Thursday, May 24, 2018

Played For Fools

Early on Tuesday the Boston Globe's Annie Linskey revealed that the President's

staff has become so adept at replicating Trump’s tone that people who follow his feed closely say it is getting harder to discern which tweets were actually crafted by Trump sitting in his bathrobe and watching “Fox & Friends” and which were concocted by his communications team.

Those familiar with the process wouldn’t fess up to which tweets were staff-written. But an algorithm crafted by a writer at The Atlantic to determine real versus staff-written tweets suggested several were not written by the president, despite the unusual use of the language....

While staff members do consciously use poor grammar, they do not intentionally misspell words or names, one person familiar with the process explained.

“Tweets that are proposed are in his voice,” said one of the people. “You want to do it in a way that fits his style.”

In response, Charlie Pierce on Tuesday afternoon wrote

Here’s the thing, Embattled White Working Class Voters. By and large, the people you’re taught to hate have your interests somewhat at heart when they get into government. Forget what kind of coffee they drink, movies they watch, or leafy greens they gobble down with their tofuburgers. Forget all you’ve been told about coastal elites and their condescension. Stop falling for this hooey.

The president* and the people around him think you’re all sub-literate morons to whom broken gorilla English will appeal. They think you love him for his misplaced commas, dangling modifiers, and weird CapiTalization FeTish. They think you will identify with a high-end Manhattan con-man because he talks like you do, and they think you talk like you took an ESL class on Neptune. They think your very real economic anxiety is best expressed in language one small step above grunts, groans, and banging on rocks with heavy sticks.

Was Pierce prescient? Psychic? Or was he simply eloquently observing the obvious? It must have been one, because later that afternoon we learned (at 21:09 of video below)

CBS News’ Lesley Stahl shared a revealing conversation she had with Trump shortly before his first post-election interview on “60 Minutes” back in November 2016.

Stahl, who was speaking at the Deadline Club Awards in Manhattan, told the audience that she and a colleague had met with the then-President-elect at Trump Tower in order to prepare for the interview. At one point Trump started ranting against the press, and Stahl said she took the opportunity to ask him what the point of his attacks were.

“Why do you keep hammering at this?” she recounted to PBS’ Judy Woodruff.

According to Stahl, who was paraphrasing, Trump replied, “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”
According to Stahl, who was paraphrasing, Trump replied, “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”

Suckers. That's what Pierce calls the President's followers, who fall for his every utterance, oblivious to the reality that Trump's every grunt and groan derives from faith- the faith that his supporters are easy marks.

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Hollow Words

Arizona senator Jeff Flake gave the commencement address Wednesday to Harvard Law School graduates.  It was nearly as good as it could have been from a Republican. It also was grotesquely inadequate, like giving 25 cents to a homeless woman who needs $3.25 for the bus. Flake explained

How did we arrive at a moment of such peril, wherein a president of the United States publicly threatens— on Fox & Friends, historians will note — to interfere in the administration of justice, and seems to think that the office confers on him the ability to decide who and what gets investigated, and who and what does not? And just this week, the President — offering an outlandish rationale, ordered an investigation into the investigation of the Russian attack on our electoral process — not to defend the country against further attacks, mind you, but to defend himself. Obviously, ordering investigations is not a legitimate use of presidential power.

That was arguably the best. He said also "I am not so sure that there is much distilled wisdom to be imparted from Washington these days, given what has lately become the tawdriness of my profession."  Similarly, "Article I branch of government, the Congress (that’s me), is utterly supine in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily."

The problem is not Congress or Washington. It is the Republicans in Washington, worshiping Reagan, Trump, and the Holy.... really, only Reagan and Trump, god-like figures never to be questioned. Flake did acknowledge "Republican" once, as in "I am a conservative Republican, a throwback from the days when those words actually meant something, before the collapse of our politics into the rank tribalism we currently endure. That was an important concession, then ruined by

My sounding this alarm against a government that was elected under the Republican banner and that calls itself conservative makes me no less Republican or conservative. And opposing this president and much of what he stands for is not an act of apostasy — it is, rather, an act of fidelity.

Flake has demonstrated his fidelity to the Republican banner and conservatism. However, he has not done so by "sounding this alarm" but by failing to question the legislative initiatives or priorities of the GOP president, hence enabling the latter's authoritarian tendencies, expressed in temperament, statements, and policies. A solid vote for Republican extremism, the Arizona senator nonetheless declares

But I have long believed that the only lasting solutions to the problems before us must involve both sides. Lawmaking should never be an exercise in revenge, because vengeful people are myopic, self-interested, and not fit to lead....

The greatness of our system is that it is designed to be difficult, in order to force compromise. 

As supporters of President Trump, the Republican Party has come down with a severe case of pneumonia. But it was on the verge of pneumonia, with a very bad case of bronchitis, before Donald Trump was elected. It was already contagious but got worse when a Supreme Court seat 

was stolen from Barack Obama, a twice-elected president who fulfilled his constitutional duty more than nine months ago by nominating Merrick Garland, a highly qualified and widely respected federal appellate judge.

It was stolen by top Senate Republicans, who broke with longstanding tradition and refused to consider any nominee Mr. Obama might send them, because they wanted to preserve the court’s conservative majority. The main perpetrators of the theft were Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and Charles Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. But virtually all Republican senators were accomplices; only two supported holding hearings.

Jeff Flake's response to this was to keep his mouth shut about Merrick Garland, then vote to confirm Neal Gorsuch.

Senator Flake's response to an aspiring autocrat has been to vote with him, thereby reinforcing the egomaniac's sense of superiority and dominance. It is also to give a speech including some 166 sentences without even once mentioning the word Trump.

