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Safety/Irony Alert. CNBC (December 25): Your new home security system may be an open invitation to hackers to make you, and perhaps many others, unsafe.” -- CW

Washington Post: "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus took a final, bittersweet bow Sunday, staging its last three shows [in Uniondale, N.Y.,] after 146 years of entertaining American audiences with gravity-defying trapeze stunts, comically clumsy clowns and trained tigers." -- CW 

Guardian: "Pippa Middleton [sister of Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge --] has married James Matthews in what has been called the society wedding of the year, in front of royalty, family and friends." -- CW

Politico's Late Nite Jokes:

CW: No idea why the picture is teeny-tiny.

Washington Post: "Two months before Monday’s [May 8] announcement that Sinclair Broadcast Group would pay $3.9 billion for Tribune Media and add to its dominance as the nation’s largest owner of local TV stations, a top executive at Sinclair beamed a short commentary piece to many of the company’s 173 stations.In the segment, which looks like it belongs in a newscast, Sinclair vice president for news Scott Livingston stands before a wall of video monitors and warns that 'some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control exactly what people think.' He accuses the national media of publishing 'fake news stories' — a direct echo of President Trump’s frequent complaint — and then asks viewers to visit the station’s website to share 'content concerns.' The piece was a 'must-run,' meaning news directors and station managers from Baltimore to Seattle had to find room for it.... While partisan coverage is a familiar staple of cable networks — Fox News on the right, MSNBC on the left — it remains mostly unheard of in broadcast TV, where it has generally been accepted that public airwaves should be used in the difficult-to-define public interest.” -- CW 

CNN: "21st Century Fox and the private equity firm Blackstone are in talks to launch a bid for Tribune Media, one of the nation's largest television broadcasting companies, a source with knowledge of the matter said Sunday. The deal currently under discussion would see Blackstone and Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox forming a joint venture. Blackstone would provide the cash for the acquisition while Fox would add all its owned-and-operated television stations to the joint venture." -- CW 

New York Times: "Prehistoric humans — perhaps Neanderthals or another lost species — occupied what is now California some 130,000 years ago, a team of scientists reported on Wednesday. The bold and fiercely disputed claim, published in the journal Nature, is based on a study of mastodon bones discovered near San Diego. If the scientists are right, they would significantly alter our understanding of how humans spread around the planet." -- CW 

If you're curious as to how realistic the New York City apartments of TV sitcom characters are -- in terms of what the characters could reasonably afford -- the Washington Post checks out several of the hovels & dream rentals of a number of shows. Kinda fun. CW: My husband & I (he paid the rent) had a fairly spacious two-bedroom with a galley kitchen (dishwasher included!) & dining room plus teensy closets on Washington Square in the 1980s & '90s. NYU owned the building & helped considerably with the rent.

Politico: "Comedian Hasan Minhaj will be this year's entertainer for the White House Correspondents' Dinner later this month, the association's president announced on Tuesday. Minhaj is a stand up comedian and senior correspondent on 'The Daily Show,' where he has performed caustic bits on ... Donald Trump, liberals and others in between. Minhaj has Washington experience already, having performed as host of last year's Radio and Television Correspondents' Association Dinner." -- CW 

AFP: "After months of uncertainty and controversy, Bob Dylan finally accepted the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature at a jovial, champagne-laced ceremony on Saturday, [April 1,] the Swedish Academy announced. The academy, which awards the coveted prize, ended prolonged speculation as to whether the 75-year-old troubadour would use a concert stopover in Stockholm to accept the gold medal and diploma awarded to him back in October." -- CW 

 


The Hill: "Arnold Schwarzeneggar says his first season as host of NBC's 'Celebrity Apprentice' is also his last. In remarks Friday, the former California governor cited President Trump, who has repeatedly mocked the ratings of his reality TV replacement, as his reason. 'Even if asked [to do it again] I would decline,' Schwarzenegger told Empire magazine.... 'With Trump being involved in the show people have a bad taste and don’t want to participate as a spectator or sponsor or in any other way support the show. It’s a very divisive period right now and I think the show got caught up in all that division.'" -- CW 

New York Times: "Penguin Random House will publish coming books by former President Barack Obama and the former first lady Michelle Obama, the publishing company announced Tuesday night, concluding a heated auction among multiple publishers. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but publishing industry executives with knowledge of the bidding process said it probably stretched well into eight figures." -- CW ...

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Thursday
May252017

The Commentariat -- May 26, 2017

The New York Times is live-updating the special Congressional election in Montana. At 11:25 pm ET Thursday, raging bully Greg Gianforte (R) is ahead of Democrat Rob Quist by 5 points, with about 40 percent of the vote counted....

     ... UPDATEJulia Wong of the Guardian: "Greg Gianforte has won a special election for Montana’s sole seat in the House of Representatives, just one day after he was charged with misdemeanor assault for allegedly 'body-slamming' a Guardian reporter.... The Associated Press called it after 522 of 681 precincts – or 77% – reported. At that point Gianforte had 163, 539 votes, or 51% of the vote, compared with challenger Rob Quist’s 140,594 votes, or 44%.... After emerging from a blue curtain to greet a cheering crowd, Gianforte apologized for this actions on Wednesday.... Gianforte supporter Diane Willard, a retired stockbroker and member of Gianforte’s church, praised him for his philanthropy and said the Republican businessman was 'nothing but honorable and gracious'.... Bruce McGee ... said he was 'a little disappointed' about the alleged assault, but that Gianforte still had his 'undying support'.... The scandal might even have an upside, he said. 'It certainly propelled him into the national spotlight,' he said. 'So many of these things are providence. Ileana Indreland, who works in real estate in Bozeman, said the alleged altercation was a symptom of Americans getting tired of the 'bullying' media." --safari

Matt Zapotosky, et al., of the Washington Post: "Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters, according to people familiar with the investigation. Kushner, who held meetings in December with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow, is being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians.... Kushner is the only current White House official known to be considered a key person in the probe.... In addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes...." ...

     ... CW: Before anybody gets too excited, this article does not suggest Kushner is guility of anything. Besides, he may just be one of those witless dupes about whom John Brennan testified earlier this week. ...

... As the Weasel Squirms. Betsy Woodruffet al. of The Daily Beast: "President Donald Trump isn’t the only one in the White House who could be caught in a compromising position by James Comey’s secret memos.... Three White House officials told The Daily Beast that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has privately expressed worry about a possible Comey memo specifically involving one of their reported chats.... According to CNN, Priebus asked Comey and his then-top deputy, Andrew McCabe, on Feb. 15 to refute news reports about conversations between Trump campaign staff and Russian government officials. Comey and McCabe reportedly refused.... Priebus’ private conversation with Comey could have violated longstanding FBI policy barring officials from discussing its cases with the White House, according to Politico. Comey certainly knew about this policy — meaning it’s all but certain he would have written a memo about such a controversial conversation." --safari (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Austin Wright of Politico: "The FBI on Thursday declined a congressional request for explosive memos by former Director James Comey detailing his interactions with ... Donald Trump. The House Oversight Committee and other congressional panels requested the memos earlier this month after The New York Times reported that Comey wrote in one that Trump had asked him to shut down the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Trump denied the allegation. In a letter to Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the FBI’s assistant director for congressional affairs, Gregory Brower, said the bureau can’t provide the memo until it consults with Robert Mueller, the new special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s election meddling." -- CW  

A Boor in Brussels. Philip Rucker, et al., of the Washington Post: "President Trump, speaking at a ceremony Thursday to dedicate a memorial to NATO’s resolve in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, publicly chastised his fellow alliance leaders for not being 'fair' to U.S. taxpayers. Trump used the occasion of his maiden summit with NATO leaders in Brussels, where he was invited to dedicate the September 2001 memorial, to remind the alliance that '23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying,' and that they owe 'massive amounts' from past years.... Trump’s speech was likely to disappoint leaders who had hoped for a public commitment from the U.S. president to NATO’s security guarantees...." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... ** CW: The story has been extensively rewritten, & the rewrite is worth a read:

President Trump exported the confrontational, ­nationalist rhetoric of his campaign across the Atlantic on Thursday, scolding European leaders for not footing more of the bill for their own defense and lecturing them to stop taking advantage of U.S. taxpayers.

Speaking in front of a twisted shard of the World Trade Center at NATO’s gleaming new headquarters in Brussels, Trump upbraided America’s longtime allies for 'not paying what they should be paying.' He used a ceremony dedicating the memorial to NATO’s resolve in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States as a platform to exhort leaders to 'focus on terrorism and immigration' to ensure their security.

And he held back from the one pledge NATO leaders most wanted to hear: an unconditional embrace of the organization’s solemn treaty commitment that an attack on a single alliance nation is an attack on all of them....

The harsh tone had a toll, as Trump was left largely on his own after the speech as leaders mingled and laughed with each other, leaving the U.S. president to stand silently on a stage ahead of a group photo.

... Now watch Trump shove aside the Montenegro prime minister so He Trump can appear in the front line for the class picture:

... Niraj Chokshi of the New York Times: "... Montenegro ... is in the process of formally joining NATO, but membership, it seems, does not earn it a spot at the front of the line. Video footage of world leaders at a NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday shows President Trump appearing to push his way past the Montenegrin prime minister, Dusko Markovic, as he made his way to the front of the group. The leaders were lining up to take a 'family photo,' as is tradition at such summits." Again -- Thanks, Trump voters! -- CW ...

... Idiots Abroad, Ctd. Adam Raymond of New York: "In a closed-door meeting with European leaders Thursday, President Trump ripped Germany for running a trade surplus with the U.S., calling the nation 'bad, very bad' or 'evil, very evil,' depending on the translation. 'Look at the millions of cars that they’re selling in the USA. Horrible. We’re gonna stop that,' Trump added according to Der Spiegel, which heard about the conversation from someone in the room. EU Commission leader Jean-Claude Juncker reportedly stood up for Germany and defended the practice of free trade. Trump’s apparent pledge to end German car sales in the U.S. is a dumb one considering how many German cars are made in the U.S.... A separate report from the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung noted that Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn also made a fool of himself in the meeting.... Cohn reportedly spoke about striking separate trade deals with Germany and Belgium, which wouldn’t be possible since EU nations negotiate trade deals as a group. This is a point Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel had to make to Trump nearly a dozen times when they met last month." -- CW ...

... New York Times Editors: "What possesses [Trump] to treat America’s allies so badly? The NATO nations are mostly democracies with vibrant free markets that have helped America keep enemies at bay, including in Afghanistan. The question is made all the more pressing in view of Mr. Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of countless autocrats, among them Vladimir Putin of Russia and King Salman of Saudi Arabia.... This perplexing dichotomy has been vividly captured in video and photographs — Mr. Trump laughing comfortably with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador to Washington during a recent Oval Office meeting, while refusing to shake the hand of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany when she came to town. There was more of the same in Brussels, with Mr. Trump shoving aside the prime minister of Montenegro, which recently defied Russia to join NATO, on his way to a front row spot for a photograph." -- CW ...

... Michael Shear & Steve Erlanger of the New York Times: "President Trump on Thursday condemned 'leaks of sensitive information,' responding to a complaint by Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, over disclosures of details from the investigation into Britain’s deadliest terrorist attack since 2005. 'The alleged leaks coming out of government agencies are deeply troubling,' Mr. Trump said in a statement. 'These leaks have been going on for a long time, and my administration will get to the bottom of this. The leaks of sensitive information pose a grave threat to our national security.'” See related stories below. CW: As Marvin S. points out, Trump's statement is pretty hilarious, coming as it does from the Leaker-in-Chief. Yeah, yeah, we know it's not a leak if the president does it. It's just monumentally stupid & presents a danger to this nation & our allies. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Alison Smale of the New York Times: "The contrast could not have been more stark.... [President] "Obama was in Berlin to help celebrate 500 years since Martin Luther’s Reformation, and received a rock-star welcome from tens of thousands at the Brandenburg Gate. It was all bonhomie, waves and warm words, as the former president praised [Chancellor Angela] Merkel's 'outstanding work, not just here but around the world,' particularly with refugees. Barely two hours later, Ms. Merkel was among the European leaders who greeted Mr. Trump coolly at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where few casual words, let alone warm ones, were exchanged, as the new American president once again castigated allies for not paying their fair share of bills. For Europeans, the juxtaposition served as an unavoidable reminder of the contrasts between the men — their personal styles, their relations with America’s allies and the values and priorities they embody." -- CW ...

