Thursday, May 25, 2017

Trump Incidents lead to Frightening Conclusion

by Tom Maertens

Less than four months into Donald Trump’s administration, a special counsel has been appointed to investigate whether the president colluded with Russia’s interference in the US election.

All 17 US intelligence agencies agree that Putin intervened to help Donald Trump get elected. The issue is whether Trump campaign officials committed crimes by cooperating with Russia.

Robert Mueller, the former FBI Director, will conduct the first investigation ever of a president and his staff suspected of colluding with a hostile foreign power, a charge that former Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz termed “the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president of the United States." House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy was recorded saying that even he believed that Putin was paying off Trump.

Among those suspected of colluding was Trump’s national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign over his Russia ties — one of five Trump campaign officials who lied about their Russia contacts.

Trump admitted to Lester Holt that he fired FBI Director James Comey over his refusal to stop the investigation of Flynn. Comey made a record of their conversation, which confirmed Trump’s attempt to impede the investigation.

Laurence Tribe, professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, has written that the Lester Holt interview is the Nixon tapes and the “18-minute gap” on steroids: that there is enough right there to start drafting several Articles of Impeachment. Tribe concluded that Trump’s interview itself constituted a series of high crimes and misdemeanors, in other words, an impeachable offense. It was subsequently revealed that Trump also attempted to use the director of national intelligence and the NSA director to refute Comey’s statement.

Trump compromised both the House and Senate Intelligence Committee investigations by enlisting their Republican Chairmen, Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), to rebut press stories about Russian interference. Earlier, he fired Preet Bahara and Sally Yates who were also conducting investigations into Russian interference.

Subsequently, Trump revealed top secret information to the Russian foreign minister, which threatened another country’s sensitive source, in violation of one of the more that 100 intelligence exchange agreements we have.

This is not Trump’s only problem. Sources within the White House report that Trump is displaying a noticeable mental decline, according to several national outlets including NPR and MSNBC. The New York Times reported from two advisers that Trump’s mood has become sour and dark, and he has turned against most of his aides — even his son-in-law, Jared Kushner — describing them in a fury as “incompetent.” We have seen him lash out at foes, his repeated lying, including contradicting or denying past claims, and his peddling of conspiracy theories, including about Obama.

Trump recently complained that he has been treated more unfairly than anybody in history, giving credence to a comment from a White House source quoted in the Washington Post who questioned whether Trump was “in the grip of some kind of paranoid delusion.’”

David Roberts in VOX suggested that “Trump is a hopeless narcissist with the attention span of a fruit fly, unable to maintain consistent beliefs or commitments from moment to moment, acting on base instinct, entirely situationally, to bolster his terrifyingly fragile ego.”

Others have cited symptoms of cognitive decline in Donald Trump's forgetfulness and use of filler words (“believe me") and non-specific nouns (like "thing" – over 100 times in a single press conference) his discomfort in reading, strange rants with limited and repetitive vocabulary or disjointed speech, and his short attention span. Some of his interviews, as with David Muir of ABC, have been almost incomprehensible word salads. He has demonstrated mood swings and irritability, as cited above, and lack of restraint. He can’t remember his own statements or what he told his staff to say, and ends up undermining them, as he did with the Comey firing. Some of Trump’s senior advisers reportedly fear leaving him alone in meetings with foreign leaders out of concern he might speak out of turn, according to the New York Times.

A petition at now has signatures from 55,000 mental health professionals who have declared that Trump is mentally ill and should be removed from office under the 25th amendment. They have cited an ethical “duty to warn” about Trump’s dangerous instability as reason to ignore the so-called “Goldwater Rule” of the American Psychiatric Association which calls for a physical exam before making a diagnosis.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote recently, “We can’t maintain the pretense that Trump is a sane and balanced adult, however much we’d like to.”

Also published in the Mankato Free Press.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Did Russians Target Democratic Voters, With Kushner’s Help?

By Kate Brannen On 5/23/17 at 6:40 AM, Newsweek

This article first appeared on the Just Security site.

In many respects, we’re all in the dark when it comes to the ongoing Russia investigations.

Behind closed doors, what are congressional and FBI investigators learning?

What new leads are being chased?

Who in Donald Trump’s orbit is under the microscope?

If there was “coordination” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, what form did that take?

While so much remains unanswered, the public has received several clues. We know, for example, that President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is being investigated, as is Trump’s former campaign aide and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Last week, new reporting shined a light on one focus of the congressional investigation: determining how the Russians knew which voters to target with their disinformation campaign. A report from TIME’s Massimo Calabresi on Thursday provided new details:
As they dig into the viralizing of such stories, congressional investigations are probing not just Russia’s role but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign. Sources familiar with the investigations say they are probing two Trump-linked organizations: Cambridge Analytica … and Breitbart News.
(More here.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

The case for impeaching Trump — and fast

This is the exact situation impeachment was meant for. Let's hurry up.

Updated by Matthew Yglesias @mattyglesias May 22, 2017, 8:30am EDT

Impeachment of an American president is a weighty measure that’s only been used a handful of times in our history. And on two of those occasions, the judgment of history has come down against the impeachers.