Avoiding assessment of blame, Flake assured the graduates "Our leadership is not good, but it probably can’t get much worse."  He knows better. It can, and it will.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bad Sign

Thirteen months ago, Business Insider's Josh Barro criticized liberals for defending former President Obama's decision to accept a $400,000 speaking fee from investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald. Evidently, it was even worse, given that we soon afterward learned that the 44th President had already been paid $800,000 for having delivered speeches to two other Wall Street firms. 

Still, Barack Obama is no longer in public office and since Hillary Clinton, running for a third Obama term, was defeated in a stunning upset, Democratic losses in backlash to his presidency are diminishing. Consequently, as Barro noted

The concern is not that Obama receiving such a fee will influence Obama's future policy decisions about Wall Street (he won't make any) but that if he goes around collecting such fees, he will make voters more wary of the intentions of future center-left politicians who run in his mold, as happened with Blair. Bernie Sanders' strong appeal in the 2016 primaries, which wasn't limited to far-left voters, shows that many voters are concerned about such matters.

Evidently not enough voters, or  at least not enough voters for Democratic members of Congress to stand firm against Wall Street donors.  Barro's employer reported Tuesday

The House finalized on Tuesday the largest package of Wall Street banking reforms since the financial crisis, rolling back regulations on financial firms, from community banks to credit-reporting agencies.

The legislation — most commonly referred to as the Crapo bill after its author, the Senate banking committee chair Mike Crapo — is the result of more than a year of negotiations among House Republicans, Senate Republicans, and a group of Senate Democrats that support the measure.
The bill passed by a vote of 258 to 159 and will head to President Donald Trump's desk for his signature. He is expected to sign the legislation.
Of course, the bill will be signed by The Great Populist as he continues to kick to the curb his working-class supporters- even if they're not black or Hispanic- in favor of corporate America. Charlie Pierce notes the measure is one
which very likely will neither grow the economy nor protect consumers, but which will offer most of America’s biggest financial institutions relief from the regulations put in place so that those institutions would have a harder time lighting the world on fire next time. This comes at a time when the banking industry is so terribly burdened by regulations that it’s making record profits—and that is small banks as well as the large ones.

The legislation not only passed the House with 33 Democrats in support but with the support of 17 Democrats in the US Senate, including seven from states won by Hillary Clinton. 
These included the two female Senators from New Hampshire,  Shaheen and Hassan. Three other Democratic women, Heitkamp of North Dakota, McCaskill of Missouri, and Stabenow of Michigan, voted aye. They are up for re-election in states won by Trump, as are Indiana's Donnelly, West Virginia's Manchin, Florida's Nelson, and Montana's  Tester, all men who voted in favor of the measure.
Three Democrats facing re-election,  Casey of Pennsylvania, Brown of Ohio, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, voted against the bill. 
Seven to three.  Of ten Democrats in Trump states trying to win re-election to the Senate thisfall, seven voted in favor of loosening regulations on Wall Street, helping to (as Pierce puts it) "free up the Masters of the Universe to do some more damage, for which we once again will have the choice of bailing them out or buying cornflakes with beads and trinkets."
Josh Barro may have been right when he maintained in April 2016 that voters are "concerned about such matters" as the intentions of center-left politicians who "run in the mold" of Barack ObamaHowever, there clearly also are Democratic members of Congress in competitive states  (Florida, Michigan) and Republican states (North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Montana) who believe otherwise. And of course, Republicans  voted nearly in lockstep, with only one (Rep. Jones of North Carolina) voting against this thing.
Or maybe they're simply selling out for donations from Wall Street. In either case, it's telling, as it is that five female Democratic senators voted to please the financial services community. It's fewer than the number of Democratic women- twelve- who voted nay, but it does suggest that even with the growing number of women who will enter Congress next year, utopia is not upon us.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

When "I Am The Law"

Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect was cancelled by ABC in 2001 because its host was, well, politically incorrect, recognizing that the 9/11/01 hijackers were surely not cowardly when they carried out their evil deed which they knew would result in their death.

There is nothing more certain about Maher- other than he won't next week declare his faith in the Trinity- than that he will be politically incorrect.

And he was last Friday when he began his "new rules" comments with "of all the fairy tales we've told ourselves here in America, the one we most need to get rid of is that no one is above the law." "When you don't have to follow the orders of law enforcement- as Trump clearly doesn't- you are above the law," Maher noted.

President Trump believes he is above the law because he believes the President is the law. Maher understands "if your obedience to the law is strictly voluntary or you are compelled by shame, of which he has none, you are above the law." If a particular President can choose to be above the law, the Presidency is above the law.

And once someone is above the law, this is not the "nation of laws" the USA has promoted itself as but a nation of men (and women).  We got an indication of that as on Sunday we learned

 We got a further indication of that Monday when

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement indicating that while Trump may not have gone as far as he could have – agreeing to fold his demand into an existing probe – Rosenstein and the others had acceded at least in part to Trump's order, something some critics were calling inappropriate interference.
"Based on the meeting with the President, the Department of Justice has asked the Inspector General to expand its current investigation to include any irregularities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s or the Department of Justice’s tactics concerning the Trump Campaign. It was also agreed that White House Chief of Staff Kelly will immediately set up a meeting with the FBI, DOJ, and DNI together with Congressional Leaders to review highly classified and other information they have requested," Sanders said in the statement.
Maher believes President Trump will refuse the interview with Special Counsel Meller, who will obtain a subpoena, to which Trump will reply "go fish." (Even HBO has its language standards.) Then even if the Supreme Court tells him to honor the subpoena, Trump will still refuse while attacking the Court "just like he did the FBI and the Justice Department. The Supreme Court will be the new 'deep state' enemy and their rulings will be 'fake news.'"  Trump will refuse to leave the Oval Office and there will be no way to drag him out.
Given at least that a subpoena actually would be for an appearance before a grand jury, this analysis is slightly simplistic and similar to the CliffsNotes version of how the investigation might proceed. However, it is more than conjecture when a president adheres to no principle other than that the Venn diagram of the national interest and his family's financial interest are identical. 
Bill Maher's forecast is less than convincing, but far more than plausible. It signifies, therefore, that in this nation which pundits, politicians, and lawyers of all strips proudly proclaim "a nation of laws," the most powerful individual is not subject to the same law as are its 300 million-plus residents.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Butchers Of Beijing, Dear To Trump's Heart

Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer ZTE violated USA sanctions against Iran and North Korea and is suspected of enabling its phones to help Beijing spy on Americans. Consequently, Director of National Security Dan Coats recommended Americans refrain from using the phones and on May 2 the Pentagon, according to Vox, announced "it will ban the sale of ZTE and Huawei phones from military bases because it regards the products as insecure due to the companies’ relationship to the Chinese government."

The Commerce Department announced sanctions. However, when ZTE announced it would shut down its entire smartphone business, President Trump asserted that he was concerned about the loss of Chinese jobs and had ordered the Commerce Department to help ZTE "to get back into business, fast."

That same week "a state-owned Chinese business came through with hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, some of which will go to facilitate the construction of Trump-branded properties in Indonesia." So on Wednesday, former ethics chief Walter Shaub, who knows a not-coincidence when he sees one, asked what appeared to be a good question:

It's an even better question now that on Sunday, Treasury Department secretary Steve Mnuchin stated that

the Trump administration will hold off from imposing tariffs on China as leaders from both nations try to hammer out agreements on trade.

The administration had earlier threatened $50 billion to $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods as a way to deter the theft of U.S. intellectual property and forced transfers of technology.

One year ago the Associated Press reported

Since last spring, Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang have ensnared tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Muslim Chinese — and even foreign citizens — in mass internment camps. This detention campaign has swept across Xinjiang, a territory half the area of India, leading to what a U.S. commission on China last month said is "the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today"....

The detention program is a hallmark of China's emboldened state security apparatus under the deeply nationalistic, hard-line rule of President Xi Jinping. It is partly rooted in the ancient Chinese belief in transformation through education — taken once before to terrifying extremes during the mass thought reform campaigns of Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader sometimes channeled by Xi.

A few months later, President Trump would recognize Xi's successful power grab and declare "he's now president for life. President for life. And he's great."

Gone, though, are the days when presidential candidate Donald J. Trump would charge China with "ripping us off, folks" and being involved in a "rape of (our) country." Additionally, it was "caught cheating in the Olympics. That's the Chinese M.O. - Lie, Cheat & Steal in all international dealings."

We are to believe that understanding of China is no longer operative. But Donald J.Trump, the expert in rape and cheating, is still here. And it's not too late (without tongue in cheek) to ask him: "are cheating and rape bad things- or good things?"

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Indecent. Intolerant. Inane. Incendiary. Not Racist.

This is journalism.  CNN's Eric Levenson, Paul P. Murphy and Gianluca Mezzofiore report

The man who berated employees and customers for speaking Spanish in a New York City cafe has a history of aggressively confronting strangers on their identity.

Aaron Schlossberg, an attorney in New York, was identified as the man in a Fresh Kitchen in Manhattan who angrily told employees and customers to speak English because "This is America!"

"If they have the balls to come here and live off my money, I pay for their welfare," he says, incorrectly asserting that undocumented immigrants are eligible for federal public benefits. "I pay for their ability to be here. The least they can do ... is speak English."

They referred to Schlossberg's history of aggressively confronting strangers on their identity" and afterward provided context to the charge.  The following, however, is- as the British call it- "rubbish" as Sarah K. Burris of Raw Story writes

The New York attorney who has become known as “Racist lawyer bro” has now been kicked out of his law office by his landlord the New York Daily News reported Thursday. Earlier in the day, he had simply been prevented from entering.

Aaron Schlossberg went on a racist rant in a coffee shop against Latino employees speaking Spanish to other Spanish-speaking customers. The incident was filmed on cell phone cameras as the man threatened to call ICE on the workers, assuming they were undocumented.

Since the video has gone viral, Schlossberg has been mocked and stalked by reporters. Protests took place outside of his office with tacos and a mariachi band. Reporters have been waiting with cameras. Not a welcoming crowd to others sharing the building of Schlossberg’s law office.

“We have terminated his services agreement with us,” said Hayim Grant, the president of Corporate Suites. He also said that he was “completely shocked” by the clip of Schlossberg’s racist rant.

Schlossberg wasn't concerned that the individuals were undocumented. He ignorantly assumed they were illegal immigrants. She may consider them "undocumented"- surely she does- but to him they are "illegal."

But that's not the primary problem. In the space of four paragraphs there are three references to "racist."  In the following, and last, three paragraphs there is one refernce to "racist."

Raw Story, with an unapologetically leftist slant, does not pretend to be The New York Times, CNN, or even the Fresno Bee. Expressing an opinion- or as in this case, assuming- that the rant in question is "racist" is therefore legitimate.

But her opinion is wrong.  Hispanic- or the similar, but different, Latino- is not a race.