... Fred Kaplan of Slate: "Expectations were low for the European leg of President Trump’s first trip abroad, but it turns out they weren’t low enough.... Trump is the first president to refrain from assuring the allies that he views the defense of Europe as a vital American interest.... Trump has taken what could have been an easy stopover — the allied leaders set up the meeting (less formal than a summit) for it to be just that — and turned it into another self-inflicted crisis." -- CW 

Jeremy Cahillet al. of The Intercept published the transcript of Trump's call with Phillipine strongman  Duterte. --safari

Paul Krugman: "Should we focus on the Trump budget’s fraudulence — not only does it invoke $2 trillion in phony savings, it counts them twice — or on its cruelty? Or should we talk instead about the Congressional Budget Office assessment of Trumpcare, which would be devastating for older, poorer and sicker Americans? There is, however, a unifying theme to all these developments. And that theme is contempt — Donald Trump’s contempt for the voters who put him in office." -- CW 

** Colored "Justice". Alan Pyke of ThinkProgress: "The government has agreed not to prosecute Citigroup’s Mexico-based subsidiary despite damning evidence it aided a cross-border money-laundering scheme for years, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday. The non-prosecution agreement is in sharp contrast with the hard line that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already laid out for blue-collar criminals. Under the non-prosecution agreement, Citigroup-owned Banamex USA will pay $97.4 million and admit it broke the Bank Secrecy Act for years." --safari

Matthias Schwartz of The Intercept: "The Drug Enforcement Administration repeatedly lied to Congress about fatal shooting incidents in Honduras, including the killing of four civilians during a DEA-led operation, according to a devastating 424-page report released today by the inspectors general for the State and Justice departments.... Most importantly, the report states that the DEA falsely characterized the deaths of four Hondurans as a shootout with drug traffickers despite proof on video that DEA-led forces fired on unarmed civilians.... [T]he DEA maintained that its forces had been fired upon by drug traffickers.... There was no crossfire. It was a DEA agent who ordered a helicopter gunner to open fire on the passenger boat....The inspectors general did not recommend charging any of the agency’s personnel with obstruction of justice or other criminal violations.... 'This report is nothing less than a wholesale indictment of the DEA and Honduran police,' said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., in a statement." --safari 

Lieberman Withdraws Name after Trump Dumps Him. Glenn Thrush & Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "Former Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, once President Trump’s preferred candidate for F.B.I. director, has withdrawn his name from consideration, citing his law firm’s central role in Mr. Trump’s legal defense team.... The withdrawal of Mr. Lieberman ... had been expected for several days. He fell out of consideration after objections from several Trump aides, who urged the president to pick a younger candidate with deeper connections to the F.B.I., which has suffered low morale since Mr. Trump’s abrupt dismissal this month of James B. Comey as the director." -- CW 

Sheriff Clarke Directed Staff to Hassle Plane Passenger." Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Sitting on the tarmac at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Jan. 15, Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. sent a text message to one of his captains after a brief verbal exchange with a passenger. The sheriff explained in the text what should be done when Riverwest resident Dan Black got off the plane. 'Just a field interview, no arrest unless he become an asshole with your guys,' Clarke wrote Captain Mark Witek. 'Question for him is why he said anything to me. Why didn't he just keep his mouth shut?' 'Follow him to baggage and out the door,' Clarke continued. 'You can escort me to carousel after I point him out.'... Since Black went public with his complaint, Clarke has threatened and belittled his fellow passenger, calling Black a 'snowflake' and saying anyone, including Black, who harasses him on an airplane might get 'knocked out.'" -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Help Expose the Swamp. Lee Fang & Nick Surgey of The Intercept: "The Trump administration has faced a growing clamor over the glaring conflicts of interest of many of its high-level appointees.... What’s more difficult to track, however, are the conflicts of interest of lower-level appointees — the personnel who execute Trump administration policy on a day to day basis. To shed light on these appointees’ backgrounds, The Intercept and the Center for Media and Democracy have requested the Office of Government Ethics Form 278, the standard financial disclosure document, for hundreds of Trump officials. We have now received over 150 of them and compiled them in a public Google Documents table, and will be adding more as they arrive...We invite readers to join us in combing through the pasts of these appointees.... We will credit you if we use any of your work in future stories." --safari

Aaron Rupar of ThinkProgress: "On Wednesday, CNN broke news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to disclose his meetings with Russian officials on a security clearance application he filed ahead of becoming attorney general.... On Thursday morning, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) posted on Facebook that 'CNN has been forced to backtrack from their leading story last night, which falsely claimed that Attorney General Sessions had misled the government by failing to disclose meetings with foreign governments while he was seeking his security clearance.'.... Duncan  ...  also tweeted a demand for an apology from CNN. But CNN hasn’t retracted the story. It’s still up online, and was discussed on TV today. Still, fake news has consequences. As this is published, Duncan’s post falsely claiming that CNN backtracked has been shared more than 160 times." --safari

Josh Barro of Business Insider: "Republicans are a party that now celebrates the bully who steals lunch money because, hey, at least he's not the nerd who gets his lunch money stolen. A party for the sort of men who call themselves 'alpha males' without irony or accuracy. A party for the sort of women who think it's cool and strong when men get into bar fights. A party that celebrates not just cruelty, but juvenile cruelty.... Why? Well, one reason is that many men in America right now have little to offer women. They do not live up to either to the old, chauvinistic standards for adult men or the new, egalitarian ones. They want what Trump has — the women, the money, the brass-plated apartment — without having to do better or be better to get it." -- CW ...

... The Weasel Dissembles. Rebecca Shabad of CBS News: "Speaker Paul Ryan has signaled that he would still seat GOP congressional candidate Greg Gianforte in the House if he wins Montana's special election Thursday despite having been charged with misdemeanor assault late Wednesday. 'There is no time where a physical altercation should occur with the press or just between human beings. That is wrong and should not have happened,' he said. Ryan said that Gianforte should apologize, but acknowledged that the candidate has his 'own version' of what happened." CW: Funny how Gianforte's "own version" contradicts an audio tape & reports from eyewitnesses. But what the hell: he must be a true-red Republican, because he lies his way out of difficulties no matter what evidence exists against him. Take a seat, Congressman Gianforte. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Rebecca Savransky of the Hill: "'The only thing in Gianforte's statement that is factually correct is my name and my place of employment,' Ben Jacobs said Thursday on ABC's 'Good Morning America.'" -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)...

...Blast from the past. Steve M.: "We've seen a similar situation in recent years, and Republican voters were totally cool with it. It happened in January 2014, [with] Michael Grimm, a congressman from Staten Island, New York City's most Republican borough....Ten months later, Grimm -- already plagued by multiple scandals -- won reelection by double digits. He resigned from Congress a month later, but only after pleading guilty to felony tax evasion charges. The following May, a Republican won the special election to replace Grimm, and he continues to hold the seat. So, no, thuggish behavior toward reporters doesn't seem to hurt Republicans at the ballot box." --safari...

Frank Rich: "The CBO analysis only confirms what we already knew before Trumpcare passed the House: Its preexisting condition is terminal. The failed GOP effort to 'repeal and replace Obamacare' amounts to medical malpractice on an epic scale and will usher in a world of pain for millions of Americans, many of them in Donald Trump’s base.... The political cost for Republicans who support this toxic bill is sinking in fast...." -- CW 

Crocodile Tears. Zack Ford of ThinkProgress:  "According to the Independent Journal Review, when [House Freedom Caucus Chair MarkMeadows first greeted reporters after the CBO report came out, he was optimistic about its findings.... [R]eporters started asking him more about the report’s actual findings — specifically that, thanks to the state waivers he championed, people with pre-existing conditions could be charged higher premiums and even priced out of the insurance market altogether. Meadows was caught off guard, responding, 'Well, that’s not what I read' and putting on his reading glasses to reexamine the relevant paragraph. Suddenly, as the Independent Journal Review reports, he was choking back tears.... Under Meadows’s leadership, the House Freedom Caucus officially endorsed the AHCA after 'improvements' made by an amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ)." --safari (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Ann Marimow & Robert Barnes of the Washington Post: "A federal appeals court on Thursday left in place the freeze on President Trump’s revised entry ban, handing the administration another legal setback in its efforts to block the issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries. The broad, decisive ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit means the Trump administration still cannot enforce its travel order that the government says is urgently needed for national security. Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court." -- CW ...

The ruling upholds a lower court's decision to halt core portions of the executive order indefinitely." CW: At 2:20 pm ET, this is a breaking story that will be updated. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Fox "News" ratings are falling, and Will Oremus of Slate thinks he knows why: "Fox News’ prime-time hosts — led by its most prominent remaining personalities, [Tucker] Carlson and [Sean] Hannityhave presented viewers with an alternate reality in which stories embarrassing to the administration can be waved away as either a figment of the 'fake news media or the product of machinations by leakers and liars embedded in the shadowy anti-Trump 'deep state.' By steadfastly pooh-poohing the lies, scandals, outrage, and intrigue that have dominated the first months of Donald Trump’s remarkable presidency, the network is all but sitting out the most fascinating domestic political saga of our time. And increasingly, viewers are changing the channel."... Juicy stories about White House palace intrigue become stories about the impropriety of the anonymous leakers who provided them and the unscrupulous reporters who published them." -- CW 

Make America Sick Again. Mark Hand of ThinkProgress: "The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to pass a bill that dismantles a pesticide permitting system.... Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-OH), the sponsor of H.R. 953, said the permitting system for the use of pesticides under the Clean Water Act is redundant.... Twenty-five House Democrats voted in favor of the bill.... Pesticide manufacturers have long championed a bill similar to Gibbs’ that would allow pesticides to be sprayed directly into water bodies.... A more apt name for the bill would be the 'Poison Our Waters Act,' said the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which said the bill’s sponsors are 'trying to take away our right to know when pesticides are sprayed into our waterways.'" --safari

Joe Romm of ThinkProgress: "The nuclear industry is so uncompetitive that half of U.S. nuclear power plants are no longer profitable. And if existing nukes are uneconomic, it’s no surprise that new nuclear plants are wildly unaffordable. New York and Illinois have already agreed to more than $700 million a year in subsidies, and if all northeast and mid-Atlantic nukes got similar subsidies, it would cost U.S. consumers $3.9 billion a year. Things are so bad for the nuclear industry that, recently, even conservatives have started to publicly oppose the subsidies the industry needs to survive." --safari

Way Beyond the Beltway

Stephen Castle & Camilla Schick of the New York Times: "As early as 2011, Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old Briton who has been identified as the bomber, had raised such serious concerns among acquaintances that they called an antiterrorism hotline to report that he held extremist views. The government has said that MI5, the domestic intelligence agency, was aware of Mr. Abedi — but only as a peripheral figure, and not someone whose behavior would have warranted immediate action." -- CW 

Reuters: "The Philippines military has mobilised attack helicopters and special forces to drive Islamic State-linked rebels out of a besieged southern city.... [In] Marawi, a mainly Muslim city of 200,000 ... fighters have taken more than a dozen hostages and burned down and seized a school, a jail and a cathedral.... The battles with the Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State, started on Tuesday during a failed raid by security forces on one of the group’s hideouts that spiralled into chaos.... The turmoil prompted the president, Rodrigo Duterte, to deliver on his longstanding threat to impose martial law on Mindanao, the country’s second-largest island.... At least 46 people – 15 members of the security forces and 31 rebels – have been killed, and religious leaders say militants were using Christians taken hostage during the fighting as human shields. The status of the hostages was not known." --safari

Wednesday
May242017

The Commentariat -- May 25, 2017

Afternoonish Update:

The ruling upholds a lower court's decision to halt core portions of the executive order indefinitely." CW: At 2:20 pm ET, this is a breaking story that will be updated.

A Boor in Brussels. Philip Rucker, et al., of the Washington Post: "President Trump, speaking at a ceremony Thursday to dedicate a memorial to NATO’s resolve in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, publicly chastised his fellow alliance leaders for not being 'fair' to U.S. taxpayers. Trump used the occasion of his maiden summit with NATO leaders in Brussels, where he was invited to dedicate the September 2001 memorial, to remind the alliance that '23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying,' and that they owe 'massive amounts' from past years.... Trump’s speech was likely to disappoint leaders who had hoped for a public commitment from the U.S. president to NATO’s security guarantees...." -- CW ...

... Michael Shear & Steve Erlanger of the New York Times: "President Trump on Thursday condemned 'leaks of sensitive information,' responding to a complaint by Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, over disclosures of details from the investigation into Britain’s deadliest terrorist attack since 2005. 'The alleged leaks coming out of government agencies are deeply troubling,' Mr. Trump said in a statement. 'These leaks have been going on for a long time, and my administration will get to the bottom of this. The leaks of sensitive information pose a grave threat to our national security.'” See related stories below. CW: As Marvin S. points out, Trump's statement is pretty hilarious, coming as it does from the Leaker-in-Chief. Yeah, yeah, we know it's not a leak if the president does it. It's just monumentally stupid & presents a danger to this nation & our allies.