Andrew Johnson was an awful president, but the move by Radical Republicans in Congress to remove him from office reeked from top to bottom of an effort to resolve a policy dispute by ginning up a legal one — passing a law to bar Johnson from firing Cabinet secretaries and them impeaching him for breaking it. Bill Clinton’s impeachment, if anything, suffered from the opposite problem. The charges against him, even if you believed them, simply seemed to have too little to do with the duties and responsibilities of his high office. Republicans had hoped a sex scandal would damage Clinton’s approval ratings, it didn’t really, and then they went berserk.

The exception that proves the rule is Richard Nixon, whose misdeeds were legitimately “high crimes.” Nixon also went down at a period in American history when the ideological polarization of the parties was low — some of his staunchest policy allies were conservative Southern Democrats, while some liberal Republicans were sharp critics of his administration. His downfall represents a kind of founding myth of modern American civic culture, complete with a Robert Redford movie that reserves a key heroic role for conservative icon Barry Goldwater.

The question that faces Congress today is whether the Trump case is more like Nixon or closer to Clinton or Johnson. And the answer is that it’s a highly Nixonian situation. Donald Trump is charged with misconduct that is serious and directly relevant to his public office but that isn’t simply a reiteration of longstanding ideological disagreements in American life.

The impeachment tool is somewhat clumsy and rarely used, in part because of how clumsy it is. It’s not so much that presidential misconduct is rare as that replacing the incumbent president of the United States with his hand-picked vice president is rarely a reasonable remedy for anything controversial and significant. But it’s ideally suited to the particular moment in which the country now finds itself. Democrats have enormous disagreements with Mike Pence, but those disagreements are fundamentally unrelated to the core of Trump’s obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and financial conflicts of interest — for now, at least.

(More here.)

Trump, rattled by probes, seeks boost in foreign trip

While the trip may lift Trump’s spirits, it remains unclear whether the highly choreographed diplomatic excursion can do the same for a presidency facing investigations at home.

By Josh Dawsey,
05/22/2017 05:05 AM EDT

President Donald Trump seemed rattled before he left Washington Friday afternoon, two people who spoke with him last week said, as he wondered aloud how much investigations into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election might damage his presidency.

One adviser said Trump said in a conversation last week that he felt that "there are a lot of people out to get him," musing that he should not have attacked the intelligence community so vociferously. An administration official who spoke to the president said he "seemed down more than angry," even though Trump defiantly tweeted that he was facing a “witch hunt.”

When Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia for his first foreign trip as president, his mood appeared to be looking up. He praised his accommodations, was offered his favorite delicacy – steak with ketchup – was draped in a gold medallion while receiving the country’s highest honor, and danced amid sword performers at a gala.

"You are a unique personality that is capable of doing the impossible," Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, in Saudi Arabia for a summit on fighting terrorism, told the U.S. leader on Sunday.

"I agree," Trump replied.

(More here.)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

At Fox News, Another Prominent Host Is Fired, and Another Week of Tough Headlines

Bob Beckel, second from left, with other hosts of “The Five” on Fox News. The network fired Mr. Beckel on Friday for making a racially insensitive remark to a black co-worker. Credit Fox News Channel.

For Fox News, it was another unkind week in an unkind year.

The network’s founding chairman, Roger E. Ailes, died on Thursday, sending a shock through a newsroom still reeling from a string of harassment scandals, lawsuits and high-profile departures. The threat of a federal investigation into the network’s financial practices has lingered.

And on Friday, another prominent on-air personality was abruptly tossed. Bob Beckel, a co-host of the prime-time talk show “The Five,” was fired after an African-American employee accused him of making a racially insensitive remark.

The drumbeat of tough headlines has taken a toll on morale at Fox News, with employees on and off camera describing a feeling of being under siege.

And after years as the undisputed king of cable news, Fox News ranked third in prime-time this week among the 25-54 age group most important to advertisers, finishing behind its rivals MSNBC and CNN. In total audience, MSNBC edged out Fox News in prime-time on three nights, an unsettling sign for an evening schedule scrambled by last month’s exit of Bill O’Reilly.

(More here.)

The Spring of G.O.P. Discontent


WASHINGTON — Now that Robert Mueller has been named special counsel, we can expect congressional Republicans to attempt a return to business as usual. Of course, that’s all relative: President Trump will presumably continue to issue Twitter attacks on the investigation, leaks about his behavior are likely to continue (see the news on Friday about his comments on James Comey to the Russians) and the topic of obstruction of justice will still occupy many blocks of cable programming.

Still, you could almost hear the sigh of relief coming from Speaker Paul Ryan’s office. The pressure is off Congress to bear down on Mr. Trump, allowing the Republicans to bear down on cutting taxes and gutting Obamacare. It might even be easier this time, with Mr. Trump distracted.

But they may soon find themselves wishing for the good old days of pure presidential chaos. They’re about to learn just how ill conceived and unpopular the Republican legislative agenda really is.

Four major items loom: taxes, health care, the budget and an infrastructure bill that the administration will reportedly be sending up to Congress soon. Elaine Chao, the transportation secretary, said recently that the “principles” guiding the administration’s $1 trillion plan will be made public by the end of May.