This is not a technicality nor even a argument in favor of the contemporary (and somewhat accurate) perspective that race is not a valid construct. It is merely that Hispanics/Latinos are not all of the same color. Raul A. Reyes in the Huffington Post explains

The U.S. Census Bureau defines Hispanic/Latino as referring to “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”

They key words here are regardless of race. In fact, Hispanics can be white, black, Asian, or multiracial. That’s because the term “Hispanic,” like “Latino,” refers to an ethnicity, not a race. And a majority of Hispanics actually self-identify as white. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 53 percent of Hispanics chose “white “ as their race, while 36 percent chose “some other race.”

Journalists, bloggers, New York City lawyers, anyone with an opinion owe something to the truth.  Those CNN journalists, who point out that illegal immigrants are ineligible for most federal public benefits, understand that. Beyond even the hate and bigotry, Aaron Scholossberg does not (or pretends not to).  We shouldn't follow his example.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018


Neal Katyal is a registered Democrat who was co-counsel to Al Gore in Bush v. Gore and Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States under President Barack Obama. However, he evidently actively and enthusiastically supported the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court without indicating that he had active cases pending before the Court.

He has an impressive resume, however, and while serving in the Clinton-era Justice Department in 1999 was the lead author of the rules governing the Special Counsel. Therefore, his opinion is worth considering in light of the claim on Wednesday's "Fox and Friends" by Rudy Giuliani that the latter had spoken to Robert Mueller and

I asked him specifically if they realized or acknowledged they didn’t have the power to indict bother under the justice department memo which gives them their power in essence, confines their power, and under the constitution. And he said we’ll – he wouldn’t answer. And one of his assistants said they acknowledged they had to be bound by justice department policies. And then the next day or the day after they clarified it for Jay Sekulow who was with me at the meeting that they didn’t have the power to indict and that what they’d eventually do is write a memorandum and give it to the deputy attorney general, [Rod] Rosenstein.

On Thursday evening, Katyal told host Ari Melber of MSNBC's "The Beat"

.... a lot of these scholarships and opinions or waiting to say a sitting President can`t be indicted were before the Paula Jones case. And the Supreme Court in Paula Jones case and vowing (ph) Bill Clinton said, you know, the American principle is no one is above the law.

And you know, that was a civil case. And what goes for a civil case, II suspect there will be a pretty good argument, goes even stronger for a criminal case. That a President shouldn`t be able to commit crimes and act with impunity. And there`s a second real problem here. Becausse the whole idea behind, you can`t indict a sitting President, a large part of it comes from the fact that indictments are distracting to the President who is very busy. And you got to carry out their official duties.

You know, courts operate in the real world. And you know, they know for example, that Donald Trump has golfed 53 days out of his 482 days in office, which more than one in ten days. So it`s a little hard to make the kind of distraction arguments that are at the core of Presidents can`t be indicted opinions when you`re talking about this President.

While that makes sense to a layperson, Katyal's remarks on The Beat (video below) on February 20 went more directly to the substance of the law.

Melber noted the opinion issued on October 16, 2000 by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice that "the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would be unconstitutional."  Nonetheless, Katyal stated "the regulations also say that the Special Counsel can seek a departure from the established DOJ policies with the permission of the Acting Attorney General."

Presumably, then, if Mueller wants to pursue an indictment, he can do so with approval of the individual in the Justice Department in charge of the probe. That currently is Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, although only because Attorney General Sessions has recused himself from the case.  It is conceivable that Sessions would "unrecuse" (apologies to English teachers everywhere) himself or that Trump would fire him, in which case he'd probably be replaced by someone who would do the President's bidding.

Additionally, the modern corollary to Mr. Dooley's "the Supreme Court follows the election returns" (bad prediction here) might be "in partisan matters especially, the Supreme Court rules according to political party" and the current Court, on which there are five Republicans, might be tempted to rule in favor of Team Russia. Many TV lawyers and journalists, superficially considering only the 2001 opinion, have assumed that a sitting President cannot be indicted.

Yet, most evidence suggests that there is no constitutional barrier to indicting a sitting President. The dirty little secret is that an indictment always can be obtained, even of a ham sandwich, in this case with the approval of Mueller's superior.  And now that Katyal has weighed in, we know the individual who might know the rules better than anyone believes that an Indictment can be legally, constitutionally obtained and should withstand judicial scrutiny.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Kelly Sadler Validated

Senator John McCain, recuperating from brain surgery at home in Arizona, issued an eloquent statement opposing the nomination of Gina Haspel to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Following that, Kelly Sadler brought upon herself a torrent of outrage when in a cabinet meeting she  quipped "it doesn't matter. He's dying anyway." This included demands that she resign or be fired including from Meghan McCain, who stated "I don't understand what kind of environment you're working in when that would be acceptable and then you can come to work the next day and still have a job and that's all I have to say about it."

The Atlantic's David Frum, accomplished author and even more accomplished Twitter, responded in general:

That was the major reason Sadler wasn't fired. On Thursday afternoon we found out the other reason as

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Gina Haspel as the next CIA director despite opposition from most Democrats and a handful of Republicans who blasted her role in the agency’s enhanced interrogation program.

Lawmakers confirmed her in a 54-45 vote. Six Democrats voted in favor of Haspel including several who face tough re-election races in November: Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bill Nelson of Florida. The other two were Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

Two Republicans voted against Haspel — Jeff Flake of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

This is part of the environment in which it is unnecessary to fire a Kelly Sadler. It is working for a president who mocked tortured POW's, mocked the mothers of slain soldiers, and mocked reporters living with disabilities. It's an environment in which despite hand-wringing from GOP colleagues of Senator McCain, 48 of 50 Republican senators present voted in favor of Gina Haspel.