Crocodile Tears. Zack Ford of ThinkProgress:  "According to the Independent Journal Review, when [House Freedom Caucus Chair MarkMeadows first greeted reporters after the CBO report came out, he was optimistic about its findings.... [R]eporters started asking him more about the report’s actual findings — specifically that, thanks to the state waivers he championed, people with pre-existing conditions could be charged higher premiums and even priced out of the insurance market altogether. Meadows was caught off guard, responding, 'Well, that’s not what I read' and putting on his reading glasses to reexamine the relevant paragraph. Suddenly, as the Independent Journal Review reports, he was choking back tears.... Under Meadows’s leadership, the House Freedom Caucus officially endorsed the AHCA after 'improvements' made by an amendment from Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ)." --safari

** Colored "Justice". Alan Pyke of ThinkProgress: "The government has agreed not to prosecute Citigroup’s Mexico-based subsidiary despite damning evidence it aided a cross-border money-laundering scheme for years, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday. The non-prosecution agreement is in sharp contrast with the hard line that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already laid out for blue-collar criminals. Under the non-prosecution agreement, Citigroup-owned Banamex USA will pay $97.4 million and admit it broke the Bank Secrecy Act for years." --safari 

The Weasel Squirms. Betsy Woodruffet al. of The Daily Beast: "President Donald Trump isn’t the only one in the White House who could be caught in a compromising position by James Comey’s secret memos.... Three White House officials told The Daily Beast that Chief of Staff Reince Priebus has privately expressed worry about a possible Comey memo specifically involving one of their reported chats.... According to CNN, Priebus asked Comey and his then-top deputy, Andrew McCabe, on Feb. 15 to refute news reports about conversations between Trump campaign staff and Russian government officials. Comey and McCabe reportedly refused.... Priebus’ private conversation with Comey could have violated longstanding FBI policy barring officials from discussing its cases with the White House, according to Politico. Comey certainly knew about this policy — meaning it’s all but certain he would have written a memo about such a controversial conversation." --safari

Sheriff Clarke Directed Staff to Hassle Plane Passenger." Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Sitting on the tarmac at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Jan. 15, Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. sent a text message to one of his captains after a brief verbal exchange with a passenger. The sheriff explained in the text what should be done when Riverwest resident Dan Black got off the plane. 'Just a field interview, no arrest unless he become an asshole with your guys,' Clarke wrote Captain Mark Witek. 'Question for him is why he said anything to me. Why didn't he just keep his mouth shut?' 'Follow him to baggage and out the door,' Clarke continued. 'You can escort me to carousel after I point him out.'... Since Black went public with his complaint, Clarke has threatened and belittled his fellow passenger, calling Black a 'snowflake' and saying anyone, including Black, who harasses him on an airplane might get 'knocked out.'" -- CW 

A copy of the text messages was  provided by an attorney for Black, who is suing the sheriff, Milwaukee County and several unnamed deputies over the incident.

The Weasel Dissembles. Rebecca Shabad of CBS News: "Speaker Paul Ryan has signaled that he would still seat GOP congressional candidate Greg Gianforte in the House if he wins Montana's special election Thursday despite having been charged with misdemeanor assault late Wednesday. 'There is no time where a physical altercation should occur with the press or just between human beings. That is wrong and should not have happened,' he said. Ryan said that Gianforte should apologize, but acknowledged that the candidate has his 'own version' of what happened." CW: Funny how Gianforte's "own version" contradicts an audio tape & reports from eyewitnesses. But what the hell: he must be a true-red Republican, because he lies his way out of difficulties no matter what evidence exists against him. Take a seat, Congressman Gianforte. ...

... Rebecca Savransky of the Hill: "'The only thing in Gianforte's statement that is factually correct is my name and my place of employment,' Ben Jacobs said Thursday on ABC's 'Good Morning America.'" -- CW 

*****

Robert Pear of the New York Times: "A bill to dismantle the Affordable Care Act that narrowly passed the House this month would increase the projected number of people without health insurance by 14 million next year and by 23 million in 2026, the Congressional Budget Office said Wednesday.... The new forecast of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill’s official scorekeeper, is another blow to Republican efforts to undo President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement." -- CW ...

... The Washington Post report, by Juliet Eilperin & Kelsey Snell, is here. -- CW ...

... The CBO report is here. -- CW ...

... Brian Beutler: "Republicans promised their health bill wouldn’t hurt the poor or people with pre-existing conditions. CBO disagrees. The long-awaited Congressional Budget Office analysis of the American Health Care Act has arrived and it unsurprisingly underscores just how dishonest the Republican sales job of the bill has been." -- CW 

... Sarah Kliff of Vox: "We knew much of this from the last CBO report on the Republican bill, which had fairly similar estimates. We did get something new, however, in this particular report: a complete rebuke of Republicans' claim that the bill they voted for will protect Americans with preexisting conditions.... 'It will be every bit as good on pre-existing conditions as Obamacare,' President Trump told Bloomberg earlier this month. House Speaker Paul Ryan has a website up, right now, where he declares "VERIFIED: MacArthur and Upton Amendments Strengthen AHCA, Protect People with Pre-Existing Conditions." CBO says this isn't true — and is unequivocal on the point.... CBO estimates that about one in six Americans would live in states that apply for waivers from key Obamacare provisions, like the requirement to charge sick and healthy people the same prices or cover a set of essential health benefits. Sick people in those places just would not have a lot of options." -- CW ...

... Pemy Levy of Mother Jones: "As Republicans now struggle to defend the bill they've already approved, they've latched onto one piece of good news contained in the CBO report: The average premiums will decrease between 4 percent and 20 percent by 2026. The drop will vary by state, depending on which states take advantage of waivers in the bill.... While technically true, this argument is highly misleading.... First, plans will be cheaper because they will provide less coverage. Second, because the bill allows insurers to charge older people more and provides less generous subsidies, many older, sicker people will be priced out. Put simply, the average premium goes down because the market will target young, healthy people while pricing out older, sicker people." -- CW ...

... Ed Kilgore: "All in all, about the only good thing in this CBO estimate for Republicans is that it does not indicate the bill failed to comply with the minimum deficit reduction requirements of the budget resolution that authorized it. So the House will not have to vote on it again – at least until (if ever) the Senate passes something and the House has to vote on a final, final version." -- CW


Matthew Rosenberg
, et al., of the New York Times: "American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence. The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said.... The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort.... Last week, CNN reported about intercepted phone calls during which Russian officials were bragging about ties to Mr. Flynn and discussing ways to wield influence over him. In his congressional testimony, [former CIA Director John] Brennan discussed the broad outlines of the intelligence, and his disclosures backed up the accounts of the information provided by the current and former officials." -- CW ... 

Austin Wright of Politico: "The House will join the Senate in slapping subpoenas on Michael Flynn, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, whose panel is investigating Russia’s meddling in the presidential election, said he hoped the committee’s subpoenas to President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser would go out this week." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Manu Raju & Evan Perez of CNN: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose meetings he had last year with Russian officials when he applied for his security clearance, the Justice Department told CNN Wednesday. Sessions, who met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least two times last year, didn't note those interactions on the form, which requires him to list 'any contact' he or his family had with a 'foreign government' or its 'representatives' over the past seven years, officials said. The new information from the Justice Department is the latest example of Sessions failing to disclose contacts he had with Russian officials. He has come under withering criticism from Democrats following revelations that he did not disclose the same contacts with Kislyak during his Senate confirmation hearings earlier this year.... After CNN's story published, a spokesman responded to the reporting with a statement, saying that Sessions was instructed not to list meetings like the ones with Kislyak on his form.... A legal expert who regularly assists officials in filling out the form disagrees with the Justice Department's explanation, suggesting that Sessions should have disclosed the meetings." -- CW ...

... Thomas Edsall of the New York Times reports everything you need to know about impeachment now, because Edsall always reports everything you need to know about his subject at hand. -- CW 


** How the Russians Duped Comey into Throwing the Presidential Election. Karoun Demirjian & Devlin Barrett
of the Washington Post: "A secret document that officials say played a key role in then-FBI Director James B. Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation has long been viewed within the FBI as unreliable and possibly a fake, according to people familiar with its contents.... Current and former officials have said that Comey relied on the document in making his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement — in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence — set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election.... The document indicated [Attorney General Loretta] Lynch had told [a Clinton campaign official] that she would not let the FBI investigation into Clinton go too far.... From the moment the bureau received the document from a source in early March 2016, its veracity was the subject of an internal debate at the FBI.... Yet senior officials at the bureau continued to rely on the document before and after the election as part of their justification for how they handled the case." Read the whole article. -- CW  


The New York Times is live-updating Trump's NATO visit. "On the fourth leg of a grueling overseas trip, President Trump is in Brussels amid anxiety among NATO leaders about their relationship with a leader who had dismissed the alliance as 'obsolete' and who had called the city a 'hellhole.' In a brief speech in front of NATO leaders, Mr. Trump said that the allies must spend more on collective defense — but did not endorse Article 5 of the alliance’s founding treaty, which states that an attack on any member is an attack on all." -- CW 

... Heather Stewart, et al., of the Guardian: British Prime Minister "Theresa May will confront Donald Trump over the stream of leaks of crucial intelligence about the Manchester bomb attack when she meets the US president at a Nato summit in Brussels on Thursday. British officials were infuriated on Wednesday when the New York Times published forensic photographs of sophisticated bomb parts that UK authorities fear could complicate the expanding investigation into the lethal blast in which six further arrests have been made in the UK and two more in Libya. It was the latest of a series of leaks to US journalists that appeared to come from inside the US intelligence community, passing on data that had been shared between the two countries as part of a long-standing security cooperation.... Only hours earlier Amber Rudd, the home secretary, had rebuked the US security services for leaking the bomber’s name to American media before it had been made public in Britain, but her warnings appeared to have had no impact." -- CW 

We have two submarines – the best in the world – we have two nuclear submarines – not that we want to use them at all. I’ve never seen anything like they are but we don’t have to use this but [Kim Jong Un] could be crazy so we will see what happens. -- Donald Trump to Philippine dictator President Rodgrigo Duterte ...

... President Blabbermouth Does It Again. Nancy Youssef of BuzzFeed: "Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript between ... Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart reveals that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea[.] 'We never talk about subs!' three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military's belief that keeping submarines' movement stealth is key to their mission." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Kevin Drum: "We're quickly reaching the point where intelligence agencies, both foreign and domestic, are going to start withholding information from Trump because they don't trust him to keep his yap shut. We might already be there, for all I know." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Nancy LeTourneau of the Washington Monthly: "Perhaps no strongman on the planet right now is as murderous as Duterte, who ... has proudly compared himself to Hitler. That is the kind of leader our current president admires. That is especially alarming given that Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is reigniting the war on drugs in this country at the same time that they are basically ending oversight for police brutality and abuse." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Here's the New York Times' readout of the meeting between Trump & Pope Francis. Hey, they found common ground: they're both opposed to reproductive rights! Boys will be boys. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) -- CW ...

... Jeet Heer of the New Republic: "Trump didn’t let Sean Spicer meet the Pope out of sheer meanness. According to CNN, Spicer, a passionate Catholic, was 'eagerly anticipating' meeting Pope Francis as part of Donald Trump’s entourage.... The gratutitious coldness of this move is all the more striking because of the sacrifices Spicer has made on behalf of Trump. Previously a well-liked Washington fixture, Spicer has turned himself into an international joke by loudly and aggressively defending Trump’s every outrage and nonsensical outburst. But Trump is angry at the bad press he continues to receive, which he blames on Spicer." -- CW 

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! Danielle Paquette of the Washington Post: "Carrier, the company President Trump pledged to keep on American soil, informed the state of Indiana this week that it will soon begin cutting 632 workers from an Indianapolis factory. The manufacturing jobs will move to Monterrey, Mexico, where the minimum wage is $3.90. That was never supposed to happen, according to Trump's campaign promises. He told Indiana residents at a rally last year there was a '100 percent chance' he would save the jobs at the heating and air-conditioning manufacturer." -- CW 

Jeff Toobin of the New Yorker: "For those who hope (or fear) that the Trump Administration has been shell-shocked by the Russia scandals and paralyzed by the health-care mess, the past fortnight offers bracing reminders of the enduring power of the Presidency. The executive branch is a huge bureaucracy, which lumbers forward, pushing the incumbent’s policy agenda, regardless of localized chaos in the White House. Two new initiatives demonstrate how Trump’s appointees are advancing the goals of his Presidency. The end of criminal-justice reform.... Voter suppression in the guise of voter integrity.... Journalists consistently understated Trump’s chances of becoming President; we shouldn’t understate the magnitude of what he can do now. -- CW 

Charles Lane of the Washington Post: "On [John F. Kennedy’s] 100th birthday, Trump repudiates his legacy." -- CW 

Jonathan Chait: "Yesterday, the Trump administration published a federal budget plan that hinged upon an embarrassing math error. It assumed that $2 trillion of revenue, which it had already committed to pay for the cost of its tax-cut plan, would appear again, to help balance the budget. Trump’s budget officials have tried to explain that this was not an error at all but a cunning plan. Their explanation is complete nonsense." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Gail Collins also notices that Trump can't add. -- CW ...

The Most Corrupt President Ever, Ctd. Another Broken Promise. Ari Melber, et al., of NBC News: "Just before taking office..., Donald Trump promised to donate all profits earned from foreign governments back to the U.S. Treasury. But MSNBC has learned the Trump Organization is not tracking all possible payments it receives from foreign governments, according to new admissions by Trump representatives. By failing to track foreign payments it receives, the company will be hard-pressed to meet Trump's pledge to donate foreign profits and could even increase its legal exposure." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

Complying with the United States Constitution is not an optional exercise, but a requirement for serving as our nation’s president. -- Rep., Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), to the Trump Organization ...

... But It's Too Haaaard! Ben Protess & Steve Eder of the New York Times: "... the Trump Organization ... told Congress in a recent submission that it was all but impossible to identify every foreign government official who walked through the doors of its hotels. And investigating all its patrons, the organization argued, would interfere with its business and ask too much of customers. 'To fully and completely identify all patronage at our properties by customer type is impractical in the service industry,” the company wrote in a nine-page pamphlet outlining its policy.... [Rep.] Elijah E. Cummings released the document publicly on Wednesday.... The public disclosure of the document has now set off new questions about whether the president could potentially run afoul of ... the Emoluments Clause, which essentially prohibits federal government officials from accepting gifts from foreign governments." -- CW 

Dexter Filkins of the New Yorker profiles Secretary of Defense James Mattis. CW: For a smart, well-informed former general, Mattis sure makes a lot of mistakes -- and people die as a result. But that's kind of today's (and many other days') theme: Republicans screwing up. 

