The Wires
The Ledes

Thursday, April 19, 2018.

New York Times: "Two years after the sudden death of Prince by accidental fentanyl overdose, one of the lingering mysteries surrounding the enigmatic musician concerned how and where he obtained the powerful synthetic opioid that killed him and whether anyone would be held responsible. On Thursday, law enforcement authorities in Minnesota closed a major part of their investigation, announcing that no one would be criminally charged in the case. The Carver County attorney, Mark Metz, said in a news conference that Prince died after unknowingly taking counterfeit Vicodin that contained fentanyl, but that there was 'no reliable evidence of how Prince obtained' the fatal drug."

Especially if you're into very high-end decorative porcelain, here are some highlights of David & Peggy Rockefeller's collection that will go on auction beginning May 1. Unless you're a Rockefeller, your grandmother's curio cabinet never looked quite like this. To access the full Christie's catalog on the Rockefeller estate objets, start here.

Oh Noes! The Local: "Rome's Jewish community is embroiled in a standoff with Israel's top religious authority after it declared the Eternal City's cherished dish of 'carciofi alla giudia' (deep-fried whole artichoke) not kosher. The crisp golden delicacies are a speciality of the Roman-Jewish cuisine and a prominent feature on menus. But Israel's Chief Rabbinate said the method of cooking the artichoke whole made it impossible to clean properly and it didn't therefore adhere to kosher standards. 'The heart of the artichoke is full of worms, there's no way you can clean it,' said the head of imports of Israel's Rabbinate, Yitzhak Arazi, in an interview with national newspaper Haaretz. 'It can't be kosher. It's not our politics, this is Jewish religious law.'" ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: This would be a tragedy. I've had Jewish-style artichokes in Rome's old Jewish quarter, & I'm pretty sure god would approve.

New York Times: Turns out the reboot of "Roseanne" is the result of ABC Entertainment's plan to become the Trump Nation's go-to teevee network, a strategy that began to take shape the day after Trump's election. "The top markets for the debut [of "Roseanne"] read like a political pollster’s red-state checklist: Cincinnati; Kansas City, Mo.; Tulsa, Okla. Liberal enclaves like New York and Los Angeles did not crack the top 20." ...

... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: If, like Medlar & me, you happened to miss the premiere/reboot of the "Roseanne" show, where Roseanne Barr plays a Trump supporter (as she is in real life),

This video is dedicated to the Wives of Trump. Thanks to a friend for the link:

Here's a related story by Avi Selk of the Washington Post: "Deep-sea anglerfish sex ... is an endless horror. Every. Single. Time. A male anglerfish's first and only sexual adventure results in his becoming permanently fused — by his lips, no less — to the side of a relatively gargantuan female that resembles David Cronenberg's nightmare about the shark from 'Jaws.'”

 

An Outsider Artist Who Changed Modern Painting. New York: "In the 1940s, a 16-year-old girl captured the minds of the art world’s elite. The self-taught Algerian artist, Baya Mahieddine (1931-1988) — known as Baya — is finally being celebrated in the first North American exhibition of her work, at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, through March 31. Baya used gouache as her primary medium, depicting a world without men but full of bright images of women, nature, and animals." Baya influenced, among others, Picasso & Matisse, which is kinda obvious.

I posted this for no other reason than this is the first time I've seen it. But the "national policy" Tommy announces is more true today than ever in American history. To those of you too young to have seen a Carson monologue, I apologize:

ObamaTV. New York Times: "Former President Barack Obama is in advanced negotiations with Netflix to produce a series of high-profile shows that will provide him a global platform after his departure from the White House, according to people familiar with the discussions.Under terms of a proposed deal, which is not yet final, Netflix would pay Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, for exclusive content that would be available only on the streaming service.... The Netflix deal, while not a direct answer to Fox News or Breitbart.com, would give Mr. Obama an unfiltered method of communication with the public similar to the audiences he already reaches through social media...."

Chicago Tribune: "A new scientific study claims that bones found in 1940 on the Pacific Island of Nikumaroro belong to [American aviator Amelia] Earhart, despite a forensic analysis of the remains conducted in 1941 that linked the bones to a male. The bones, revisited in the study 'Amelia Earhart and the Nikumaroro Bones' by University of Tennessee professor Richard Jantz, were discarded. For decades they have remained an enigma, as some have speculated that Earhart died a castaway on the island after her plane crashed." Jantz's conclusion is based on measurements of the bones taken by a medical doctor in 1941.

... Michael Rosenwald of the Washington Post has the full story.

Here's the L.A. Times' main Academy Awards page. ...