Kentucky's Rand Paul had announced his opposition to the nominee prior to Sadler's controversial remark. Only one US Senator- Arizona's other, Jeff Flake- may have been sufficiently repulsed as to turn his "yes" into a "no." And this was Jeff Flake, who probably would have cast his vote in favor of Haspel had it been needed.

Ultimately, it is an environment in which a member of the Administration can say "it doesn't matter, he's dying anyway"....  and exactly one week later be proven completely correct.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Donald Trump's FBI Strategy

The unsurprisingly underplayed "Code Name Crossfire Hurricane: The Seret Origins of the Trump Investigation" by the New York Times' Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, and Nichoas Fandos reveals

Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark.

Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald J. Trump’s advisers knew in advance about Russian election meddling. After tense deliberations between Washington and Canberra, top Australian officials broke with diplomatic protocol and allowed the ambassador, Alexander Downer, to sit for an F.B.I. interview to describe his meeting with the campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.

The agents summarized their highly unusual interview and sent word to Washington on Aug. 2, 2016, two days after the investigation was opened. Their report helped provide the foundation for a case that, a year ago Thursday, became the special counsel investigation. But at the time, a small group of F.B.I. officials knew it by its code name: Crossfire Hurricane.

Not only did agents in that case fall back to their typical policy of silence, but interviews with a dozen current and former government officials and a review of documents show that the F.B.I. was even more circumspect in that case than has been previously known. Many of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

Agents considered, then rejected, interviewing key Trump associates, which might have sped up the investigation but risked revealing the existence of the case. Top officials quickly became convinced that they would not solve the case before Election Day, which made them only more hesitant to act. When agents did take bold investigative steps, like interviewing the ambassador, they were shrouded in secrecy.

Fearful of leaks, they kept details from political appointees across the street at the Justice Department. Peter Strzok, a senior F.B.I. agent, explained in a text that Justice Department officials would find it too “tasty” to resist sharing. “I’m not worried about our side,” he wrote.

Yes, yes. That is the same "Peter S." whom President Trump pressed Attorney General Sessions to fire because he was considered disloyal to the Administration.   The efforts of the agency Donald Trump considers his mortal enemy appeared to pay off as

Only about five Justice Department officials knew the full scope of the case, officials said, not the dozen or more who might normally be briefed on a major national security case.

The facts, had they surfaced, might have devastated the Trump campaign: Mr. Trump’s future national security adviser was under investigation, as was his campaign chairman. One adviser appeared to have Russian intelligence contacts. Another was suspected of being a Russian agent himself.

In the Clinton case, Mr. Comey has said he erred on the side of transparency. But in the face of questions from Congress about the Trump campaign, the F.B.I. declined to tip its hand. And when The New York Times tried to assess the state of the investigation in October 2016, law enforcement officials cautioned against drawing any conclusions, resulting in a story that significantly played down the case.

That "transparency" thing doesn't fly, Mr. Comey.  Transparency is (as Comey stated)

In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here. 

Transparency is not (also as he stated)

Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.

Even more clearly, "transparency" is not announcing nine days before the election that the bureau is
reopening investigation into the Clinton emails, only to announce a few days later that there is no there there, once the political damage was done.

That damage probably included turning the election.  Comey's decision to be "transparent" about investigating Hillary Clinton while being opaque about investigation Trump was unjustified with probable horrific consequences yet unseen. Nonetheless, it was understandable because

underpinning both cases was one political calculation: that Mrs. Clinton would win and Mr. Trump would lose. Agents feared being seen as withholding information or going too easy on her. And they worried that any overt actions against Mr. Trump’s campaign would only reinforce his claims that the election was being rigged against him.

It was widely accepted during the campaign that Trump's obsession with claiming the election was "rigged" against him was an effort to deligitimize the expected victory of his opponent. However, we have since learned there was an additional reason: to intimidate law enforcement. If  Comey had indicated there was an active investigation into the Trump campaign- or even that there was insufficient evidence evidence to charge Hillary Clinton with a crime, full stop- Trump would have claimed that as proof the election was rigged.

Trump's protestations also reinforced the assumption that he would lose, thereby reassuring Comey, Strzok and others at the FBI that their tilt toward the Republican and against Clinton would not come back to haunt them.

And so ironically, an investigation which yielded no charges was trumped up by the FBI and the media.  And one which- probably far from over- has now led to five guilty pleas and indictments of seventeen other individuals was shoved into the background, stomped upon, and lit on fire.

Donald Trump might be ignorant, uninformed, or as his tweets indicate, barely literate (actually, no maybe about it).  But he isn't stupid, and he played Jim Comey's FBI to the hilt.

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Absolving Donald Trump

With no apparent sense of irony, on July 31, 2006 candidate Donald J. Trump tweeted

Of course, Hillary Clinton never owned the media or even rented it, and Trump probably confused her with Barack Obama (autumn, 2008) and John McCain (any other time).

Journalist and author John McQuaid notes that the New York Times  "casually drops a kind-of mea culpa for its infamous 10/31/2016 'Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia' story toward the end of a long piece on the early days of the Russia investigation."  Reporters Apuzzo, Goldman, and Fandos (a law firm or brokerage firm?) therein concede

The key fact of the article — that the F.B.I. had opened a broad investigation into possible links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign — was published in the 10th paragraph.

A year and a half later, no public evidence has surfaced connecting Mr. Trump’s advisers to the hacking or linking Mr. Trump himself to the Russian government’s disruptive efforts. But the article’s tone and headline — “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia” — gave an air of finality to an investigation that was just beginning.

"Crooked Hillary" is "a world-class liar," Donald Trump argued in 2016. That claim was made harder to refute when America's premier newspaper, The New York Times, gave the guy making the charge a virtual clean bill of health.