(More here.)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Roger Ailes Was One of the Worst Americans Ever

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

Fox News founder made this the hate-filled, moronic country it is today

On the Internet today you will find thousands, perhaps even millions, of people gloating about the death of elephantine Fox News founder Roger Ailes. The happy face emojis are getting a workout on Twitter, which is also bursting with biting one-liners.

When I mentioned to one of my relatives that I was writing about the death of Ailes, the response was, "Say that you hope he's reborn as a woman in Saudi Arabia."

Ailes has no one but his fast-stiffening self to blame for this treatment. He is on the short list of people most responsible for modern America's vicious and bloodthirsty character.

We are a hate-filled, paranoid, untrusting, book-dumb and bilious people whose chief source of recreation is slinging insults and threats at each other online, and we're that way in large part because of the hyper-divisive media environment he discovered.

Ailes was the Christopher Columbus of hate. When the former daytime TV executive and political strategist looked across the American continent, he saw money laying around in giant piles. He knew all that was needed to pick it up was a) the total abandonment of any sense of decency or civic duty in the news business, and b) the factory-like production of news stories that spoke to Americans' worst fantasies about each other.

(More here.)

If you work for Trump, it’s time to quit

After the Comey firing and the Russia intel leak, the I’m-taking-one-for-the-team ship has sailed.

By Rick Wilson May 18 at 6:00 AM

Rick Wilson is a Republican consultant and a Daily Beast columnist.

I’ve been a Republican political consultant for almost 30 years, and I’ve dispensed a lot of private advice. But now it’s time for me to reach out publicly to my fellow Republicans working in the Trump administration.

We really need to talk.

Whether you’re a 20-something fresh off the campaign trail, or a seasoned Washington insider serving in the Cabinet, by now you’re painfully aware that you’re not making America great again; you’re barely making it to the end of the daily news cycle before your verbally incontinent boss, the putative leader of the free world, once again steers the proverbial car into a ditch. On every front, you’re faced with legal, political and moral hazards. The president’s job, and yours, is a lot harder than it looked, and you know the problem originates in the Oval Office.

You hate that people are shying away from administration jobs in droves: Just this week, in rapid succession, Sen. John Cornyn and Rep. Trey Gowdy withdrew their names from consideration as replacements for former FBI Director James Comey, the guy your boss fired. Whatever department you’re in, it’s a safe bet that it’s a whispering graveyard of empty appointments and unfilled jobs.

I know: Many of you serving in Cabinet, sub-Cabinet and White House roles joined Team Trump in good faith, believing you could help steady the ship, smooth the rough edges and, just maybe, put some conservative policy wins up on the board. You could see that President Trump’s undisciplined style was risky, but you hoped the big show playing over at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. would provide you with cover to work steadily and enthusiastically on the administration’s legislative priorities. Some of you even bought into the ‘Merica First new nationalism. Many of you quietly assured friends in the Washington ecosystem that Trump would settle into his job — after all, just a few days after taking office, he assured us, “I can be the most presidential person ever.”

(More here.)

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Exclusive: Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians

Politics | Thu May 18, 2017 | 10:51am EDT

By Ned Parker, Jonathan Landay and Warren Strobel | WASHINGTON, Reuters

Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.

Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.

(More here.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Trump’s careening toward an inevitable showdown with an undeniable truth

By Philip Bump May 16 at 6:33 PM, WashPost

Ten days ago, Donald Trump’s rocky presidency was in relatively calm waters. He’d helped push a health-care bill through the House and was spending the weekend at his Trump-brand property in Bedminster, N.J. After that, the deluge: Sally Yates’s testimony on Capitol Hill, the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey, the private meeting with Russia’s foreign minister, the revelation that the Comey firing was spurred at least partly by the Russia investigation, the threat to release tapes of his conversation with Comey and, on Monday, The Washington Post’s revelation that Trump had shared classified information with the Russians.

Tuesday had its own surprise: A report from the New York Times about a conversation between Comey and the president in which Trump asked him to end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. According to the Times, Comey detailed the Feb. 14 conversation with Trump in a memo that he shared with other senior FBI officials at the time — but didn’t reveal it publicly because he didn’t want to influence the investigation.

The White House denied it in a statement. It reads, in part: “The President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn. The President has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the President and Mr. Comey.”

(More here.)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We overanalyze Trump. He is what he appears to be.

There is no correct Theory of Trump.

Updated by David Roberts @drvox
May 12, 2017, 10:40am EDT, VOX

Why did Donald Trump fire FBI Director James Comey so abruptly, in such humiliating fashion, with no plan to communicate the reasoning behind the move and no list of replacements ready?

It is the question that launched a thousand think pieces. Even Trump surrogates were not prepared to answer it. Sean Spicer literally hid in the bushes (sorry, among the bushes).

The thing is, the answer is pretty obvious. The implications are terrifying, but the motivations are not complicated.

Trump did it because he was mad.