... Eric Levitz of New York: “'I think poverty to a large extent is also a state of mind,' the Housing secretary [Ben Carson] said during an interview with Armstrong Williams on SiriusXM. 'You take somebody that has the right mindset, you can take everything from them and put them on the street and I guarantee in a little while they’ll be right back up there.' This is incredible news for the 16 million American households that suffer from food insecurity, or the hundreds of thousands who have no roof over their heads. Malnutrition is just a mind-set! Homelessness is where the heart is! If you can visualize a well-stocked fridge, an affordable apartment, and an abundance of stable, well-paying jobs for someone with your skill set, then those things will immediately come into existence.” -- CW 

Ho Ho Ho. No Mo' Joe. Adam Raymond of New York: "Last week, when reports first emerged that the White House had shortlisted four candidates for the job of FBI director, Joe Lieberman’s name got the most attention. Not just because he’s a former senator and vice-presidential nominee with bipartisan bona fides and loads of political baggage, but because he currently works at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, a New York–based law firm that regularly represents President Trump. That potential conflict was made even clearer Tuesday when it was reported that Trump has hired Marc Kasowitz, Lieberman’s boss, to serve as his private lawyer on issues related to the Russia investigation. A day later, in a rare acknowledgment that conflicts of interest actually exist, the White House has reportedly nixed Lieberman’s name from its list of potential FBI directors and is restarting its search from scratch." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)


** Meet Your GOP Congressional Candidate. Jonathan Martin
of the New York Times: Greg Gianforte, "the Republican candidate in a hotly contested special House election in Montana, was charged with assaulting a journalist on Wednesday at what was to be a final rally in Bozeman on the eve of the vote. The attack brought police officers to the event and sent the reporter to the hospital for X-rays.... It was an extraordinary development in a race that was already being closely watched for clues about the national political environment in the tumultuous first months of the Trump presidency. Three of the state’s largest newspapers, The Billings Gazette, The Missoulian and The Helena Independent Record, quickly rescinded their endorsements of Mr. Gianforte. But prospects that the altercation could tip the race to the Democrat, Rob Quist, were complicated by Montana’s early-voting tradition: Over half the estimated total ballots in the contest had been returned by Wednesday. Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, said the episode occurred during an interview at Mr. Gianforte’s campaign headquarters. Mr. Jacobs said Mr. Gianforte 'body-slammed' him when pressed on a question about the Republicans’ health care bill." -- CW ...

... Alicia Acuna of Fox "News": "... a crew from the Fox News Channel, including myself, witnessed [the candidate's assault] firsthand.... Ben Jacobs of The Guardian — walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte's face and began asking if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy.... At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. [The crew] and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, 'I'm sick and tired of this!' Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken.... At no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte...." -- CW ...

... Julie Wong & Sam Levin of the Guardian: "The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat has been charged with misdemeanor assault after he is alleged to have slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting, 'Get the hell out of here.' Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly 'body-slammed' the reporter.... Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance. '... This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.'... A statement by campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon blamed Jacobs for the altercation, saying that he 'entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg’s face, and began asking badgering questions.... It’s unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ'. Scanlon’s account is contradicted by audio of the abortive interview recorded by Jacobs, as well as the Fox News account.” -- CW ...

... Here's the audio. You can hear not just the verbal exchange for the physical altercation:

... Alexis Levinson & Grace Wyler of BuzzFeed report on the assault. Levinson, who was in a room next to the scene of the crime, witnessed part of what went down -- or, rather, who went down -- and tweeted her observations. -- CW ...

... Steve M.: "This should be disqualifying, but ask yourself: If Donald Trump did something like this during his campaign, would it have hurt him? If anything, I think it would it would have impressed the sorts of voters who were Trump supporters or even just open to Trump. The message of the GOP is that forces hostile to the party -- who, by definition, include all non-conservative journalists -- are figures of pure evil who deserve any harm that comes to them. Trump regularly urged the crowds at his rallies to express hatred for the press. And Gianforte is a Trump supporter, running in a district (the entire state of Montana) where Trump won by a sizable margin." -- CW 

Ed Mazza of the Huffington Post: "Two districts that voted for Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election selected Democrats for state legislature seats in New York and New Hampshire on Tuesday night." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Linda Greenhouse: "The election-law wars ... are about power: who has it, who gets to keep it. And as underscored by this week’s Supreme Court decision invalidating two North Carolina congressional districts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, the justices are as fully engaged in combat as anyone else.... It’s not race, it’s politics, the states say. Justice Elena Kagan’s majority opinion — her most important since joining the Supreme Court seven years ago — pulled the fig leaf off that position.... [But] the election wars, far from over, are ready to be reignited, with a new player in town [Neil Gorsuch] eager to light the match." -- CW 

Annals "Journalism," Ha Ha Ha. Hadas Gold of Politico: "Despite retracting its own article linking last summer’s murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich to the DNC's hacked emails and WikiLeaks, Fox News did not pressure host Sean Hannity to do the same, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told Politico." -- CW 

On the sidewalks of New York -- in this case, West Village. Thanks to Ophelia for the photo.

Way Beyond the Beltway

Griff Witte, et al., of the Washington Post: "The police chief leading the investigation into a suicide bombing that killed 22 people at a Manchester concert said Wednesday that the attacker had not acted alone and that authorities were trying to unravel a wider web of plotters.... In Libya, meanwhile, an official said counterterrorism authorities have arrested at least two members of the family of the bomber, Salman Abedi, including a younger brother suspected of planning an attack in Libya’s main city, Tripoli. The bomber was a British-born citizen whose parents emigrated from Libya." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... The Guardian's live update of developments is here. -- CW 

Tuesday
May232017

The Commentariat -- May 24, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Here's the New York Times' readout of the meeting between Trump & Pope Francis. Hey, they found common ground: they're both opposed to reproductive rights! Boys will be boys.

We have two submarines – the best in the world – we have two nuclear submarines – not that we want to use them at all. I’ve never seen anything like they are but we don’t have to use this but [Kim Jong Un] could be crazy so we will see what happens. -- Donald Trump to Philippine dictator President Rodgrigo Duterte ...

... President Blabbermouth Does It Again. Nancy Youssef of BuzzFeed: "Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript between ... Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart reveals that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea[.] 'We never talk about subs!' three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military's belief that keeping submarines' movement stealth is key to their mission." -- CW ...

... Kevin Drum: "We're quickly reaching the point where intelligence agencies, both foreign and domestic, are going to start withholding information from Trump because they don't trust him to keep his yap shut. We might already be there, for all I know." -- CW ...

... Nancy LeTourneau of the Washington Monthly: "Perhaps no strongman on the planet right now is as murderous as Duterte, who ... has proudly compared himself to Hitler. That is the kind of leader our current president admires. That is especially alarming given that Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, is reigniting the war on drugs in this country at the same time that they are basically ending oversight for police brutality and abuse." -- CW 

Ho Ho Ho. No Mo' Joe. Adam Raymond of New York: "Last week, when reports first emerged that the White House had shortlisted four candidates for the job of FBI director, Joe Lieberman’s name got the most attention. Not just because he’s a former senator and vice-presidential nominee with bipartisan bona fides and loads of political baggage, but because he currently works at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, a New York–based law firm that regularly represents President Trump. That potential conflict was made even clearer Tuesday when it was reported that Trump has hired Marc Kasowitz, Lieberman’s boss, to serve as his private lawyer on issues related to the Russia investigation. A day later, in a rare acknowledgment that conflicts of interest actually exist, the White House has reportedly nixed Lieberman’s name from its list of potential FBI directors and is restarting its search from scratch." -- CW 

Austin Wright of Politico: "The House will join the Senate in slapping subpoenas on Michael Flynn, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Wednesday. Rep. Adam Schiff of California, whose panel is investigating Russia’s meddling in the presidential election, said he hoped the committee’s subpoenas to President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser would go out this week." -- CW 

Jonathan Chait: "Yesterday, the Trump administration published a federal budget plan that hinged upon an embarrassing math error. It assumed that $2 trillion of revenue, which it had already committed to pay for the cost of its tax-cut plan, would appear again, to help balance the budget. Trump’s budget officials have tried to explain that this was not an error at all but a cunning plan. Their explanation is complete nonsense." ...

     ... CW: This reminds me of how I had to explain to my 8th-grade math teacher how to find the area of a parallelogram. I knew the teacher's original explanation was wrong, and I got an assist from my mother on figuring out his (pretty elementary) error. I thought I did a good explaining job, but my math teacher said I was all wet. The difference between my math teacher & Mulvaney is that the next day my teacher came back & admitted Mom & I were right. Mr. C. was just an underpaid junior-high-school math teacher, but he was a far, far better man than Mick Mulvaney. 

The Most Corrupt President Ever, Ctd. Another Broken Promise. Ari Melber, et al., of NBC News: "Just before taking office..., Donald Trump promised to donate all profits earned from foreign governments back to the U.S. Treasury. But MSNBC has learned the Trump Organization is not tracking all possible payments it receives from foreign governments, according to new admissions by Trump representatives. By failing to track foreign payments it receives, the company will be hard-pressed to meet Trump's pledge to donate foreign profits and could even increase its legal exposure." -- CW 

Ed Mazza of the Huffington Post: "Two districts that voted for Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election selected Democrats for state legislature seats in New York and New Hampshire on Tuesday night." -- CW 

Griff Witte, et al., of the Washington Post: "The police chief leading the investigation into a suicide bombing that killed 22 people at a Manchester concert said Wednesday that the attacker had not acted alone and that authorities were trying to unravel a wider web of plotters.... In Libya, meanwhile, an official said counterterrorism authorities have arrested at least two members of the family of the bomber, Salman Abedi, including a younger brother suspected of planning an attack in Libya’s main city, Tripoli. The bomber was a British-born citizen whose parents emigrated from Libya." -- CW 

*****

there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign, but I can always speak for myself — and the Russians, zero. -- Donald Trump, last week

When I did this now I said, I probably, maybe will confuse people, maybe I’ll expand that, you know, lengthen the time because it should be over with, in my opinion, should have been over with a long time ago. -- Donald Trump, last week ...

... ** Experts Agree: Trump Is Seriously Losing It. Sharon Begley of STAT: "When President Trump offered that response to a question at a press conference last week, it was the latest example of his tortured syntax, mid-thought changes of subject, and apparent trouble formulating complete sentences, let alone a coherent paragraph, in unscripted speech.... STAT reviewed decades of Trump’s on-air interviews and compared them to Q&A sessions since his inauguration. The differences are striking and unmistakable.... In interviews Trump gave in the 1980s and 1990s..., he spoke articulately, used sophisticated vocabulary, inserted dependent clauses into his sentences without losing his train of thought, and strung together sentences into a polished paragraph, which — and this is no mean feat — would have scanned just fine in print.... Now, Trump’s vocabulary is simpler. He repeats himself over and over, and lurches from one subject to an unrelated one.... Experts in neurolinguistics and cognitive assessment, as well as psychologists and psychiatrists ..., all agreed there had been a deterioration, and some said it could reflect changes in the health of Trump’s brain.... For decades, studies have found that deterioration in the fluency, complexity, and vocabulary level of spontaneous speech can indicate slipping brain function due to normal aging or neurodegenerative disease.... They noted, however, that the same sort of linguistic decline can also reflect stress, frustration, anger, or just plain fatigue." -- CW 

John Wagner & Ashley Parker of the Washington Post: "President Trump has retained the services of a trusted lawyer, Marc E. Kasowitz, to help him navigate the investigations into his campaign and suspected Russian interference in last year’s election, according to people familiar with the decision. Kasowitz, who has known Trump for decades, has represented Trump in numerous cases, including on his divorce records, real estate transactions and allegations of fraud at Trump University. He is a partner at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman in New York.... A potential complication for Kasowitz is that former senator Joseph I. Lieberman, among Trump’s leading candidates to head the FBI, is currently a senior counsel at his firm. Were Lieberman officially chosen to run the FBI, and Kasowitz chosen to help with Trump’s legal advice, both men — the one leading the organization investigating possible Russian collusion and the one offering Trump legal counsel on that very issue — would hail from the same firm, likely presenting a conflict of interest." -- CW ...

Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late. -- John Brennan, testimony before a House committee, Tuesday ...

... Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times: "As Russian hackers and propagandists tried to manipulate the American election last year, the C.I.A. noticed a series of suspicious contacts between Russian government officials and associates of Donald J. Trump’s campaign, John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, said Tuesday. In testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Brennan described a nerve-fraying few months as American authorities realized that the election was under attack and worried that Mr. Trump’s campaign might be aiding that fight. His remarks were the fullest public account to date of the origins of an F.B.I. investigation that continues to shadow the Trump administration." -- CW ...

... Emmarie Huetteman & Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times: "John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, said Tuesday that he became concerned last year that the Russian government was trying to influence members of the Trump campaign to act — wittingly or unwittingly — on Moscow’s behalf. 'I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals,' Mr. Brennan told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee. 'It raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.' He added, 'I don’t know whether such collusion existed.'... Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, opened questioning at a hearing Tuesday by asking Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, about a Washington Post report that Mr. Trump had asked him — along with Adm. Michael S. Rogers of the National Security Agency — to publicly dispute that any evidence exists of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.... 'Is that an accurate reporting, Director Coats?' Mr. McCain said after summarizing the report. Mr. Coats said he could not publicly discuss what was in the report.” -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Shannon Vavra of Axios: Brennan testified that "Trump's disclosure to the Russian officials in the Oval violated two protocols if the reports are true; first that such classified information is not shared with visiting Ambassadors or foreign officials — it must go through established channels — and second that before sharing any classified intel, the originating agency must verify no sources or methods will be revealed." -- CW ...