It's a little much to say the media was "owned" by any candidate during campaign 2016, But in this and in other important respects, it was rented by Donald J. Trump.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"New York Is Not Sending Us Its Best People"

On Sunday, Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer/Philadelphia Daily News has written that Trump attorney Michael

Cohen — and by extension, Trump — have managed to place a uniquely American stamp on our presidential corruption, by making the whole thing look like the lost episode of The Sopranos. When the FBI recently raided Cohen’s office, home and hotel room, Cohen — who has a long history of family and personal ties to suspected Russian organized-crime figures — put on a wild-patterned sports jacket that looked off the rack from Martin Scorsese’s prop room, and met his associates outside on the street while paparazzi snapped photos that looked like government surveillance shots. It was reported that — in addition to the big-name clients he did land — Cohen was rebuffed by at least one, Ford Motor Co., and one can only imagine his pitch to the executives in Detroit. “Hey, that’s a nice Explorer you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it.”

That was before (before) the report in the unreliable Daily Mail of London that Donald Trump's fixer

is facing claims he asked a Middle Eastern official for millions of dollars to give to 'Trump family members' in a meeting at Trump Tower weeks after the president's election victory, can reveal.

Cohen is alleged to have asked Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, a former diplomat in charge of a $100bn Qatari investment fund, to send 'millions' through him to Trump family members. A source told that the Qatari said he refused....

The claims of a demand for 'millions' were made by a senior Kuwaiti government source close to Al-Rumaihi.

With merely one source and reported by the Daily Mail, the veracity of the story is  questionable. However, on Friday night's Real Time, Bill Maher identifies members of the President's operations- Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani, Anthony Scaramucci, Steve Mnuchin, and Michael Cohen and maintains "someone from Real America. Citing traditional values of the "heartland," he maintains "someone has to tell me why you like these guys now." Asking "what happened to your  values," he offers

my theory- you didn't like it that the country had been "taken over" by liberals and feminists and elites- whatever. So you were feeling vulnerable and  disrespected. So you brought in some muscle from the East Coast for "protection"- and now you're married to the mob. Because that's what this Administration is- a protection racket....

His being President has been quite a revelation. I always thought he was an egomaniac and a blowhard. But I didn't ralize until this very year that he was a cheap hood all along- a common thug.

"Everything Trump does is modeled on the mob," Maher observed. It worked for him in New York City, and he has moved his act- and his criminal enterprise- down US 95.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2018

And It Matters To Whom?

Burgess Everett and Eliana Johnson of Politico  report

Everything happens for a reason. And sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and made a bad decision,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “She ought to apologize publicly. If it were my administration, and it’s not, I would also apologize on behalf of the administration.”

Monday marked the fifth day that the White House declined to express regrets publicly to McCain and his family after Sadler joked that the Arizona senator’s opposition to CIA director nominee Gina Haspel “doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway.” Sadler has spoken to the McCain family, but has not issued a public apology. Neither have White House press aides; on Monday, spokesman Raj Shah said the matter was being handled “internally.”

Republicans have donned their sad face. Politico Everett/Johnson note

the morbid joke by communications aide Kelly Sadler last week, delivered at a staff meeting and promptly leaked to the press, made them wonder when the administration is going to start treating McCain with more respect.

“Everything happens for a reason. And sometimes the reason is you’re stupid and made a bad decision,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.). “She ought to apologize publicly. If it were my administration, and it’s not, I would also apologize on behalf of the administration.”

No one knows whether a President Kennedy would apologize publicly.

He might be so foolish. However, Donald Trump became President in part because he spoke what some voters had been thinking, and never, ever apologized (except for once, belatedly and half-heartedly, over the Access Hollywood Tape, since reneging).

If everything does happen for a reason, Sadler's statement was made for a reason and was leaked for a reason. The conventional wisdom is that it was leaked by an opponent of hers in the Administration.

While that is likely accurate, there was no danger to the President in the leak being made.

Not only will his popularity not suffer, it likely will rise because of it indirectly.   It prevents the public from being focused on turmoil in the Mideast, selling out American security against the Communist Chinese, and the refusal to fire Scott Pruitt.

And there is no downside.  Sadler's remark, pertaining to the impact of John McCain's opposition to CIA nominee Gina Haspel, would better have been worded it "doesn't matter. He's in Arizona rather than on the Senate floor, anyway."  If it had been, the media could better have determined the validity of Sadler's comment, now that the number of senators expected to change their vote following McCain's eloquent statement opposing Haspel's bid to become C.I.A. director has soared to..... zero.

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Monday, May 14, 2018

Not Only Russia

David Frum is psychic. Three days ago, he observed

Nine days earlier, PC Mag had found

The US government's crackdown on Chinese smartphone makers Huawei and ZTE is intensifying.

The Pentagon has banned the sale of Huawei and ZTE phones in retail stores on US military bases, citing security concerns, The Wall Street Journal reports.

"Huawei and ZTE devices may pose an unacceptable risk to the department's personnel, information and mission," Army Maj. Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesman, told the Journal. "In light of this information, it was not prudent for the department's exchanges to continue selling them."

Members of the military can still buy Huawei and ZTE phones elsewhere, if they so choose, but Eastburn warned them to "be mindful of the security risks," the report notes. Unnamed sources told the newspaper that the Pentagon is worried the devices will allow the Chinese government to track soldiers' locations.

The move comes after the US Commerce Department last month banned US companies from selling components to ZTE for seven years. Meanwhile, that same month, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved a measure that would eliminate a government subsidy for any US telecom carrier that buys from Huawei or ZTE; a second vote will make it official.