He was mad that people on his TV keep talking about the Russia investigation. He was mad Comey didn’t back him up on his ludicrous claims that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, even when people on his TV were criticizing him for it. He was mad Comey hasn’t been more loyal, convinced Comey was to blame for his bad ratings. So he fired Comey.

That’s the picture the Washington Post paints (with 30 sources!), as well as Politico. But it remains extremely difficult to accept or internalize.

(More here.)

The Terrible Cost of Trump's Disclosures

The consequences of the president’s reported divulgence of top-secret codeword information to the Russians are only beginning.

Eliot A. Cohen
May 15, 2017

If The Washington Post is right, President Trump divulged highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at a jovial meeting in the Oval Office. Here is why this is appalling, beyond even this president’s usual standard.

Top secret codeword information is no joke

There are multiple flavors of intelligence classification, from “Confidential” (which is often in the public record already, just not acknowledged), to “Secret” (usually, though not always available if you know where to look—or are willing to wait a few days), to “Top Secret” which is beginning to be serious. The codewords, which security officials began using in World War II to protect signal intercepts (e.g. ULTRA), tell you whence the information was derived—so Top Secret/codeword material really has to be protected. Any of us who have had those kinds of clearances have gone through repeated trainings about how to safeguard such material (cover sheets, multiple envelopes, proper paragraph marking, etc.). And if you hope to keep your job and stay out of jail, you take it seriously. You do not have access to any and all compartments if you have a top-secret clearance. This, apparently, is some of the information that Trump blew.

The repeated spectacular breaks into the American security system by the Russians, among others, coupled with the ubiquity of personal information in the smartphone age, has caused some Americans to assume that secrets do not exist. They most certainly do. If someone finds out how you have gathered information, that artfully planted bug may go dead. Or a human agent may go dead. In the normal course of events, Donald Trump would never have been given a high-level security clearance because of his psychological profile and personal record, including his susceptibility to blackmail. But it will be even worse if his behavior convinces others, including those who work for him, that classification is meaningless.

(More here.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Crony capitalism is alive and well

Conservative Groups Pushing Trump to Exit Paris Climate Deal Have Taken Millions From Koch Brothers, Exxon

Thursday, May 11, 2017 By Graham Readfearn, DeSmogBlog | News Analysis

The "conservative groups" urging President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement have accepted tens of millions of dollars from groups linked to the billionaire petrochemical brothers Charles and David Koch, ExxonMobil, and the Mercer family.

More than 40 groups have co-signed an open letter urging Trump to keep his campaign promise and "withdraw fully from the Paris Climate Treaty."

The groups, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), The Heartland Institute, and the Heritage Foundation, claim failing to withdraw from the treaty could put Trump's policy agenda of promoting fossil fuels at risk.

(More here.)

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Putin’s leaky strategy

By Joe Scarborough May 6, WashPost

Russia has struck again. But this time, Vladimir Putin’s target was not a presidential runner-up in the United States but the next president of France.

Putin should have quit while he was behind.

Russia’s attack on last year’s American election may have dominated political headlines, but many agree with Democratic legend Willie Brown that “the Russians didn’t lose the election for Clinton. It was our own overconfidence.”

Whether Brown is right or not, this much is certain. Russia’s foreign electioneering is not the Machiavellian masterstroke that Putin’s admirers claim it up to be. Instead, Russia’s reckless gambit into U.S. politics has created a diplomatic backlash that has left Moscow more isolated than before Donald Trump’s election.

(More here.)

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Going back to the Dark Ages and taking the children with them

The EPA just buried its climate change website for kids

By Juliet Eilperin May 6 at 7:00 AM
Washington Post

The Environmental Protection Agency has sidelined a website aimed at teaching schoolchildren about climate change, a public watchdog group has determined, as part of the agency’s efforts to align online content with the new administration’s values.

When the EPA announced on April 28 that its site was “undergoing changes that reflect the agency’s new direction under President Donald Trump and Administrator Scott Pruitt,” it pointed to a snapshot of the website as it looked on Jan. 19, the day before Trump took office.

While it made it clear that this snapshot would not be updated, the idea was to allow the public to see what was being changed under the new administration.

(Continued here.)

Thursday, May 04, 2017

In Conservative Prime Time, It’s Now Fox and Enemies

Bob Beckel, second from left, with other hosts of “The Five” on Fox News. The network fired Mr. Beckel on Friday for making a racially insensitive remark to a black co-worker. Credit Fox News Channel
For Fox News, it was another unkind week in an unkind year.
The network’s founding chairman, Roger E. Ailes, died on Thursday, sending a shock through a newsroom still reeling from a string of harassment scandals, lawsuits and high-profile departures. The threat of a federal investigation into the network’s financial practices has lingered.
And on Friday, another prominent on-air personality was abruptly tossed. Bob Beckel, a co-host of the prime-time talk show “The Five,” was fired after an African-American employee accused him of making a racially insensitive remark.
The drumbeat of tough headlines has taken a toll on morale at Fox News, with employees on and off camera describing a feeling of being under siege.
And after years as the undisputed king of cable news, Fox News ranked third in prime-time this week among the 25-54 age group most important to advertisers, finishing behind its rivals MSNBC and CNN. In total audience, MSNBC edged out Fox News in prime-time on three nights, an unsettling sign for an evening schedule scrambled by last month’s exit of Bill O’Reilly.

