-mouthed expressions of disappointment that the president is openly siding with a man accused of subverting American democracy. Is there any doubt that they will turn around and reward his gloating betrayal by supporting his agenda while refusing to take any actions against him? Their party has sold the country out to American billionaires for so long that selling out to Russian oligarchs isn't really much of a leap, it appears.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

No Easy Way

Soon after conclusion of the Putin-Trump news conference, Charlie Pierce remarked

The fact is that there is only one constitutional method by which this renegade presidency* can be stifled before the November midterm elections—and it needs to be reined in as quickly as possible. The only available option is to have two or three Republican senators announce that, hereafter, they will caucus and vote with the Democratic minority between now and November.

He recommends Tennessee's Bob Corker and Arizona's Jeff Flake, who both have criticized President Trump and not coincidentally announced their retirement, and Nebraska's Ben Sasse, who has slammed Trump but still, acknowledges Pierce, harbors political ambitions. 

Fed up with the weeping and gnashing of teeth, Steve Schmidt has a similar, though vague, suggestion:

No doubt both

Pierce and Schmidt realize that the members of Team Russia  won't do this. Instead, there will be one or two congressional resolutions, one with no enforcement power, probably expressing support for our nation's intelligence services and criticizing Vladimir Putin. If there is another, it would pertain to support for expanded sanctions, which may or may not be enforceable.

Even providing through legislation additional protection for Special Counsel Robert Mueller- in the unlikely event Mitch McConnell would let it proceed- would be ineffectual.  It would be vetoed y the President and as written does not apply to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who always has been most likely to be fired.

Amidst the periodic speculation about who President Trump is likely to have fired- Mueller, Rosenstein, or Attorney General Sessions, comes valuable information given the credibility of the source, investigative reporter Gabriel Sherman.   There may be no one more pro-Trump than Fox News' Sean Hannity, with whom, Sherman notes, the President speaks. Moreover "Hannity has become a de facto chief adviser/strategist/chief of staff. I mean, he recommends ideas, policy ideas,communications ideas to the president." Sherman reveals

just the other day, I was told by someone who had spoken with Hannity that Hannity has been telling the president that the moment that Robert Mueller issues his report to the Justice Department on the obstruction of justice case that ... he's supposed to deliver this summer prior to the midterm elections, that Hannity has been telling the president that that is the moment he needs to fire Robert Mueller and [Rod] Rosenstein, because he can then go to the public and say, "Oh well, this isn't obstruction. I waited till they delivered the report, and now this witch hunt needs to end."

Although once the report is issued, President Trump's support may be in the gutter, waiting till then or until Repub members of Congress grow a spine may be too late. Will Bunch:

But impeachment & conviction of President Trump leads to President Pence, who then probably would pardon Trump.  The more important objective should be to ensure that Robert Mueller, answering to Rod Rosenstein, be allowed to complete his full report. Lay the record out for Congress and the American people to see. That might not come soon enough for Democrats to gain control of the House of Representatives in 2018.  However, it is the path most likely to damage the GOP beyond 2018 and to lead to the removal from office and indictment of Donald J. Trump. 

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Tepid Response(s)

"'Bizarre' and 'shameful'" Republicans lead responses to Trump news conference with Putin," reads the ABC News headline.

The article was posted at 2:53 p.m. Eastern time and in the age of cable news, Facebook, and Twitter, the reporters were able to identify all of seven (7) GOP members of Congress who had anything negative to say. They included senators Ben Sasse, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, and Orrin Hatch, the latter three of whom are retiring and thus have little to fear from the big guy in the White House.

They included also Lindsey Graham and the ailing John McCain who- unlike the others- had the courage to mention the name "Trump." (President Trump proved not only unable, but also unwilling, to stand up to Trump," remarked the Arizona senator.)  Also criticizing the President without mentioning "Trump" was House Speaker Paul Ryan, who wrote

There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world. That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence. The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.

The President cannot "appreciate that Russia is not our ally" when, as Ryan should realize today (if not before), Russia is an ally of the President.

There are several reasons coming out of the Treason Summit to recognize that. Included is the false statement of the purported President of the USA

Even during the tensions of the Cold War, when the world looked much different than it does today, the United States and Russia were able to maintain a strong dialogue. Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago.

Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. The President claimed the same yesterday, although we had Charlie Pierce to remind us of the Cuban Missile Crisis

Additionally, Donald Trump has been ostensibly in charge the last 17 months of that relationship, though he would claim (and already has) that he has dramatically improved relations.