... Greg Miller of the Washington Post: "Former CIA director John Brennan said Tuesday that he personally warned the head of Russia’s intelligence service last year that Moscow’s interference in the U.S. election would backfire and cause severe damage to the country’s relationship with the United States.... Brennan ... said emphasized that the information he saw [about contacts between Trump campaign members & Russian operates] did not amount to proof of collusion or cooperation between Trump associates and Russia, but said that it 'served as the basis for the FBI investigation.' With that remark, Brennan appeared to identify the point of origin of the FBI investigation that began last July – the first time that a U.S. official has provided insight into what prompted the bureau probe." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... New Lede: "The CIA alerted the FBI to a troubling pattern of contacts between Russian officials and associates of the Trump campaign last year, former agency director John Brennan testified on Tuesday, shedding new light on the origin of a criminal probe that now reaches into the White House." -- CW ...

... ** Sarah Posner in the Washington Post: "With [his] testimony, Brennan just made it a whole lot harder — politically, at least — for the GOP to continue in its efforts to protect Trump, even as scrutiny of his campaign intensifies on the part of the FBI, and now, special counsel Robert Mueller. Yet if Tuesday’s hearing is any guide, congressional Republicans are still intent on shielding Trump by undermining the investigation in the mind of the public.... Republican members of the committee, particularly South Carolina’s Trey Gowdy, tried to get Brennan to say that no evidence of Trump campaign collusion with Russian meddling in the election exists. But Brennan repeatedly refused to render a judgment on whether there was collusion.... The result of this was that, by trying to get Brennan to say there was no collusion, Republicans made it overwhelmingly obvious that they are trying to undermine the investigation, or at least erode public confidence in it — as is Trump." -- CW ...

... David Corn of Mother Jones: "The Republicans still are not serious about investigating the Trump-Russia scandal. That message came through resoundingly when the House Intelligence Committee held a public hearing on Tuesday morning with former CIA chief John Brennan.... At the witness table, Brennan told a harrowing tale.... Yet once again Republicans did not focus on the main elements of the story.... Instead, they fixated on protecting Trump." Corn provides numerous examples of Republicans' questions. -- CW ...

... Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post: "The Senate Intelligence Committee is issuing two new subpoenas for information from former national security adviser and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s companies and challenging his lawyer’s refusal to comply with an existing subpoena for documents detailing his contacts with Russian officials, committee leaders announced Tuesday. 'A business does not have the right to take the Fifth,' Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.), the committee’s lead Democrat, told reporters as he and chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) pledged to 'keep all options on the table.'” -- CW ...

Josh Marshall of TPM on "President Trump’s overtures to the head of the NSA and the Director of National Intelligence.... We’re far past any question of a cover-up or an attempt to kill the investigation. We have almost too much evidence, too many positive acts. It’s like Trump is still operating in a reality show, where every positive act is devoid of subtlety, infinitely direct so as to move the plot-line forward in the length of a single episode and ubiquitously recorded so we can see it all playing out before our eyes." --safari ...

... Matt Zapotosky & Matea Gold of the Washington Post: "Justice Department ethics experts have concluded that newly appointed special counsel Robert S. Mueller III can oversee the investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election — even though his former law firm represents several people who could be caught up in the matter, authorities announced Tuesday." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

John Harwood of CNBC interviewed Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin about the administration's budget proposal. "Blah blah.... The president's objective is to create a middle-income tax cut. It's not to create tax cuts on the high end, and we'll look at those numbers.... Blah-blah.... Our objective is to come out with a unified plan, that the House and the Senate will support, and that can be signed by the president.... Blah-blah.... Again, what I had said is the president's priority has been not cutting taxes for the high end. His priority is about creating a middle-income tax cut. So, we'll see where it comes out. Different people have different views, but that's the president's objective.... Blah blah.... So I think Larry [Summers -- column linked below --], I think in all fairness to him, the issue is more of this is a preliminary document that will be refined...." -- CW ...

 ... Paul Waldman Translation: "The Trump tax plan will absolutely, positively be centered on a huuuuuuge tax cut for the wealthy. It just won’t be his 'objective' or his 'priority.' It’ll just happen, like, whoops, we eliminated the estate tax and the capital gains tax, and cut the top rate! We have no idea how that happened!" -- CW ...

 

The Trump budget exists somewhere over the rainbow, where the dreams of Mick Mulvaney, Paul Ryan and the Koch brothers really do come true. Of course, these dreams are a nightmare for the average working American. -- Chuck Schumer, to reports, yesterday

 ... Maximum Jeff. Matt Zapotosky: "The Justice Department is pushing as a part of its budget proposal to change federal law so that local jurisdictions can be forced to detain suspected illegal immigrants upon request. The move would give the administration far more leeway to make good on its promise to crack down on 'sanctuary cities.'... the request demonstrates the lengths to which the Justice Department is willing to go to beef up immigration enforcement. The Justice Department also asked for more authority to tie grant money to local jurisdictions’ cooperation with immigration enforcement. President Trump signed an executive order — which has since been blocked by a federal judge — threatening to cut the flow of federal funds to 'sanctuary cities.' Attorney General Jeff Sessions later sent letters to nine jurisdictions asking them to produce proof that they are communicating with federal authorities about undocumented immigrants or risk losing money.” -- CW ...

... Paul Waldman: "As the Trump White House works to sell its budget proposal, which was released [Tuesday], there’s a revealing ideological argument emerging to justify the absolutely brutal cuts to social programs that the budget includes. Americans, the administration is saying, come in two types: the deserving and the undeserving, the taxpayers and the moochers. You don’t have to worry about the way we’re eviscerating so many programs, because we’re only going after those people. It’s based on a fundamental lie: that there are taxpayers and then there are people who use social programs, and the two are not only not the same people, the groups don’t even overlap.... Every time he’d get a question about a specific cut the administration proposes — to Social Security disability, to food stamps, to Medicaid — [Budget Director Mick] Mulvaney would say that the only people who would suffer would be those who don’t deserve to get the benefit in the first place. 'We are not kicking anybody off of any program who really needs it,' he said.... What’s missing is any suggestion that the administration has some sort of plan to distinguish the deserving from the undeserving." -- CW ...

Here’s what I’m happy about – we finally have a president who’s willing to actually balance the budget. The last president never proposed, let alone tried, to balance the budget. -- Paul Ryan, yesterday

Is he lying through his teeth, or is he just that arithmetically challenged? -- Constant Weader 

... When $2 Trillion + $2 Trillion = $0. Jonathan Chait: "One of the ways Donald Trump’s budget claims to balance the budget over a decade, without cutting defense or retirement spending, is to assume a $2 trillion increase in revenue through economic growth. This is the magic of the still-to-be-designed Trump tax cuts. But wait — if you recall, the magic of the Trump tax cuts is also supposed to pay for the Trump tax cuts. So the $2 trillion is a double-counting error." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Larry Summers, in the Washington Post, concurs: "... the budget forecasts that U.S. economic growth will rise to 3.0 percent because of the administration’s policies — largely its tax cuts and perhaps also its regulatory policies. Fair enough if you believe in tooth fairies and ludicrous supply-side economics. Then the administration asserts that it will propose revenue neutral tax cuts with the revenue neutrality coming in part because the tax cuts stimulate growth! This is an elementary double count.... This is a mistake no serious business person would make. It appears to be the most egregious accounting error in a presidential budget in the nearly 40 years I have been tracking them.... The president’s personal failings are now not just center stage but whole stage.  They should not blind us to the manifest failures of his economic team.... The Trump administration has not yet made a significant economic pronouncement that meets a minimal standard of competence and honesty." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Trump's Big Infrastructure Plan = Cut Insfrastructure Spending. John Wagner of the Washington Post: "Despite his much-touted plans to spur significant increases in infrastructure investment, President Trump’s budget would actually cut more federal spending on such programs than it would add, according to an analysis by Senate Democrats." Of course, Trump's people objected to the Democrats' analysis because smoke & mirrors. -- CW...

I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. -- Donald Trump, to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, April 2017...


... Trump Praised Duterte for Murdering Filipinos. Jeremy Scahill
, et al., of the Intercept: "In a phone call from the White House late last month..., Donald Trump heaped praise on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, one of the world’s most murderous heads of state, for doing what Trump called an 'unbelievable job' in his war on drugs. Trump offered an unqualified endorsement of Duterte’s bloody extermination campaign against suspected drug dealers and users, which has included open calls for extrajudicial murders and promises of pardons and immunity for the killers. 'You are a good man,; Trump told Duterte, according to an official transcript of the April 29 call produced by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and obtained by The Intercept. 'Keep up the good work,' Trump told Duterte. 'You are doing an amazing job.'” -- CW 

Mark Landler & Jason Horowitz of the New York Times: "Pope Francis welcomed President Trump to the Vatican on Wednesday, shaking his hand before ushering him into his study for the first face-to-face meeting of the two leaders, who symbolize starkly different views of the world.... Smiles and pleasantries aside, the atmospherics of this meeting were fraught. Pope Francis and Mr. Trump have diametrically opposed views on issues as varied as immigration, climate change and arms sales. Although both men seemed determined not to let politics intrude on their encounter, the underlying tensions were clear." -- CW ...

... Sacramento Bee Editors: "On Tuesday, as Trump prepared to meet Pope Francis – conveniently far from the suspicions gathering at his White House – his tea party budget director Mick Mulvaney released the proposed 2018 budget that showed just what 'love thy neighbor' means, in dollars and cents, to The Donald. Put it this way: It’s a good thing the poor are blessed. If Trump’s budget were to pass, there wouldn’t be a prayer for the least of us.... Mulvaney spun the proposal as a way to put taxpayers before goldbricks, and claimed the resulting growth would be so massive, it would balance the budget within a decade. Like so much that comes out of this administration, the pitch was a lie based on lies." -- CW 


Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article152239202.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article152239202.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article152239202.html#storylink=cpy

Joshua Mitnick of the Los Angeles Times: "Many Palestinians seemed less than impressed by President Trump’s brief foray into the West Bank on Tuesday for talks in the town of Bethlehem with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Though Trump stood before a backdrop of Palestinian flags and listened to the playing of the Palestinian national anthem, the U.S. president’s remarks did not include any reference to a 'two-state solution,' with Israel and a Palestinian state existing side by side." CW: Gee, I thought Trump was going to negotiate a solution on the spot. ...

Ignoramus Abroad. Dana Milbank follows Trump's gaffe-o-matic trip across the Middle East --and Israel, too! -- CW ...

... Melania Trump really doesn't want to hold that guy's hand, so the guy pats her rear end:

... AND former White House photographer Pete Souza keeps on trolling the Trumps -- this time with a photo of Michelle & Barack Obama holding hands. -- CW 

Amy Davidson of the New Yorker has a terrific post on the Trump administration's penchant for hiding its dirty deeds. "... there is something distinctly dangerous about a government that thinks that what it can hide and lie about does not, for practical purposes, exist — that if no one knows about it, it’s not a problem, even internally." -- CW 

Is He Lying Now or Was He Lying Then? Olivia Beavers of the Hill: "Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) this week quietly walked back past claims that he helped President Trump create his travel ban, issuing a new court filing that says he had nothing to do with Trump's executive orders on immigration. Giuliani, a Trump campaign adviser, said in a January interview that Trump asked him to help carry out a 'Muslim Ban.'” -- CW 

** Kushner, the Deboinair Leech. Alec MacGillis, in a New York Times investigative piece: Not only is Jared Kushner a slum landlord who doesn't maintain his properties, he sues & pursues his low-income tenants & ex-tenants with bogus claims for (unearned) back rent -- claims he usually wins because the tenants can't afford lawyers & don't know how to present their own, honorable cases. CW: If you thought Kushner was just an arrogant but fairly benign little jerk, MacGillis slaps away that happy myth. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) 

Katie Jennings of Politico: "Rep. Tom MacArthur resigned Tuesday as co-chairman of the caucus of GOP moderates known as the Tuesday Group in the wake of deep divisions among its members over the House Obamacare replacement bill he helped craft.... 'Clearly, our group is divided. Many in the Tuesday Group are eager to live up to our ideal of being problem-solvers, while others seem unwilling to compromise,' MacArthur, 56, told the group.... MacArthur, a multimillionaire former insurance executive who represents the 3rd Congressional District in South Jersey, a swing district, alienated some of his centrist colleagues by brokering the deal on health care reform with the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus, a move that helped secure the bill’s passage earlier this month." -- CW 

Capitalism is Awesome, Ctd. Rosalind Adams & Cora Lewis of Buzzfeed News: "America’s largest chain of psychiatric hospitals is the target of a multi-agency federal investigation into whether it systematically holds patients longer than necessary to maximize revenues — an allegation two nurses at one of its facilities raised following a protest at its headquarters last week. According to three sources with direct knowledge of the investigation, officials are examining whether Universal Health Services directs its hospitals to hold patients for as many days as their insurer agrees to pay for, regardless of actual medical need...But BuzzFeed News has exclusively learned that the investigation has since broadened to include the FBI and the Department of Defense, which is scrutinizing UHS’s billings to Tricare, the insurance plan for active military and their families. UHS, a $12 billion company, made nearly one third of its revenues last year from government insurance providers such as Medicare and Medicaid." --safari

Michele Gorman of Newsweek, via RawStory: "The U.S. Army failed to properly monitor more than $1 billion worth of arms transfers in Iraq and Kuwait, according to a declassified government audit obtained by Amnesty International released Wednesday...Amnesty obtained the documents through Freedom of Information law requests. The group’s research documents lax controls and record-keeping within the Iraqi chain of command, which has resulted in arms manufactured in the U.S. and other countries winding up in the hands of armed groups known to be committing war crimes and other atrocities, such as the Islamic State militant group (ISIS). In response to the audit, the U.S. military has pledged to tighten its systems for tracking and monitoring future transfers to Iraq, according to Amnesty...The transfers included tens of thousands of assault rifles (worth $28 million), hundreds of mortar rounds and hundreds of Humvee armored vehicles destined for use by the central Iraqi Army." --safari: So, the solution is more money, right? 