(More here.)

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

A solution to plastic waste from India

She found a way to make plastic waste useful

Medha Tadpatrikar helped design a machine in Pune, India, that heats up plastic to convert it to fuel. The process is eco-friendly in more ways than one.

Chandana Banerjee
Christian Science Monitor

MARCH 30, 2017 PUNE, INDIA—In 60 cities in India, 16,876 tons of plastic waste are generated each day, according to data from the country’s Central Pollution Control Board. Multiply that by 365, and you have more than 6 million tons of plastic that end up in landfills a year.

Such figures were keeping Medha Tadpatrikar awake at night. She was also deeply troubled by an incident she had witnessed on a safari in India – a deer choking on a plastic packet that it had swallowed. “I realized how big this plastic problem is and how every creature on this earth is affected by it,” she says of the incident.

So Dr. Tadpatrikar resolved to find a way to make plastic waste useful. She and Shirish Phadtare started experimenting in Tadpatrikar’s kitchen, trying to “cook” plastic in a pressure cooker to create a practical fuel. “Plastic is made of crude oil, and we wanted to reverse the process to get usable oil,” Tadpatrikar explains.

After lots of kitchen R&D, some trial and error, and help from engineer friends, this experimenting duo has come up with an operation in the Pune, India, area that benefits the environment in several ways. They are indeed producing fuel, using a process that doesn’t emit toxic gases. And by pressing plastic waste into service, they’re reducing the amount of plastic headed toward landfills. Moreover, the oil itself is eco-friendly – a better choice than some of the other fuels that villagers living near Pune use. And when these villagers opt for the plastic-derived fuel, it means they aren’t depleting precious resources that are needed for other fuels.

(More here.)

It's dangerous to be a government opponent in Russia

Mysterious rash of Russian deaths casts suspicion on Vladimir Putin

Oren Dorell , USA TODAY Published 5:04 a.m. ET May 2, 2017

A former member of the Russian parliament is gunned down in broad daylight in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. A longtime Russian ambassador to the United Nations drops dead at work. A Russian-backed commander in the breakaway Ukrainian province of Donetsk is blown up in an elevator. A Russian media executive is found dead in his Washington, D.C., hotel room.

What do they have in common? They are among 38 prominent Russians who are victims of unsolved murders or suspicious deaths since the beginning of 2014, according to a list compiled by USA TODAY and British journalist Sarah Hurst, who has done research in Russia.

The list contains 10 high-profile critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin, seven diplomats, six associates of Kremlin power brokers who had a falling out — often over corruption — and 13 military or political leaders involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, including commanders of Russian-backed separatist forces. Two are possibly connected to a dossier alleging connections between President Trump's campaign staff and Kremlin officials that was produced by a former British spy and shared with the FBI.

Twelve were shot, stabbed or beaten to death. Six were blown up. Ten died allegedly of natural causes. One died of mysterious head injuries, one reportedly slipped and hit his head in a public bath, one was hanged in his jail cell, and one died after drinking coffee. The cause of six deaths was reported as unknown.

(More here.)

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Democrats confident they can block Trump’s agenda after spending-bill win

By Kelsey Snell and John Wagner May 1 at 10:30 PM, WashPost

Democrats think they have set the stage to block President Trump’s legislative priorities for years to come by winning major concessions in a spending bill to keep the government open.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) secured nearly $5 billion in new domestic spending by exploiting disagreements between Trump and GOP lawmakers over spending priorities.

Democrats’ lopsided victory on the five-month deal, which is likely to be approved this week, means it will be very difficult — if not impossible — for the GOP to exert its will in future budget negotiations, including when it comes to Trump’s 2018 budget blueprint.

That’s because Republicans are hopelessly divided over how much to spend on government programs, with a small but vocal minority unwilling to support such measures at all. That has forced Republicans to work with Democrats to avoid politically damaging government shutdowns.

And that means Democrats are in the driver’s seat when it comes to budget battles, even with Trump in the White House.

(More here.)

Monday, May 01, 2017

Corruption of the electoral process enhances its disrespect

Democratic legitimacy threatened by Trump, GOP

by Ron Yezzi
Mankato Free Press

Ron Yezzi, emeritus professor of philosophy at Minnesota State University Mankato, taught courses in social and political philosophy.

What happens when the powers of democracy remain, but its authority is dangerously diminishing? Answer: We’re finding out.

The electoral process retains its power to establish political officeholders. But it’s increasingly difficult to respect its authority when the process is corrupted by massive injections of money from special interest groups, by gerrymandering, by voter suppression, by an outdated electoral college system, by a two-senators/state system that in effect disenfranchises tens of millions of voters in more populous states, by fake news and other manipulative media techniques, by degrading of truth by opportunistic politicians, and even intervention by Russia.

The U.S. Supreme Court retains power as final arbiter of constitutional law. But how can we respect its authority as an independent branch of government when judicial decisions become manufactured products of a political party’s power to approve only justices who serve their interests? The addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch through a simple majority vote in the Senate completes politicalization of the court. It has become naïve to view court rulings as wise decisions of an independent judiciary.