But the response shouldn't come only from a great blogger/journalist and other analysts. We need also to wake up a former President. The night before meeting with Putin, we heard from Trump
The muted response from the Republican Party to the captain of Team Russia is the most damaging to the country. But when President Trump demonstrates little interest in his own country and slams a political enemy (video below from late June), said target needs to speak up. Ask John McCain.


"Art of the Deal" co-author Tony Schwartz, who turned against Trump well before the 2016 election, was asked Sunday how he could have so erroneously predicted that Trump would succumb within a year of becoming president and resign. He stated  “You’re right, I completely missed it. I think I underestimated the enormous attachment he would have to being in that office. I think he likes meeting all of these people and he particularly likes dominating these people.”

One of those people is NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, whom Greg Sargent reports on Thursday

was talking about how NATO members had agreed to boost their contributions to NATO defense costs, as insisted upon by Trump, who claims the United States is getting ripped off. But then Trump demanded Stoltenberg give him credit for it...

After Stoltenberg noted that NATO members had boosted their spending recently, Trump asked: “Why was that?” Stoltenberg took Trump’s cue and said it was “because of your leadership.” Trump then gestured to the press and said, “They won’t write that.” Stoltenberg then supplied Trump with the additional praise he wanted, even claiming that “your message is having an impact.” It was after Stoltenberg extolled the virtues of our alliance that Trump launched into the diatribe about Russia, Germany and energy — and again claimed the United States is being treated unfairly.

What’s remarkable here is Stoltenberg’s active effort to get Trump to take credit for getting his own way at NATO. European officials badly want Trump to do this, because they are hoping it will mollify him. The Post reports that diplomats are worried that Trump’s commitment to the organization might weaken to a crisis point, which would “send the alliance into a tailspin, damaging security by opening the question of whether NATO’s most powerful member is still willing to defend its allies if one were attacked.” On top of that, they fear this will play into the hands of Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump is also set to meet.

And so, to avert this crisis, European officials “would love nothing more than for Trump to take a victory lap and claim credit for them boosting their defense spending,” Jonathan Swan recently reported.

Stop prostrating yourself, Jen.  Donald Trump subsists on being the alpha dog or, as Schwartz observed, "dominating" people.  Capitulation to an authoritarian typically will boomerang. Yglesias adds

The trouble is that Trump won’t even acknowledge what our allies are actually doing in this regard. He keeps claiming that other NATO countries have fallen short of their defense budget commitment, but this is false: In fact, this target is a future one that NATO members agreed upon.

In that context, this exchange with Stoltenberg underscores the point. Stoltenberg gave Trump a big moment for domestic consumption, particularly for his base: The power of Trump’s “America First” message is forcing the Euro-weenie elites to stop fleecing the U.S. and pony up! They’re not laughing at us anymore, dammit! America is respected again! Or as one administration official recently described the Trump Doctrine: “We’re America, b—h!”

Yet the takeaway from the episode has to be that Trump is far from satisfied. But what would satisfy him?

Even granting him Venezuela probably wouldn't mollify him- not even if it were the Sudentenland. That didn't work previously and probably wouldn't now, either.

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Colorblind Police Violence

Black Lives Matter: relax.  President Trump: celebrate.

The introductory page of the website of Black Lives Matter reads

The Black Lives Matter Global Network is a chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes....

We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.

We are working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise.

It's a call to end discrimination, and police violence against, blacks. All others take a number. It's very simple.

So, too, was President Trump when on July 28, 2017 he recommended police brutality to a group of law enforcement officers in Suffolk County, Long Island, NY:

Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody—don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, O.K.?

Trump excels in pandering to a crowd or an individual, but in July 2016 he similarly had tweeted "shooting deaths of police officers up 78% this year. We must restore law and order and protect our great law enforcement officers."

Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter agree on one thing: if brutality is directed against someone not black, it's of little concern (and in Trump's view, unimportant no matter the victim's race). (For an unscientific, possibly staged yet somewhat humorous experiment, see video below.) So you may not have heard

State police went grossly overboard in their pursuit of a marijuana suspect whose body was found under a bulldozer that authorities used to search for him in thick brush, a pot advocacy group said Thursday.

Officials with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws blasted state police for calling in a helicopter and commandeering a Pennsylvania Game Commission bulldozer as they tracked Gregory Longenecker, 51, who'd fled law enforcement on state game lands about 10 miles from his hometown of Reading.

Police said they found 10 marijuana plants at the scene.