Rachel Abrams of the New York Times: "Target will pay $18.5 million to 47 states and the District of Columbia as part of a settlement with state attorneys general over a huge security breach that compromised the data of millions of customers. The settlement ends a yearslong investigation into how hackers obtained names, credit card numbers and other information about tens of millions of people in 2013. New York will receive $635,000, while California will receive $1.4 million, the largest amount of any state, according to the Eric T. Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general. Dollar figures were determined “largely” based on each state’s population size, his office said." -- CW

Joe Romm of ThinkProgress: "Remarkable drops in the cost of solar and wind power have effectively turned the global power market upside down in recent years. We’ve seen prices for new solar farms below 3 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh) in other countries for over a year now, but before this week, not in the U.S. That changed on Monday when Tucson Electric Power (TEP), an Arizona utility company, announced that it had reached an agreement to buy solar power at the same game-changing price. TEP says that this is a 'historically low price' for a 100-megawatt system capable of powering 21,000 homes  —  and that the sub-3-cents price is 'less than half as much as it agreed to pay under similar contracts in recent years.' For context, the average U.S. residential price for electricity is nearly 13 cents per kwh, and the average commercial price is 10.5 cents." --safari

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd.

Kristine Phillips & Peter Holley of the Washington Post: "A week after publishing a problematic account about the death of former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich — an article that said Rich made contact with WikiLeaks before he was shot and killed in Washington — Fox News retracted the story, saying it did not meet the organization’s editorial standards.... By Tuesday afternoon..., the story was gone from the site. There was no editor’s note attached to the original URL; just a message saying, 'something has gone wrong.… It seems you clicked on a bad link and stumbled upon our 404 page.'” -- CW ...

... Judd Legum of ThinkProgress: "Fox News has formally retracted a story published on May 16 that claimed Seth Rich, a DNC staffer who was murdered last year, was in contact with Wikileaks.... The article, by investigative reporter Malia Zimmerman, has been removed from the internet.... While the Zimmerman article has been taken down, several pieces promoting the conspiracy remain on Fox News websites. None of this has given pause to Sean Hannity, one of Fox News’ primetime stars, who continues to relentlessly promote the Seth Rich conspiracy on his show." --safari ...

... Hannity Sticks with Conspiracy Theory. Joe Concha of the Hill: "Fox News’s Sean Hannity ripped his critics and the mainstream media on his nationally syndicated radio program Tuesday, saying, 'I am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com, I retracted nothing. His reaction came hours after Fox News retracted a story regarding the 2016 killing of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich after massive outcry over sharing conspiracy theories about the 2016 shooting death. Right-wing news outlets have sought to link — without evidence — the 27-year-old’s death to Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and the WikiLeaks release of hacked emails from her campaign and the DNC.... 'For those accusing me of pushing a conspiracy theory, you are the biggest phony hypocrites in the entire world.... You're trying to take down a president, and I'm trying to get to the truth,' Hannity said on his radio program.” -- CW ...

     ... Update. Cristiano Lima of Politico: "Fox News host Sean Hannity said on Tuesday he would step back from discussing the murder of former DNC staffer Seth Rich, hours after the slain staffer’s family made an emotional public plea for media figures to 'stop politicizing our son’s murder. Hannity, who has devoted numerous segments of his program in recent weeks to an unproven conspiracy that Rich, a former staffer for the Democratic National Committee, had been murdered as retaliation for leaking documents to WikiLeaks, said he would not continue discussing the matter out of respect for Rich’s family[.]... Hannity's retreat came hours after the Fox News personality seemed content to double-down on conspiracies surrounding Rich’s 2016 murder.” CW: I suspect Hannity got told -- and not by Seth Rich's brother, as he claimed, but by a Fox "News" suit. ...

     ... Sabrina Siddiqui of the Guardian: "Even so..., [Hannity] blamed what he dubbed as 'liberal fascism' amid a campaign targeting Hannity’s advertisers in the wake of his promotion of the false report. 'I promise you I am not going to stop doing my job,” Hannity said. “I am not going to stop trying to find the truth.'... Fox News falsely alleged federal authorities had found thousands of emails between Rich and Wikileaks, when in fact law enforcement officials disputed that Rich’s laptop had even been in possession of, or examined by, the FBI.” -- CW 

If everybody always lies to you . . . nobody believes anything any longe. And with such a people you can then do what you please. -- Hannah Arendt ...

... Margaret Sullivan of the Washington Post: "Infowars, that cesspool of destructive conspiracy theories, on Monday received a temporary credential to attend White House press briefings. Yes, the very organization headed by the repugnant Alex Jones — known to scream falsehoods at the top of his lungs to his radio and webcast audience — was entrusted by the executive branch to bring news to American citizens.... Infowars’ inclusion (even if only temporarily) in the White House press corps is disgusting. But no more disgusting than the lies that Fox News continues to spread about Seth Rich, a 27-year-old man who was fatally shot last summer in Washington. To hear Fox’s Sean Hannity tell it, this was an inside job by the Democratic National Committee, where Rich worked: retribution by the Hillary Clinton camp for his sharing insider emails with WikiLeaks.... On Sunday..., Newt Gingrich used Fox’s national platform to spread the lies.... The growing absence of truth should worry every American citizen." -- CW ...

... Aaron Rupar of ThinkProgress: "On Monday, Infowars announced it has been granted press credentials that will allow Washington bureau chief Jerome Corsi — a prominent swiftboater and birther — to attend White House press briefings. Later that same day, Infowars founder Alex Jones smeared the victims of the attack during the Ariana Grande show in Manchester that killed at least 22 people, describing them as 'liberal trendies.' 'The same people  —  God love them  —  on average who are promoting open borders, bringing Islamists in,' he added." --safari...

Beyond the Beltway

Jason Noble of the Des Moines Register: Terry "Branstad will resign as Iowa and the nation’s longest-serving governor and [Lt. Gov. Kim] Reynolds will be sworn in as his successor in back-to-back morning ceremonies at the Iowa Capitol, they announced in a press conference Tuesday. The long-awaited gubernatorial transition occurs two days after Branstad’s confirmation as ambassador to China by the U.S. Senate. In addition to the transfer of gubernatorial power, Branstad will be officially sworn into his diplomatic post." -- CW

Here's the speech that New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu gave last week on the removal of Confederate monuments. It's a powerful reckoning. The transcript, which contains additional remarks, is here:

Way Beyond

Katrin Bennhold & Stephen Castle of the New York Times: "Salman Abedi, the 22-year-old man who carried out Britain’s deadliest terrorist attack since 2005, had recently traveled to Syria and Libya, two Islamic State strongholds, and investigators believe he probably got help in Britain as he planned the bombing of the Manchester Arena. The authorities are urgently trying to determine how Mr. Abedi became a follower of the Islamic State, which has claimed responsibility for the attack, and who might have assisted him. Mr. Abedi set off a crude, improvised bomb on Monday night as fans were leaving a pop concert by the American singer Ariana Grande." -- CW ...

... Griff Witte & Karla Adam of the Washington Post: "The Islamic State claimed Tuesday that one of its 'soldiers' carried out an apparent suicide blast in Manchester that killed at least 22 people, including teenagers and others streaming out of a pop concert. The claim came as British investigators appeared to narrow their probe on one suspected assailant — whose name was not made public — and police teams fanned out around the northern city after the worst terrorist strike in Britain in more than a decade." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Gregory Katz of the AP: "Britons will find armed troops at vital locations Wednesday after the official threat level was raised to its highest point following a suicide bombing that killed 22, as new details emerged about the bomber. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said bomber Salman Abedi was known “up to a point” to the British intelligence services and police. France’s interior minister said Abedi is believed to have traveled to Syria and had 'proven' links with the Islamic State group." -- CW ...

... The Guardian's liveblog is here. -- CW ...

... David Smith & Ewen MacAskill of the Guardian: "American officials have been criticised for leaking the identity of the Manchester bomber before British police officially named him. Salman Abedi was identified in media reports that attributed 'US officials' as the source even as their British counterparts remained tight-lipped. The disclosures renewed concerns over leaks from Donald Trump’s administration two weeks after the US president revealed classified information, apparently from Israel, to Russia’s foreign minister in a White House meeting. Critics warn that US allies may be less willing to share intelligence in the future." -- CW ...

... Mitch Prothero, et al., of BuzzFeed: "UK and European intelligence officials are expressing concern over the fact that much of the information that emerged in the wake of the Manchester bombing has been sourced back to US officials.... Even US officials were frustrated by the leak. Some called the US decision to release information about an ally’s investigation before even that nation had released it 'unprofessional.'... The leaks come at a time when trust between the US intelligence services and others has been strained by the behavior of ... Donald Trump, who shared classified details with Russian officials during an Oval Office meeting earlier this month.” -- CW 

Monday
May222017

The Commentariat -- May 23, 2017

Afternoonish Update:

When $2 Trillion + $2 Trillion = $0. Jonathan Chait: "One of the ways Donald Trump's budget claims to balance the budget over a decade, without cutting defense or retirement spending, is to assume a $2 trillion increase in revenue through economic growth. This is the magic of the still-to-be-designed Trump tax cuts. But wait -- if you recall, the magic of the Trump tax cuts is also supposed to pay for the Trump tax cuts. So the $2 trillion is a double-counting error." -- CW ...

... Larry Summers, in the Washington Post, concurs: "... the budget forecasts that U.S. economic growth will rise to 3.0 percent because of the administration's policies -- largely its tax cuts and perhaps also its regulatory policies. Fair enough if you believe in tooth fairies and ludicrous supply-side economics. Then the administration asserts that it will propose revenue neutral tax cuts with the revenue neutrality coming in part because the tax cuts stimulate growth! This is an elementary double count.... This is a mistake no serious business person would make. It appears to be the most egregious accounting error in a presidential budget in the nearly 40 years I have been tracking them.... The president's personal failings are now not just center stage but whole stage. They should not blind us to the manifest failures of his economic team.... The Trump administration has not yet made a significant economic pronouncement that meets a minimal standard of competence and honesty." -- CW

Emmarie Huetteman & Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times: "John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, said Tuesday that he became concerned last year that the Russian government was trying to influence members of the Trump campaign to act -- wittingly or unwittingly -- on Moscow's behalf. 'I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals,' Mr. Brennan told lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee. 'It raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.' He added, 'I don't know whether such collusion existed.'... Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican chairman of the Armed Services Committee, opened questioning at a hearing Tuesday by asking Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, about a Washington Post report that Mr. Trump had asked him -- along with Adm. Michael S. Rogers of the National Security Agency -- to publicly dispute that any evidence exists of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.... 'Is that an accurate reporting, Director Coats?' Mr. McCain said after summarizing the report. Mr. Coats said he could not publicly discuss what was in the report." -- CW ...

... Greg Miller of the Washington Post: "Former CIA director John Brennan said Tuesday that he personally warned the head of Russia's intelligence service last year that Moscow's interference in the U.S. election would backfire and cause severe damage to the country's relationship with the United States.... Brennan ... said emphasized that the information he saw [about contacts between Trump campaign members & Russian operates] did not amount to proof of collusion or cooperation between Trump associates and Russia, but said that it 'served as the basis for the FBI investigation.' With that remark, Brennan appeared to identify the point of origin of the FBI investigation that began last July -- the first time that a U.S. official has provided insight into what prompted the bureau probe." -- CW ...

... Matt Zapotosky & Matea Gold of the Washington Post: "Justice Department ethics experts have concluded that newly appointed special counsel Robert S. Mueller III can oversee the investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election -- even though his former law firm represents several people who could be caught up in the matter, authorities announced Tuesday." -- CW

Griff Witte & Karla Adam of the Washington Post: "The Islamic State claimed Tuesday that one of its 'soldiers' carried out an apparent suicide blast in Manchester that killed at least 22 people, including teenagers and others streaming out of a pop concert. The claim came as British investigators appeared to narrow their probe on one suspected assailant -- whose name was not made public -- and police teams fanned out around the northern city after the worst terrorist strike in Britain in more than a decade." -- CW

The Debonair Leech. Alec MacGillis, in a New York Times investigative piece: Not only is Jared Kushner a slum landlord who doesn't maintain his properties, he sues & pursues his low-income tenants & ex-tenants with bogus claims for (unearned) back rent -- claims he usually wins because the tenants can't afford lawyers & don't know how to present their own, honorable cases. -- CW

*****

On the Road to Impeachment, Ctd.