The U.S. House and Senate retain their power to set national laws. But polarized gridlock among political parties, with its opportunistic obstructionism and protection of special interests, leads to disrespect for its authority. And the corruption of the electoral process just enhances the disrespect.

(Continued here.)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Inside Russia’s Fake News Playbook

Clint Watts, The Daily Beast
04.27.17 1:30 PM ET

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee. Thank you for inviting me today and for furthering the discussion of cyber-enabled influence. My remarks today will further expand on my previous testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence where I detailed the research Andrew Weisburd, J.M. Berger, and I published regarding Russian attempts to harm our democracy via social media influence. I’ll add further to this discussion and will also provide my perspective having worked on cyber-enabled influence operations and supporting programs for the U.S. government dating back to 2005. Having served in these Western counterterrorism programs, I believe there are many lessons we should learn from and not repeat in future efforts to fight and win America’s information wars.

1) How does Russian nation state influence via social media differ from other influence efforts on social media?

As I discussed on March 30, 2017, Russia, over the past three years, has conducted the most successful influence campaign in history using the Internet and more importantly social media to access and manipulate foreign audiences. Russia and other nation states are not the only influencers in social media. Profiteers pushing false or salacious stories for ad revenue, political campaigns running advertisements and satirists looking for laughs also seek to influence audiences during elections, but their online behavior manifests differently from that of Russia. Russia’s hacking may be covert, but their employment of kompromat ultimately reveals their overt influence campaigns. Furthermore, Russian influence performs a full range of actions to achieve their objectives that distinguish them from other influence efforts.

Create, Push, Share, Discuss, Challenge (CPSDC) - Effective State Sponsors Do All Of These In The Influence Space, Others Do Only Some

(More here.)

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Why Is Chaffetz Resigning? It Will All Come Out in the Laundering

Apr 21, 2017 4:29pm CST by Mopshell, Daily Kos

Soon we hope to bid a gleeful farewell to Jason Chaffetz (R-Disgraced). To say that he’ll be leaving under a cloud would be to understate the case. He’s in trouble with both his religion and the Law which is quite an accomplishment for a mediocre House republican.

Let’s first take a quick look at the highlights dim bulbs of his adulterated career.

Jason Chaffetz was a member of Darrell Issa’s Oversight Committee investigating fundraising off the Benghazi tragedy. When Issa’s four years of failures were up, Chaffetz was chosen to take on the chairmanship. He’d learned well from Issa and proceeded to follow in his predecessor’s missteps.

That he’s more conceited than competent was immediately apparent but he failed to draw much attention to himself until the Comey letter broke the surface of already turbulent waters. Of course it’s protocol that communiqués from the Intelligence agencies are kept confidential but Chaffetz was oblivious to nitpicky details like guidelines or rules. He was far too intoxicated with a vision of the harm he could do to opposition candidate Hillary Clinton if he spun this the right(wing) way.

Thus, before any other members of the committee had seen the FBI email, Chaffetz went public and concocted a monstrous lie: he falsely declared that the FBI had reopened the Clinton email case. Comey did put the record straight but the media preferred the lie.

(More here.)

The Resurgent Threat of al Qaeda

After bin Laden’s death, it has become a vast and deadly network of groups spread from Syria to Yemen to Afghanistan

By Ali Soufan, WSJ
April 21, 2017 11:03 a.m. ET

In the nearly six years since Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by U.S. Navy SEALs, the terrorist organization he founded has practically vanished from American news coverage. Al Qaeda has been eclipsed by the rise of the self-styled Islamic State—a group that began as al Qaeda’s Iraqi franchise but broke away in 2014.

It may appear that al Qaeda has simply declined, but that is very far from the truth. Since the death of its founder, it has transformed itself from a close-knit terrorist outfit with a handful of struggling affiliates into a vast network of insurgent groups spread from Southeast Asia to northwest Africa. Together, this network now commands an army of tens of thousands of Islamist militants. Years after bin Laden’s death, they stand united in their commitment to his ideology. We have killed the messenger, but the message lives on.

In its first two decades, al Qaeda (“the base” in Arabic) focused on fighting the U.S. and its allies head-on. But in early 2011, amid the upheaval of the Arab Spring, bin Laden ordered an about-face in the group’s aims. Instead of mainly pursuing the U.S. (“the far enemy”), he directed al Qaeda’s franchises to turn inward and join the popular battle to bring down impious local Arab regimes (“the near enemy”). He hoped that this would build up al Qaeda’s strength for an eventual showdown with the U.S. Bin Laden didn’t live to see the fruits of this approach, but they have been considerable.

(More here.)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Trump compromised by Russian ties

by Tom Maertens
April 20, 2017

Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counter-terrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11. 

The magazine Foreign Policy asked: “Is Trump Russia’s Useful Idiot, or Has He Been Irreparably Compromised?” There are currently three investigations underway to determine whether he conspired with Putin to tilt the U.S. election in his favor.