Best Buy in March reportedly cut ties with Huawei, following the lead of US carriers like AT&T and Verizon, which decided not to sell the company's Mate 10 Pro due to pressure from the US government.

The campaign against Huawei and ZTE dates back to 2012 when the House Intelligence Committee issued a report warning that the firms might be using their entrance into the U.S. market as a way to spy for the Chinese government – allegations Huawei and ZTE.

Someone forgot to give the President of the USA the memo- which Donald Trump probably wouldn't have read, anyway- for today we read

President Trump says he will help a China-based cellphone manufacturer save jobs after the Commerce Department said it sold U.S. technology to Iran and North Korea and then failed to live up to the terms of a settlement.

It would be difficult to find a more quintessential example of the kind of troubling trade practices that the president has long highlighted, which makes his sudden pivot in the case of ZTE all the more stunning.

ZTE, the world's fourth-largest maker of cellphones, was found in violation of U.S. rules against selling U.S.-originated technology to certain blacklisted countries. After reaching a more than $1 billion settlement with Commerce as reparation for its Iran and North Korea dealings, ZTE then violated the terms of the agreement by failing to fire some employees and reprimand others who were involved in the illicit technology transfers.

Among other things, Commerce imposed a seven-year ban on the company that prevented it from buying parts from U.S. manufacturers.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross last month called ZTE's behavior "egregious" and said it "cannot be ignored."

That president's tweet on Sunday appears to have undone all that. "President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast," Trump tweeted on Sunday. "Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!"

It seems that the "America First" president really meant "America First, After Russia and Mainland China." However, perhaps that order needs to be reversed. From (h/to investigative reporter Scott Stedman) The Moscow Project (Steele dossier):

5. Commenting on the negative media publicity surrounding alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election campaign in support of Trump, Source E said he understood that the Republican candidate and his team were relatively relaxed about this because it deflected media and the Democrats’ attention away from Trump’s business dealings in China and other emerging markets. Unlike in Russia, these were substantial and involved the payment of large bribes and kickbacks which, were they to become public, would be potentially very damaging to their campaign.

Were there merely a blueprint for a Trump Tower Beijing, this would not be so serious. The considerable attention to the possibility that the President of  the United States of America is being blackmailed by Russia probably has acted as somewhat of a brake on the concessions he otherwise would have given the Kremlin. However, there has been little or no consideration of the possibility that mainland China might have the goods on him, also. That could prove even more damaging to national security.

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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Trump Praises His Mother

The first instinct is to consider Nina Golgowski's point in this article in the Huffington Post as picky, trivial, or a distraction from the horrid things said and done by President Trump. But she's also wrong.

Golgowski writes

President Donald Trump praised his late mother as “incredible” in a Mother’s Day video on Sunday but made no mention of his wife, Melania, who’s the mother of his youngest son.

It probably would be picky to point out that it is cruel to refer to one's mother as "incredible," as in "not credible" but ignorance of the English language is the least of Mr. Trump's sins.  The author contrasted Trump's approach to the holiday with that of ex-President Obama, who "expressed his appreciation for his wife, Michelle, and his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson, on Sunday, calling them “remarkable” in a message posted on Twitter" (better adjective, there).

Golgowski notes

First lady Melania Trump has made motherhood her primary role in the White House. Along with caring for the couple’s 12-year-old son, Barron, she is focusing on children through her “Be Best” campaign.

Last week, she reflected on the enormous amount of work that goes into being a mom at an event for military mothers at the White House.

“It takes an incredible amount of strength, a lot of time, a generous amount of patience, and all of our love,” she said. “As moms, we are so incredibly privileged to be able to bring children into this world and be a part of helping them grow into adults.”

Melania Trump may be an excellent mother. I don't know, and neither does Golgowski, and I don't care, other than to hope Barron doesn't turn into his father.

Trump is not wrong in singling out his (late) mother for praise on this day.. The occasion is called "Mothers Day." It is not called "Wives Day" or "Mothers/Wives Day." If we as a people wish to change the day, we can petition legislators to change it. Just as most states have converted Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday into one "Presidents Day," so, too, can the name and purpose of Mothers Day be altered.

For now, however, it is "Mothers Day." Barack Obama and others are free to celebrate their wives on that day while Donald Trump and others may hew to the actual name- "Mothers Day."  And if that choice he and others similarly inclined make upsets greeting card companies or restauranteurs, the Republic will not fall.

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Bottomless Bottom

When Joe Biden responded to Kerry Sadler's remark about John McCain- "it doesn't matter, he's dying anyway," he remarked

People have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration. It happened yesterday. John McCain is a genuine hero — a man of valor whose sacrifices for his country are immeasurable. As he fights for is [sic] life, he deserves better — so much better.

Given this White House’s trail of disrespect toward John and others, this staffer is not the exception to the rule; she is the epitome of it. Our children learn from our example. The lingering question is whose example will it be. I am certain it will be John’s.

I previously acknowledged the "White House's trail of disrespect," though I argued that Sadler's statement should not be elevated to the "epitome" of the crudeness and rudeness of the Administration.

Before becoming President, Donald Trump made dozens of statements far worse than those of his aide- but Biden specified "this Administration," so o.k.

However, when he maintains "people have wondered when decency would hit rock bottom with this administration. It happened yesterday," I have to call- well, you know.

Decency dies by a thousand cuts when the President of the USA continually misleads the American people. Donald Trump is aware that maintenance of his popularity depends on ignorance, and he continually works at spreading it.