Adam Entous & Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post: "President Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials. Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election. Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials.... Trump sought the assistance of Coats and Rogers after FBI Director James B. Comey told the House Intelligence Committee on March 20 that the FBI was investigating 'the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts.' Trump's conversation with Rogers was documented contemporaneously in an internal memo written by a senior NSA official, according to the officials.... A senior intelligence official said that Trump's goal was to 'muddy the waters' about the scope of the FBI probe.... In addition to the requests to Coats and Rogers, senior White House officials sounded out top intelligence officials about the possibility of intervening directly with Comey to encourage the FBI to drop its probe of Michael Flynn...." -- CW ...

     ... Kevin Drum: "This. Is. Nuts. Trump is not only corrupt, he's an unbelievable moron. He personally asked the NSA director and the overall director of national intelligence to publicly weigh in on an ongoing investigation. Not only that, he basically asked them to lie, since they weren't privy to what the FBI was doing." -- CW ...

     ... Following the Nixon Playbook. Dylan Matthews of Vox: Donald Trump has committed the exact offense that forced Richard Nixon to resign.... We now know that before Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, he asked Comey to stop investigating former National Security Adviser Flynn. This is exactly the same kind of FBI investigation interference that forced Nixon out of the White House and shocked his Republican allies out of defending him. What's more, we now know that Trump asked the Director of National Intelligence and the director of the National Security Agency to publicly deny the existence of collusion between his campaign and Russia -- an attempt at interference in the intelligence community that calls directly to mind Nixon's attempt to use the CIA to scuttle an FBI probe." -- CW ...

... Mark Mazzetti & Matthew Rosenberg of the New York Times: "Michael T. Flynn, President Trump's former national security adviser, misled Pentagon investigators about his income from companies in Russia and contacts with officials there when he applied for a renewal of his top-secret security clearance last year, according to a letter released Monday by the top Democrat on the House oversight committee. Mr. Flynn ... told investigators in February 2016 that he had received no income from foreign companies and had only 'insubstantial contact' with foreign nationals, according to the letter.... The House letter, written by Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, was made public hours after Mr. Flynn formally rejected a subpoena from senators investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and chose to instead invoke his right against self-incrimination, a person familiar with his decision said." -- CW ...

     ... Here's Cummings' letter. ...

... Flynn to Plead the Fifth. Chad Day of the AP: "Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will invoke his constitutional right against self-incrimination on Monday when he declines to hand over documents to a Senate panel investigating Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, The Associated Press has learned. Flynn is expected to cite Fifth Amendment protections in a letter Monday to the Senate intelligence committee...." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Update. Brian Naylor & Mary Kelly of NPR: "Michael Flynn is invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination on Monday, refusing to hand over documents subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee.... The panel could hold him in contempt of Congress, but there are other options.... [Rep. Elijah] Cummings says a report dated March 16 shows Flynn told security clearance investigators he was paid by 'U.S. companies' when he traveled in December 2015 to Moscow, where he dined with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 'The actual source of the funds for Flynn's trip,' Cummings said in a statement, 'was not a U.S. company, but the Russian media propaganda arm, RT.'" -- CW ...

That Was Then:

The mob takes the Fifth Amendment. If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment? -- Donald Trump, at a campaign rally in Iowa, September 2016, on some of Hillary Clinton's aides

When you are given immunity, that means you have probably committed a crime. -- Michael Flynn, to Chuck Todd, September 2016

... Austin Wright & Burgess Everett of Politico: "Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr is not ruling out holding Michael Flynn in contempt of Congress as ... Donald Trump's former national security adviser continues to stonewall lawmakers.... '... [Contempt is] certainly one of the avenues that we could pursue,' the North Carolina Republican told three reporters on Monday evening. 'It does us no good to have people insist on pleading the Fifth if you're out trying to get information. The only thing I can tell you is immunity is off the table.'" -- CW ...

... Cap'n. Chrisco's Revenge. John Wagner of the Washington Post: "New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), a former chairman of Donald Trump's transition team, said Monday that he repeatedly recommended that Trump not give a job to Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. 'If I were president-elect of the United States, I wouldn't let General Flynn in the White House, let alone give him a job,' Christie said during a wide-ranging news conference in Trenton, N.J.... Christie, who was relieved of his duties overseeing the transition shortly after the November election, declined to detail his concerns about Flynn. 'I'm not going to get into specifics,' Christie said. 'Some of it involves classified information that I'm just not at liberty to discuss.'... Asked about Trump's recent characterization of fired FBI Director James B. Comey as a 'nut job,' Christie said..., 'I would disagree with the characterization of Jim as a "nut job,"' said Christie, who as a former U.S. attorney interacted with Comey. 'I've known Jim for a long time.'" -- CW ...

... Hiding in His Office. Seung Min Kim of Politico: "Attorney General Jeff Sessions will no longer testify before Congress this week on funding for the Justice Department, aides said Monday -- hearings that would likely have been overtaken by questions about the federal probe into potential collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign." -- CW ...

... Pamela Brown & Shimon Prokupecz of CNN: "Robert Mueller -- the former FBI director now overseeing the Department of Justice's investigation into Russia's election-year meddling and contact with the Trump campaign -- has been briefed on the contents of some of the memos that former FBI Director James Comey kept to document his conversations with ... Donald Trump, according to a person familiar with the matter. Additionally, he has already visited FBI headquarters, where he met with the counterintelligence agents who have been working on the case since last July, according to two people familiar with the matter." -- CW ...

... Austin Wright of Politico: "House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz on Monday said he will postpone a hearing scheduled for Wednesday after speaking with former FBI Director James Comey, who had been invited to testify.... Comey has agreed to a separate request to testify publicly before the Senate Intelligence Committee, a session that's expected to be scheduled for after Memorial Day." -- CW ...

... Ken Dilanian of NBC News: "Two former associates of President Trump - Paul Manafort and Roger Stone - have turned over documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee in its Russia investigation, a congressional source with direct knowledge told NBC News." -- CW ...

... Ken Vogel of Politico: "A member of the Federal Election Commission is calling on the agency to investigate whether Russian agents paid for Facebook ads to spread damaging stories about Hillary Clinton ahead of last fall's presidential election. 'I think there is potential there for finding a violation, but I don't want to suggest that I have prejudged anything that could potentially come before me,' said FEC commissioner Ellen Weintraub, a Democratic appointee to the commission.Her assertion comes as agency staff is already moving to investigate a related complaint filed in December by a pair of watchdog groups against Trump's campaign and the Russian government, according to two sources familiar with the agency's handling of the complaint." -- CW ...

... Jose Pagliery of CNN: "The Trump Taj Mahal casino broke anti-money laundering rules 106 times in its first year and a half of operation in the early 1990s, according to the IRS in a 1998 settlement agreement. It's a bit of forgotten history that's buried in federal records held by an investigative unit of the Treasury Department, records that congressional committees investigating Trump's ties to Russia have obtained access to.... Trump's casino ended up paying the Treasury Department a $477,000 fine in 1998 without admitting any liability.... The Associated Press noted it was the largest fine the federal government ever slapped on a casino for violating the Bank Secrecy Act.... Congressional investigators say they are interested in the global network of Trump's finances to determine if FinCEN's data shows connections between Trump associates and Russia.... The violations date back to a time when the Taj Mahal was the preferred gambling spot for Russian mobsters living in Brooklyn, according to federal investigators.... They also occurred at a time when the Taj Mahal casino was short on cash and on the verge of bankruptcy." -- CW ...

... Robert Costa & Ashley Parker of the Washington Post: "President Trump is moving rapidly toward assembling outside counsel to help him navigate the investigations into his campaign and Russian interference in last year's election, and in recent days he and his advisers have privately courted several prominent attorneys to join the effort. By Monday, a list of finalists for the legal team had emerged, according to four people briefed on the discussions." CW: Mostly the "prominent attorneys" need to wrap duct tape across Trump's mouth & his Twitter fingers. ...

... Elania Johnson & Josh Dawsey of Politico: "The White House is looking to wall off the scandals threatening to overtake the president's agenda by building a separate crisis management operation.... Donald Trump personally reached out to two of his former campaign aides -- his first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and his deputy campaign manager, David Bossie -- to sound them out about working with the administration as crisis managers, according to two people familiar with the situation." CW: Good choices. Both of these guys are crisis creators, not crisis managers. ...

... Trump Keeps Trying to Justify His Blabbermouth. Nolan McCaskill of Politico: "... Donald Trump on Monday denied divulging Israel as the source behind highly classified intelligence he shared with Russian officials, as he attempted to push back against a damaging Washington Post report. Citing current and former U.S. officials, the Post reported last week that Trump disclosed a sensitive Islamic State plot to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador during an Oval Office meeting earlier this month. Later reports pointed to Israel as the original source of the intelligence. Trump, in Israel..., delivered brief remarks alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.... 'The intelligence cooperation is terrific,' Netanyahu told reporters. Trump paused for a moment and halted the press from leaving the room. 'Hey, folks,' he said. 'Hey, folks. Folks. Folks. Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name "Israel." Never mentioned it during that conversation,' Trump said.... The initial Washington Post report, however, never suggested that Trump used the term 'Israel.'" -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate: "Another great moment for America courtesy of ... Donald Trump, who is in Jerusalem meeting with Israeli leaders -- who, I guess, he does not consider Middle Eastern because they are not Arabs: 'Trump, in remarks..., says "we just got back from the Middle East."'" -- Gregg Carlstrom ... May 22, 2017." -- CW: Guess Trump is still exhausted. ...

... Jeremy Diamond of CNN: "Trump, wearing a yarmulke, placed his right hand on the wall and swayed slightly back and forth with his eyes closed for nearly a minute. He then reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a noted on a folded piece of paper, and placed it into a crack in the wall." CW: According to local reporters, the note read, "Look, God, Ivanka told me you're a Jew, which means the whole Jesus thing is totally fake news!!! Everyone is saying you should PICK ME to be THE ONE sitting at your right hand. Believe me, I'll make Heaven GREAT again!!! Amen." s/Donald J. Trump, 1600 Pa. Ave., Washington, D.C., U.S.A. "P.S. What do you think about the 72 virgins thing? Sounds like a winning strategy to me. And I should know -- I won the electoral college in the greatest landslide in history!!! P.P.S. Also I cured the sick so they wouldn't need health insurance anymore. DiJiT." ...

Lasting Peach:

... Melania Trump can't stand to touch the guy:

     ... CW Update: Okay, I got it wrong. Melania isn't slapping away the commander-in-creep's hand. Out there in the hot Israeli sun, she's "pining for the fjiords." For an explanation, see Akhilleus's commentary below. ...

... Anushay Hossain in a CNN opinion piece: Melania Trump's "intense appeal [to Saudi Arabians] makes sense, considering the first lady represents so much that Saudi citizens find familiar and can relate to, especially visually. Melania walks behind her husband, is quiet and reserved, does not make obvious demands (at least not ones we can hear), and most importantly, she looks beautiful and polished.... How the Saudi government likes women to behave is similar to how Donald Trump has said he likes women to behave.... The Saudi press also appreciated Melania and first daughter Ivanka Trump's championing of the kingdom's feminism light, also known by some as 'fake feminism' -- the same brand of women's rights Donald Trump likes to promote -- which the two did by visiting companies run by women entrepreneurs. Those visits, which Ivanka and Melania made separately, project a false narrative of a government committed to advancing women's rights." -- CW ...

Julie Davis of the New York Times: "President Trump plans to unveil on Tuesday a $4.1 trillion budget for 2018 that would cut deeply into programs for the poor, from health care and food stamps to student loans and disability payments, laying out an austere vision for reordering the nation's priorities. The document [is] grandly titled 'A New Foundation for American Greatness.'... It calls for an increase in military spending of 10 percent and spending more than $2.6 billion for border security -- including $1.6 billion to begin work on a wall on the border with Mexico -- as well as huge tax reductions and an improbable promise of 3 percent economic growth. The wildly optimistic projections balance Mr. Trump's budget, at least on paper, even though the proposal makes no changes to Social Security's retirement program or Medicare, the two largest drivers of the nation's debt. To compensate, the package contains deep cuts in entitlement programs that would hit hardest many of the economically strained voters who propelled the president into office. Over the next decade, it calls for slashing more than $800 billion from Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor, while slicing $192 billion from nutritional assistance and $272 billion over all from welfare programs. And domestic programs outside of military and homeland security whose budgets are determined annually by Congress would also take a hit, their funding falling by $57 billion, or 10.6 percent. The plan would cut by more than $72 billion the disability benefits.... It would eliminate loan programs that subsidize college education for the poor and those who take jobs in government or nonprofit organizations." ...

     ... CW: Funny how the Sheriff of Rottingham sneaked out of the country for the "unveiling." ...

... Andrew Restuccia, et al., of Politico: "Donald Trump, whose populist message and promises to help American workers propelled him to the White House, is set to issue a budget proposal on Tuesday that instead takes aim at the social safety net on which many of his supporters rely. Rather than breaking with Washington precedent, Trump's spending blueprint follows established conservative orthodoxy, cutting taxes on the wealthy, boosting defense spending and taking a hatchet to programs for the poor and disabled -- potentially hurting many of the rural and low-income Americans that voted him into office." -- CW ...