"We simply cannot understand how a man is dead over an investigation involving 10 cannabis plants," said Patrick Nightingale, executive director of NORML's Pittsburgh chapter and a former Allegheny County prosecutor. "The whole investigation was ridiculous. I've seen law enforcement take down major heroin traffickers that haven't engaged in this level of aggression."

A man can be killed over an investigation involving 10 cannabis plants because it is now three days later and there has been relatively little coverage by the media. 

We know law enforcement thus far is not covering the matter up because

A state police internal investigation is underway. The unidentified trooper who rode the bulldozer has been placed on administrative duty pending the outcome, said a state police spokesman, Cpl. Adam Reed, who declined further comment.

The chase developed Monday morning after a game commission worker who had been clearing brush spotted a parked car he thought looked suspicious and called local police, who, in turn, contacted state police.

One suspect was arrested by the Bernville police chief, but Longenecker eluded capture.

A state police helicopter spotted him in the underbrush, and the game commission worker, with a trooper aboard, used the bulldozer to blaze a trail in pursuit. The chopper lost sight of him, and the trooper told the worker to stop the machine, according to a state police account. That's when they spotted his body.

This is no minor issue. There is racial bias in law enforcement, about which our President is completely unconcerned and Black Lives Matter is obsessed. There also is overzealous policing which- separated from race- garners little concern.

The executive director of the Lehigh Valley chapter of NORML maintained

"I doubt they were even planning to sell this on the street. If you're a consumer of marijuana, 10 plants is nothing. Ten plants isn't even going to get you through the year." It is, however, enough to get you killed and earn the silence of Black Lives Matter and of the President of the United States of America.

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Saturday, July 14, 2018

When Two Wrongs Would Have Made A Right

Plagued by an unusual degree of probity, Peter Strzok made a very serious mistake, one which probably will harm this nation for years, if not decades, to come.

 That wasn't in Thursday's nine-hour marathon in front of the House Oversight Committee, nor was it in texting a colleague and girlfriend nasty things about the corrupt businessman who would become President of the United States of America. Following the hearing, NBC News reported- nine paragraphs into its article-

Strzok noted that he was one of a very small number of people with knowledge of the fact that the FBI had launched a counterintelligence investigation involving the Trump campaign.

“This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind,” he said.

If it didn't, it should have.  Strzok had the opportunity to blow the whistle on Donald Trump's campaign, to remind the American people that Hillary Clinton wasn't the only major presidential candidate being investigated.

But he didn't. He says he didn't think of doing it, but that probably is a case of modesty, and not one of false modesty or humblebrag.  More likely he did not want to go down the Comey road, violating Justice Department guidelines by informing Congress eleven days before the 2016 presidential election that the inquiry into Hillary Clinton emails was being re-opened.

Two wrongs don't make a right, according to folk wisdom. However, in this case, balance would have been more appropriate than adhering strictly to rules violated by FBI director Comey- not once, but twice.

While announcing there was insufficient cause for criminal charges, James Comey handed Donald Trump a potent campaign issue by judging Hillary Clinton "extremely careless" in her handling of emails. Four months later, he gave the Republican another gift when he advised that a batch of  H. Clinton emails- later found to be ones previously reviewed- had been found on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

Bypassing CNN's Jim Acosta in favor of taking a question from Fox News' John Roberts at a news conference with UK Prime Minister Teresa May on Friday, President Trump remarked “CNN’s fake news, I don’t take questions from CNN. CNN is fake news, I don’t take questions from CNN."

Roberts later issued a statement defending former colleague Kristen Welker of NBC News, as well as CNN against the "blanket condemnation of the network as 'fake news."  However, that was not before Jake Tapper, noting "other networks came to the defense of Fox News WH correspondents during the Obama years," cogently observed “Lesson for the kids out there: no one should ever try to do the right thing with the expectation it will ever be reciprocated.”

It is a lesson FBI agent Peter Strzok, armed with information which probably would have sunk the Trump campaign in a very close campaign, never learned.  Otherwise, we may have been spared election of a far-right, demagogic nationalist determined to tear apart both the nation and the Atlantic Alliance. Ironically, we then would have been spared the rantings and ravings of jackals determined to convince voters (against all evidence) that Strzok actually was trying to impede the election of their hero, Donald J. Trump. 

Guided by remarkable professionalism and integrity in 2016, Peter Strzok's decision not to violate standard procedure may have devastating repercussions for the nation and the world. Or as Jake Tapper surely understands, no good deed goes unpunished.

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This Guy Is Good.

We knew Donald J. Trump lies almost as often as a normal person winks. Moreover, we now have been informed by the New York Times' S...