Constant Comments

 

Editor-in-Chief:
Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. -- H. L. Mencken (probably)

Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. -- A. J. Liebling

Monday
Apr092018

The Commentariat -- April 10, 2018

Afternoon Update:

Michael Shear, et al., of the New York Times: "Rod J. Rosenstein, the veteran Republican prosecutor handpicked by President Trump to serve as deputy attorney general, personally signed off on Monday’s F.B.I. decision to raid the office of Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney and longtime confidant, three government officials said. The early-morning searches enraged Mr. Trump, associates said, setting off an angry public tirade Monday evening that continued in private at the White House as the president fumed about whether he should fire Mr. Rosenstein. The episode has deeply unsettled White House aides, Justice Department officials and lawmakers from both parties, who believe the president may use it as a pretext to purge the team leading the investigation into Russia meddling in the 2016 election.... Mr. Rosenstein’s personal involvement in the decision signals that the evidence seen by law enforcement officials was significant enough to persuade the Justice Department’s second-in-command that such an aggressive move was necessary.... Mr. Trump considered firing Mr. Rosenstein last summer. Instead, he ordered Mr. Mueller to be fired, then backed down after the White House counsel refused to carry out the order, The New York Times reported in January." ...

     ... New Lede: "The F.B.I. agents who raided the office of President Trump’s personal lawyer on Monday were looking for records about payments to two women [Playboy model Karen McDougal & adult-film actress Stormy Daniels] who claim they had affairs with Mr. Trump, and information related to the publisher of The National Enquirer’s role in silencing one of the women, several people briefed on the investigation said." ...

... Ken White, in the New York Times, provides an excellent summary of why the FBI's raid of Cohen's records is "highly dangerous, and not just for Mr. Cohen. It’s perilous for the president, whose personal lawyer now may face a choice between going down fighting alone or saving his own skin by giving the wolves what they want."

Rats ... Sinking Ship. Mark Landler of the New York Times: "The Trump administration announced another major departure from its senior ranks on Tuesday, with the resignation of Thomas P. Bossert as President Trump’s chief adviser on homeland security. Mr. Bossert’s resignation coincided with the arrival of John R. Bolton as the president’s national security adviser, and was an unmistakable sign that Mr. Bolton is intent on naming his own people." ...

     ... Update: Jeremy Diamond, et al., of CNN: "White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert was pushed out of his position by the newly installed national security adviser John Bolton, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN on Tuesday."

Juliet Eilperin & Brady Dennis of the Washington Post: "Two Democratic senators demanded a congressional inquiry Tuesday into the justification underpinning the round-the-clock security detail for Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, citing new documents suggesting that level of security is not justified. Writing to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), fellow panel members Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.) reference several internal EPA documents — which they kept confidential ... — that allude to the kind of threats that have not traditionally triggered 24/7 protection. Those include messages threatening to leave scrapings of old paint at the administrator’s office and one telling Pruitt 'we are watching you' on the agency’s climate-related policies.... The agency pushed back strongly on Tuesday. 'Scott Pruitt has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him,' spokesman Jahan Wilcox said in a statement...." ...

New York Times: "Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, will make his much-anticipated appearance before members of Congress starting Tuesday afternoon. In two days of hearings, he will face tough questions on how and why the company failed to protect the delicate data of many millions of its users.... The joint Senate Judiciary and Commerce Committees will hold their hearing shortly after the start of 2:15 p.m. floor vote on Tuesday. Mr. Zuckerberg will appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee at 10 a.m. Wednesday."

*****

Trump has cancelled his scheduled trip to Latin America to vent about "unfair, disgraceful" FBI raid oversee the U.S.'s response to Syria. I'll put up a print link to the story when one comes up. -- Mrs. McC 

President Trump will not attend the 8th Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru or travel to Bogota, Colombia as originally scheduled. At the President’s request, the Vice President will travel in his stead. The President will remain in the United States to oversee the American response to Syria and to monitor developments around the world. — Sarah Sanders

     ... Update: Here's the WashPo story, by John Wagner & Anne Gearan.

BTW, Trump is tweeting this morning. At of 7:15 am ET, here is the totality of his tweets: (1) "Attorney-client privilege is dead!" (2) "A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!" MEANWHILE, FBI agents are sitting around a big ole table, going through stacks of TrumpCohen detritus & practicing their Ving Rhames imitations: "We have the meats."

** Uh-Oh. Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times: "The F.B.I. on Monday raided the office of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, seizing records related to several topics including payments to a pornographic-film actress. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan obtained the search warrant after receiving a referral from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, according to Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, who called the search 'completely inappropriate and unnecessary.' The search does not appear to be directly related to Mr. Mueller’s investigation, but likely resulted from information he had uncovered and gave to prosecutors in New York.... The payments [Cohen says he made] to [Stephanie] Clifford are only one of many topics being investigated, according to a person briefed on the search. The F.B.I. also seized emails, tax documents and business records, the person said." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... New Lede: "The F.B.I. raided the office and hotel room of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, on Monday, seizing business records, emails and documents related to several topics, including payments to a pornographic film actress. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating Mr. Cohen for possible bank fraud, and the documents identified in the warrant date back years, according to a person briefed on the search." ...