... Trump Recommends Americans Add Squirrel Meat to Diet (you'll have to read to the last graf). Caitlin Dewey & Tracy Jan of the Washington Post: "President Trump's anticipated cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps, will likely be felt most in regions of the country with chronic high rates of unemployment -- from the rural Southeast to aging manufacturing towns to Indian reservations. People in those regions are temporarily exempt from national work requirements for the SNAP program, because there are not enough jobs there for everyone who wants one. But there is growing anticipation that the budget to be unveiled on Tuesday could incorporate proposals drafted by the conservative Heritage Foundation that would eliminate or curtail the unemployment-rate waivers. That means the federal government could cut off assistance to unemployed adults who live in areas where few jobs are available.... Changes to the work-requirement waivers will likely not be the Trump administration's only proposed cuts to SNAP. While details remain sparse, Trump is expected to propose cutting as much as 25 percent of the program&'s funding over 10 years, which would go far beyond past House Republican proposals...." -- CW ...

... Trump Proposes to Bring Back Bubonic Plague. Joel Achenbach & Lena Sun of the Washington Post: "President Trump's 2018 budget request to Congress seeks massive cuts in spending on health programs, including medical research, disease prevention programs and health insurance for children living in poverty. The full budget document is scheduled to be released Tuesday morning, but either by mistake or design, the administration posted the section dealing with the Department of Health and Human Services late Monday afternoon. The document was soon taken offline. The dramatic cuts in spending on programs that normally have enjoyed bipartisan support is part of the Trump administration's effort to cut trillions of dollars in spending over the next decade while at the same time paying for tax cuts and increases in military spending." ...

     ... CW: To be clear, just because you are personally protected from Trump's proposed draconian cuts to Medicaid, some of the cuts outlined in the WashPo report affect every one of us. You might have guaranteed health insurance, but that doesn't make you any less susceptible to epidemics or to health events that might be preventable with further medical research. These are budget cuts aimed at threatening the health of every American. ...

... We Cannot Be Bothered with Your Healthcare Concerns. Paul Demko & Josh Dawsey of Politico: "The Trump administration Monday plans to ask a federal court for another 90-day delay in a lawsuit over Obamacare insurance subsidies, according to two administration sources, leaving the future of the health care marketplaces in limbo through late August. The suit, House v. Price, centers on Obamacare's cost-sharing program, which reimburses health insurers to help low-income people make co-payments at the doctor or hospital. The legal motion in a case that was brought by House Republicans during the Obama administration is expected to be filed later Monday.... While another delay would stop short of imploding the markets, it still undermines the exchanges, by continuing uncertainty as insurers decide where to offer coverage and how to price it." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Kayla Tausche of CNBC: "The White House, during that time, will continue to make payments to insurers, according to a senior administration official. The payments, called 'cost-sharing reductions,' represent billions of dollars annually to the insurance industry to offset plans for low-income participants on the ACA exchanges.... Donald Trump reserves the right to unilaterally cut off the payments, made monthly by the Department of Health and Human Services.... In an interview with The Economist on May 4, Trump weighed that option publicly, saying: 'You know when people say, "Oh, Obamacare is so wonderful," there is no Obamacare, it's dead. Plus we're subsidising it and we don't have to subsidise it. You know if I ever stop wanting to pay the subsidies, which I will.'" CW: A nonsensical sentence, but you get the idea: screw the working poor. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

    ... Wait, Wait. There's More. Top Democrats are demanding answers from the Trump administration about whether a top healthcare official offered insurance companies a quid pro quo to get their support for the GOP's ObamaCare repeal bill. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma sought political support from insurance companies for the American Health Care Act (AHCA) by offering a deal to continue funding congressionally mandated cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said the report is false." -- CW ...

... Dana Milbank: "The budget would eviscerate aid to the poor, and it makes preposterous assumptions about future growth. In other words -- a cruelty wrapped in a lie. [Budget Director Mick] Mulvaney on Monday acknowledged it's a 'fair point' that Congress will ignore the proposal. But this outrage deserves attention." -- CW ...

... The Big Con. Derek Thompson of the Atlantic: "In the biggest picture, the Trump budget is a multi-trillion-dollar transfer of post-tax income from the poor and sick to the richest 1 percent. This not only explicitly reverses many of the president's campaign promises. Even stranger, it represents an extraordinarily unpopular vision for government by a president who is obsessed with demonstrating his own popularity.... So, what, exactly is Trump thinking? A simple answer is: He isn't.... But another reasonable interpretation is that Trump's budget is simply a continuation of the con-artistry he's practiced for decades.... Once again, the con is that he cared." -- CW

Ruy Teixeira in Vox: "What ... polls [taken since November] have revealed is, despite fears of surging right-wing populism, we are seeing surging liberalism instead.... The dominant ideology in the United States is one that combines 'symbolic conservatism' (honoring tradition, distrusting novelty, embracing the conservative label) with 'operational liberalism' (wanting government to take more action in a wide variety of areas)." -- CW

White House Generates Fake News. Callum Borchers of the Washington Post: Part of the White House's excellent playbook is to give major media reporters fake leaks. "According to [Maggie] Haberman, members of the Trump administration already have tried to dupe the New York Times on several occasions -- presumably with tips that seem plausible and are not easily dismissed as 'crazy.'" CNN revealed an instance in which Trump himself used a "misdirection ploy" to get more favorable coverage. "It appears that White House reporters can take absolutely nothing at face value, at this point." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Amy Wang of the Washington Post: "A large sinkhole has formed in front of Mar-a-Lago, the Palm Beach estate belonging to President Trump.... But where utility workers saw a repair project, the Internet saw a giant opening -- for metaphors." CW: Here's my favorite: "Sean Spicer wants to make it very clear there is NOT a sinkhole in front of Mar-A-Lago... It is a Florida Swamp Center. -- Tony Posnanski (@tonyposnanski) May 22, 2017." But don't stop reading there. ...

... Barry Blitt of the New Yorker previews the post-presidential paintings of DiJiT. -- CW

Nancy LeTourneau of the Washington Monthly: "During Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia, this happened: 'Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will donate a combined $100 million to a World Bank fund for women entrepreneurs that was the brainchild of Ivanka Trump....' ... [Donald Trump] didn't hesitate to call the Clinton Foundation a 'criminal enterprise' for accepting money from Saudi Arabia.... But in the scheme of things, the evolution of Trump the presidential candidate to Trump the president has actually been nothing if not an exercise in hypocrisy. The real question is whether or not the media will treat Ivanka Trump's role with the World Bank's Women Entrepreneurs Fund the same way they treated Hillary Clinton with respect to her role with the Clinton Foundation." -- CW

Wilbur Ross Is Dumber than a Date Palm. Louis Nelson of Politico: "Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross marveled Monday morning that there was not even 'a single hint or a protester' anywhere in Saudi Arabia during ... Donald Trump's visit there over the weekend, conceding only at a CNBC anchor's prodding that the lack of unrest could have been due to the Islamic kingdom's lack of protections for freedom of speech." In the same breath Ross said, "There's no question that they're liberalizing their society." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Robert Barnes of the Washington Post: "The Supreme Court ruled Monday that North Carolina's Republican-controlled legislature unlawfully relied on race when drawing two of the state's congressional districts. The decision continued a trend at the court, where justices have found that racial considerations improperly predominated in redistricting decisions by Republican-led legislatures in Virginia, Alabama and North Carolina. Some involved congressional districts, others legislative districts.... The justices declared North Carolina had relied too heavily on race in their efforts to 'reshuffle,' in the words of Justice Elena Kagan, voters from one district to another. They were unanimous in rejecting one of the districts, and split 5 to 3 on the other.... In the split decision, Justice Clarence Thomas joined the liberal justices in saying race improperly predominated the drawing of the district. New Justice Neil M. Gorsuch was not on the court when the case was heard, and took no part in the decision.... Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr. were the dissenters in the decision. Alito wrote that drawing the districts is 'readily explained by political considerations.'" CW: Uh-huh. Looks as if the CJ still thinks, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race"; i.e., pretend racism doesn't exist. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Rick Hasen: "This decision by Justice Kagan is a major victory for voting rights plaintiffs, who have succeeded in turning the racial gerrymandering cause of action into an effective tool to go after partisan gerrymanders in Southern states. That Justice Kagan got Justice Thomas not only to vote this way but to sign onto the opinion (giving it precedential value) is a really big deal.... In other words [according to Kagan's opinion], the sorting of voters on the grounds of their race remains suspect even if race is meant to function as a proxy for other (including political) characteristics.... Wow." -- Emphasis original. CW

Nicole Perlroth of the New York Times: "More evidence emerged Monday that North Korean hackers were behind the global ransomware attack that still holds hundreds of thousands of computers hostage. There are now hard links connecting a group of North Korean hackers that experts call the Lazarus Group to the ransomware known as WannaCry, according to researchers at the security company Symantec." -- CW

Matthew Harvey, et al., of WhoWhatWhy: "On Friday, former Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) accepted a plea deal in a Manhattan courtroom to a charge of 'transfer of obscene material to a minor.' WhoWhatWhy has learned that much of what we know about this crime -- which played a major role in the outcome of the election -- is a lie.... The girl was presented in news accounts -- and Weiner's plea deal -- as being 15 at the time, that is, under the age of consent in her state. She was [nearly 17 when she first contacted Weiner, which is above above the age of consent in North Carolina, the state where she lived.]... Weiner's victim and her family were not, as represented, Clinton fans -- they actually were strong Trump enthusiasts.... Contrary to tabloid accounts, she initiated the contact with Weiner. And she went out of her way to seek advice from a GOP-associated figure behind prior efforts to harm Weiner and other Democrats." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Capitalism Is Awesome, Ctd. Michael Corkery & Ben Protess of the New York Times: "For years, Citigroup employees feared that millions of dollars the bank was moving to Mexico might be suspicious. Yet in many cases, the bank did not alert regulators or step up its monitoring for money laundering, federal prosecutors said Monday.... The bank did not properly safeguard its systems from being infiltrated by drug money and other illicit funds, prosecutors said. On Monday, Citigroup agreed to pay $97.4 million in a settlement after a long federal investigation into Banamex USA. In exchange, the Justice Department will not file criminal charges against the bank in connection with inadequate oversight of Banamex USA, which is based in California. As part of the agreement, Banamex USA 'admitted to criminal violations by willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money-laundering' compliance program, the Justice Department said." -- CW

From the Autocrat's Playbook: Blame the Victims. Kareem Fahim of the Washington Post: "Turkey’s foreign ministry on Monday lodged a formal protest with the U.S. ambassador to Ankara over what it said were 'lapses of security' during a violent confrontation between protesters and Turkish bodyguards during President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's visit to Washington earlier this month. The summoning of the ambassador, John Bass, sharply escalated a diplomatic rift between Turkey and the United States after the brawl, which prompted outrage in the United States, as well as calls for the prosecution of the Turkish guards and even the expulsion of the Turkey's ambassador in D.C. American and Turkish officials have provided directly contrasting versions of how the violence unfolded." -- CW (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Idiots Abroad. Meet your travelling Trump voter. -- CW

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Monica Lewinsky, in a New York Times op-ed: "This is not another obituary for Roger Ailes, who died last week 10 months after being ousted at Fox News. It is, I hope, instead an obituary for the culture he purveyed -- a culture that affected me profoundly and personally. Just two years after Rupert Murdoch appointed Mr. Ailes to head the new cable news network, my relationship with President Bill Clinton became public. Mr. Ailes, a former Republican political operative, took the story of the affair and the trial that followed and made certain his anchors hammered it ceaselessly, 24 hours a day." -- CW

Beyond the Beltway

Melanie Mason of the Los Angeles Times: "A single-payer healthcare system in California -- a galvanizing cause among the state's progressive flank -- would cost $400 billion annually, according to a legislative analysis released on Monday.... Under the bill, the state would cover medical care for every resident in California, including those without legal immigration status. Enrollees would not have to pay premiums, co-payments or deductibles. The analysis cautions that the single-payer bill, SB 562 by Sens. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) and Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), would required 'unprecedented changes to a mature healthcare system.'" -- CW

Way Beyond

Rory Smith & Sewell Chan of the New York Times: "An explosion that appeared to be a suicide bombing killed at least 22 people on Monday night and wounded 59 others at an Ariana Grande concert filled with adoring adolescent fans, in what the police were treating as a terrorist attack.... Chief Constable [Ian] Hopkins said that a man had detonated 'an improvised explosive device' and had been killed in the blast. He said the police believed that the man had acted alone, but that they were trying to determine whether he had been part of a wider network." -- CW ...

... The Guardian's liveblog is here. See also yesterday's News Ledes. ...

... Annie Karni of Politico: "... Donald Trump on Tuesday called the suspected terrorist who killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester an 'evil loser' and said he stands in 'absolute solidarity' with victims in the United Kingdom." -- CW

News Ledes

New York Times: "Roger Moore, the dapper British actor who brought tongue-in-cheek humor to the James Bond persona in seven films, eclipsing his television career, which had included starring roles in at least five series, died on Tuesday in Switzerland. He was 89." -- CW

Washington Post: "Dina Merrill, an actress whose aristocratic poise and willowy good looks earned her many film and TV roles as well-bred society women -- parts that reflected her own life as a scion of two of America's richest families -- died May 22 at her home in East Hampton, N.Y. She was 93." -- CW