As a candidate, Trump denigrated NATO and the EU, and criticized allies such as Germany, while consistently praising Vladimir Putin. Clinton Watts, ex-FBI agent, detailed for the Senate Intelligence Committee how Trump and his campaign used Russian propaganda against his opponents, including the principal claim that the election was rigged.

Sen. Mark Warner of the Senate Intelligence Committee has revealed that Russia hired 1,000 people to create anti-Clinton ‘fake news’ during the election.

CBS News reports that the FBI is investigating whether the Trump campaign helped Russian intelligence carry out cyberattacks on the DNC as far back as March 2016. Sir Richard Dearlove, former chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service, and other U.S. sources have told the Guardian that FBI Director James Comey has “direct and incontrovertible evidence” that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia. Dearlove has also accused Donald Trump of secretly borrowing from Russia during the financial crisis to avoid bankruptcy — which his tax returns would reveal.

According to The New York Times and the Guardian, Britain, Holland, Germany, Estonia, Poland, Australia and possibly France provided information on secret meetings in Europe between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. “Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates” (NYT).

The Washington Post reported that the FBI obtained a FISA warrant last summer to monitor former Trump adviser Carter Page, indicating there was probable cause to believe he was a Russian agent.

Michael Flynn’s actions probably also warranted a FISA warrant. He met with several of Russia’s far-right allies in Europe; he also understated payments from the Russian government on his financial disclosure form, according to The Wall Street Journal.

BBC News reports that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort had at least 15 bank accounts in Cyprus, a center for Russian money laundering, and bought homes in New York with cash. Flynn, Page, Manafort, Sessions, Stone and other campaign officials had meetings with Russian officials and lied about them.

Others with suspicious links to Russia include Eric Prince, who met secretly with a Russian emissary in Mauritius, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who met repeatedly with one of Putin’s puppet bankers and convicted spies, Evgeny Buryakov. Kushner failed to report it on his security questionnaire, a possible felony.

USA Today detailed some of the connections between Trump and wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations. Dozens of wealthy Russians, including some with criminal convictions, have bought condos in Trump properties.

A former assistant U.S. attorney in New York said that the Trump SoHo project “was largely financed by illegally obtained cash from Russia …, including money provided by known international financial criminals and organized crime racketeers.”

As Steven Hall, a former CIA chief of Russian operations, told the Financial Times, “… behind every great Russian fortune there is a great friendship with the Kremlin.”

Karen Dawisha (Putin’s Kleptocracy) and William Browder (Red Notice), among others, have documented the ties between Putin, the FSB, and the Russian mafia.

In response, Trump, whom the Los Angeles Times said “… gives every indication that he is as much the gullible tool of liars as he is the liar in chief,” has attempted to divert and distract, claiming that Obama had wiretapped him, that Susan Rice had revealed classified information, and bombing Syria as diversions.

As Trump tweeted back in 2012, “Now that Obama’s poll numbers are in tailspin — watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate.”

Tellingly, his (putative) secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, admits Donald Trump’s attack on Syria wasn’t intended to do any damage to Assad. In other words, it was a diversion; a president who has told us he believes military intervention happens when poll numbers are in a tailspin has just intervened while his poll numbers were in a tailspin.

As the L.A. Times editorial board wrote: “(Trump) has made himself the stooge, the mark, for every crazy blogger, political quack, racial theorist, foreign leader or nutcase peddling a story that he might repackage to his benefit as a tweet, an appointment, an executive order or a policy.”

There are too many Russia contacts to be coincidental; Trump the Kremlin’s useful fool had to have orchestrated them, and is now irreparably compromised.

Also published in the Mankato Free Press.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Mike Flynn’s Treason Tour: Global Russian Propaganda Coordinated With Trump

April 16, 2017 ~ patribotics

Sources linked to the intelligence community say that General Mike Flynn’s trips to Cambridge and across Europe will form a key part of Donald Trump’s impeachment and the prosecutions of dozens of his associates.

According to several sources within the intelligence community, Michael Flynn was co-ordinating, with and for Russian agents, the drafting of messages that Vladimir Putin was using to attack democracy in not only the United States, but across Europe. Furthermore, Flynn was doing this with the full knowledge of the Trump campaign, including Donald Trump himself.

This news directly relates to the data laundering performed by the Alfa Bank server on behalf of Donald Trump and Russia, where, as I reported, the Trump campaign colluded with the hacking of both the DNC and state voter databases.

The Alfa Bank server ‘washed’ that data together to tell Trump where to target it, sources say. But the messages and content with which targets were served was co-ordinated with Russia by General Flynn.

Furthermore, Flynn took the same hacking tools and artificial intelligence coded in Russia and helped far-right and Nazi parties across Europe use it in their own nations. Intelligence sources assert that multiple NATO partners have evidence of this and that it has been provided to the FBI.

(More here.)

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Pinocchio story of our age

100 days of Trump claims

From the Washington Post:

Throughout President Trump’s first 100 days, the Fact Checker team will be tracking false and misleading claims made by the president since Jan. 20.

Trump has been in office for 86 days. As of our latest update on day 84, we’ve counted 394 false or misleading claims.