During the first two days of this month alone, Donald Trump has tweeted dangerously misleading statements including

So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were “leaked” to the media. No questions on Collusion. Oh, I have a made up, phony crime, Collusion, that never existed, and an investigation begun with illegally leaked classified information. Nice!
"Collusion" is not a crime; "conspiracy may be. The questions were leaked by one of Trump's attorneys (Jay Sekulow), not his critics. And it is not a "witch hunt."

It would seem very hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened! Witch Hunt!
Because obstruction refers to interfering with an investigation, it is not hard to obstruct justice for a crime that never happened, especially if your name is "Donald J. Trump." And it is not a witch hunt.

There was no Collusion (it is a Hoax) and there is no Obstruction of Justice (that is a setup & trap). What there is is Negotiations going on with North Korea over Nuclear War, Negotiations going on with China over Trade Deficits, Negotiations on NAFTA, and much more. Witch Hunt! 
The investigation is not a hoax  Obstruction of justice is not a setup and trap, but rather a criminal offense.  And it is not a witch hunt.

A Rigged System - They don’t want to turn over Documents to Congress. What are they afraid of? Why so much redacting? Why such unequal “justice?” At some point I will have no choice but to use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved!
The Justice Department does not want to turn over documents to Congress because they're part of an ongoing investigation and if they were turned over to Congress, it would be approximately 20 seconds before Devin Nunes grabbed an Uber or Lyft so he could hand them to you.  There is "so much redacting" in part to save the lives of informants. The "powers granted to the presidency" are not equal to the powers granted to Putin, Xi, el-Sissi, and the other autocrats he openly admires.  And the "rigged system" is largely comprised of gerrymandering and extreme voter suppression Trump and his Party have tirelessly pushed.

As everybody is aware, the past Administration has long been asking for three hostages to be released from a North Korean Labor camp, but to no avail. Stay tuned!
It would have been difficult for the Obama Administration to have gotten all three hostages released when two of them were taken on President Trump's watch.

And none of these was the worst- or the most indecent- Trump tweet of the month. That distinction belongs to his Wednesday message that

The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?

This is another of Trump's threats to press freedom and another in a series of hints about what he has in store for a second term, which would go far beyond revoking credentials. At least, however, Trump reveals to the American people his definition of "Fake News," evidently anythng about him which is negative.

If we believe that Kerry Sandler's statement is "rock bottom," we have to believe that what an aide to the President says (and not in public) is more important than what the President himself says (in public). We also must believe that anything someone in this Administration states, via social media or otherwise, represents "rock bottom." To believe that, we would have to believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and Robin Hood- and there surely is no Robin Hood in this crowd.

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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Shiny Object Syndrome

"Given thisWhite House's trail of disrespect toward John and others," Joe Biden wrote in part, "this staffer is not the exception to the rule; she is the epitome of it."

Biden recognizes a "trail of disrespect." Candidate Trump not only ridiculed Lieutenant John McCain's sacrifice- "I prefer people who aren't captured"-  but also Senator McCain, as when he tweeted  "one of the reasons I am no fan of John McCain is that our Vets are being treated so badly by him and the politicians. I will fix VA quickly."

But Kelly Sadler is not the epitome, which is "a typical or ideal example."

Sadler was insensitive toward a dying man, Senator John McCain, at home in Arizona (hopefully) recuperating from brain surgery.  However, it is more helpfully described as a variant of a Gaffe According to (Michael) Kinsley, after the journalist who once famously explained "a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth...."

The aide in the White House communications department is not technically a politician, and "it doesn't matter- he's going to die, anyway" may turn out to be less than prescient. Yet, that would not be because of the critical "it doesn't matter" but because McCain may not be on his deathbed.  However, he recently prepared a recording in which he conceded "I don't know how much longer I'll be here. Maybe I'll have another five years (or) maybe I'll be gone before you hear this (but) I'm prepared for either contingency, or at least I'm getting prepared."

Before Sadler's controversial remark, McCain's son-in-law, Meghan McCain's husband Ben Domenech, had commented "We just appreciate the fact we've had such a good time to be able to spend with him in this moment." He was preparing for the worst.

Righteous indignation does, however, enable the media to ignore the statement's more important portion: "it doesn't matter."

In the explosion of righteousness the past few days, there has been no one (or nearly so) evaluating whether "it doesn't matter" is accurate. Consequently, the media has been able to avoid considering whether Senator McCain's eloquent criticism of the President's nominee for CIA director, Gina Haspel, is likely to have any effect.

We won't know for sure until the final vote is taken in the US Senate and in the unlikely event the nomination is scuttled, at least one Senator states that McCain's opposition was pivotal.  Thus far, though, there is one individual at most who would not have done so without McCain's criticism of Haspel.

The nomination then would be approved, thus placing the imprimatur, against the wishes of a dying man, of the US government upon torture through its endorsement by one of the two major political parties (Rand Paul notwithstanding) That would be difficult for the centrist media because it would undermine its bothsiderism argument, in which Democrats are imagined to be as bad as Republicans.

So Kelly Sadler's remark is no "epitome." Cracks Trump has made about John McCain are more offensive and the one he used to wrap himself around veterans is specifically, brazenly, disingenous. "One of the reasons I am no fan of John McCain is that our Vets are being treated so badly by him and the politicians" suggests inaccurately that the Senator has badly  treated "our Vets." Further, "I will fix the VA" normally does not mean "I will set up the Veterans Administration chief, fire him, and replace him with an alleged drug pusher who will privatize the department for me."

Kelly Sadler made a rude and crude remark. But the boss and his minions in the United States Senate are probably upon the verge of de facto approval of torture, illegal under USA and international law. That would be much worse.

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Played For Fools

Early on Tuesday the Boston Globe's Annie Linskey revealed that the President's staff has become so adept at replicati...