(The list is here.)

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Evangelical Roots of Our Post-Truth Society

Molly Worthen APRIL 13, 2017, NYT

THE arrival of the “post-truth” political climate came as a shock to many Americans. But to the Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, charges of “fake news” are nothing new. “The deep distrust of the media, of scientific consensus — those were prevalent narratives growing up,” she told me.

Although Ms. Evans, 35, no longer calls herself an evangelical, she attended Bryan College, an evangelical school in Dayton, Tenn. She was taught to distrust information coming from the scientific or media elite because these sources did not hold a “biblical worldview.”

“It was presented as a cohesive worldview that you could maintain if you studied the Bible,” she told me. “Part of that was that climate change isn’t real, that evolution is a myth made up by scientists who hate God, and capitalism is God’s ideal for society.”

Conservative evangelicals are not the only ones who think that an authority trusted by the other side is probably lying. But they believe that their own authority — the inerrant Bible — is both supernatural and scientifically sound, and this conviction gives that natural human aversion to unwelcome facts a special power on the right. This religious tradition of fact denial long predates the rise of the culture wars, social media or President Trump, but it has provoked deep conflict among evangelicals themselves.

(More here.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Dems Wrong: Trump Supporters More Motivated by Racism Than Economic Issues

Mehdi Hasan
April 6 2017, 6:12 a.m., The Intercept

IT ISN’T ONLY Republicans, it seems, who traffic in alternative facts. Since Donald Trump’s shock election victory, leading Democrats have worked hard to convince themselves, and the rest of us, that his triumph had less to do with racism and much more to do with economic anxiety — despite almost all of the available evidence suggesting otherwise.

Consider Bernie Sanders, de facto leader of the #Resistance. “Some people think that the people who voted for Trump are racists and sexists and homophobes and deplorable folks,” he said at a rally in Boston on Friday, alongside fellow progressive senator Elizabeth Warren. “I don’t agree.” Writing in the New York Times three days after the election last November, the senator from Vermont claimed Trump voters were “expressing their fierce opposition to an economic and political system that puts wealthy and corporate interests over their own”.

Warren agrees with him. “There were millions of people across this country who voted for [Trump] not because of his bigotry, but in spite of that bigotry” because the system is “not working for them economically,” the Massachusetts senator told MSNBC last year.

Both Sanders and Warren seem much keener to lay the blame at the door of the dysfunctional Democratic Party and an ailing economy than at the feet of racist Republican voters. Their deflection isn’t surprising. Nor is their coddling of those who happily embraced an openly xenophobic candidate. Look, I get it. It’s difficult to accept that millions of your fellow citizens harbor what political scientists have identified as “racial resentment.” The reluctance to acknowledge that bigotry, and tolerance of bigotry, is still so widespread in society is understandable. From an electoral perspective too, why would senior members of the Democratic leadership want to alienate millions of voters by dismissing them as racist bigots?

(More here.)

Sunday, April 09, 2017

How Jeff Sessions wants to bring back the war on drugs

By Sari Horwitz April 8 at 8:32 PM, WashPost

When the Obama administration launched a sweeping policy to reduce harsh prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, rave reviews came from across the political spectrum. Civil rights groups and the Koch brothers praised Obama for his efforts, saying he was making the criminal justice system more humane.

But there was one person who watched these developments with some horror. Steven H. Cook, a former street cop who became a federal prosecutor based in Knoxville, Tenn., saw nothing wrong with how the system worked — not the life sentences for drug charges, not the huge growth of the prison population. And he went everywhere — Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News, congressional hearings, public panels — to spread a different gospel.

“The federal criminal justice system simply is not broken. In fact, it’s working exactly as designed,” Cook said at a criminal justice panel at The Washington Post last year.

The Obama administration largely ignored Cook, who was then president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys. But he won’t be overlooked anymore.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has brought Cook into his inner circle at the Justice Department, appointing him to be one of his top lieutenants to help undo the criminal justice policies of Obama and former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. As Sessions has traveled to different cities to preach his tough-on-crime philosophy, Cook has been at his side.

(More here.)

Conspiracy Theorist in Chief

By The Times Editorial Board, LA Times
April 6, 2017

It was bad enough back in 2011 when Donald Trump began peddling the crackpot conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was not a native-born American. But at least Trump was just a private citizen then.

By the time he tweeted last month that Obama had sunk so low as to “tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process,” Trump was a sitting president accusing a predecessor of what would have been an impeachable offense.

Trump went public with this absurd accusation without consulting the law enforcement and intelligence officials who would have disabused him of a conspiracy theory he apparently imbibed from right-wing media. After the FBI director debunked it, Trump held fast, claiming he hadn’t meant that he had been literally wiretapped.

Most people know by now that the new president of the United States trafficks in untruths and half-truths, and that his word cannot be taken at face value.

Even more troubling, though, is that much of his misinformation is of the creepiest kind. Implausible conspiracy theories from fly-by-night websites; unsubstantiated speculations from supermarket tabloids. Bigoted stories he may have simply made up; stuff he heard on TV talk shows.

(More here.)