... Kate Riga of TPM writes, "The Wall Street Journal reported that the agents also searched Cohen’s home and Manhattan hotel room." ...

... Carol Leonnig & Tom Hamburger of the Washington Post: "Michael Cohen, the longtime attorney of President Trump, is under federal investigation for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations, according to a person with knowledge of the case.... Among the documents seized were privileged communications between Cohen and his clients — including those with Trump, according to a person familiar with the investigators’ work. Investigators took Cohen’s computer, phone and personal financial records as part of the search of his office at Rockefeller Center, the person said.... Under Department of Justice regulations governing the special counsel’s work, Mueller is required to consult with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein if his team finds information worth investigating that does not fall under his mandate." (This is an update of a story linked late yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Trump speaks about Syria halfway through the video above, then answers questions about the Mueller investigation beginning at about 6:40 min. in. ...

     ... Aaron Blake of the Washington Post has an annotated transcript of Trump's remarks. ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Trump repeatedly calls the raids "a disgrace," but the disgraceful part of Trump's tirade is the tirade itself. He accuses top U.S. officials, many of whom are his own appointees (or his attorney generals') of "breaking in" to his personal attorney's office in "an attack on our country"; he accuses them of "conflicts of interest" & political bias -- even the known Republicans aren't "real" Republicans: they're Obama appointees; he criticizes his own attorney general; he contemplates firing the special investigator, he accuses a former Secretary of State & wife of a former president of multiple crimes. If this were any other president, the accusations against Clinton would be front-page news; instead, news reports don't even mention them. ...

... David Graham of The Atlantic: "Hours after the FBI raided the office, home, and hotel room of his sometime-personal attorney Michael Cohen, President Trump delivered an angry response at the White House on Monday.... Taken together, however, it becomes apparent that Trump is not really angry at individuals so much as he is at the rule of law itself.... Monday’s comments, including his stunning equation of a legal warrant with a burglary, are the clearest demonstration that Trump is engaged not just in a political attack, but in a campaign against the rule of law, and the U.S. approach to justice, itself. 'It's an attack on our country, in a true sense,' Trump said Monday. 'It's an attack on what we all stand for.' He’s right about that — he’s just wrong about who’s doing the attacking." --safari ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie: Probably worth noting: the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who signed off on the raid of Cohen's records is Geoffrey Berman; Jeff Sessions appointed Berman 10 months after Trump fired Preet Bharara, the previous U.S. attorney for the district. Berman contributed to Trump's 2016 campaign. ...

... Philip Rucker, et al., of the Washington Post: "... the FBI’s seizure on Monday of privileged communications between Trump and his private lawyer, Michael D. Cohen — as well as documents related to a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels ... — was a particularly extraordinary move that opens a whole new front in the converging legal battles ensnaring the administration. Cohen is Trump’s virtual vault — the keeper of his secrets, from his business deals to his personal affairs — and the executor of his wishes. 'This search warrant is like dropping a bomb on Trump’s front porch,' said Joyce White Vance, a former U.S. attorney in Alabama.... The president spent much of Monday afternoon glued to the television. Aides said Trump watched cable news coverage of surprise raids on Cohen’s Manhattan office, home and hotel room by FBI agents, who took the lawyer’s computer, phone and personal financial records after a referral from Mueller.... [Trump] complained about [Rod] Rosenstein again Monday in private, a White House adviser said, and stewed all afternoon about the warrant to seize Cohen’s records, at times raising his voice." ...

Mike Allen of Axios: "Sources close to the president say that a political dispute with special counsel Robert Mueller has turned visceral and personal after the feds' raid on the New York offices of Michael Cohen, Trump's personal lawyer and fixer...[One] source continued: 'This is the first crisis post-Hope Hicks.... This was different: I've never seen him like this before.... This is the president you're going to see more of from here on out: unvarnished, untethered.'... [Another source notes] 'This was the "red line" of intrusion into personal financial matters.'...Close aides are recommending against firing Mueller. But that means little these days." --safari ...

... digby surmises that the Stormy Daniels case is probably incidental to the raids. She points to a McClatchy story we linked here last week: "Armed with subpoenas compelling electronic records and sworn testimony, Mueller’s team showed up unannounced at the home of [a] business associate [of the Trump Organization], who was a party to multiple transactions connected to Trump’s effort to expand his brand abroad, according to persons familiar with the proceedings." ...


Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article208090764.html#storylink=cpy

... Judd Legum of ThinkProgress: "... it was the approval of the search warrants themselves that should terrify Trump. The best explanation, remarkably, came from Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News legal analyst. Napolitano explained that, under normal circumstances, communications between Trump and his attorney are privileged. But this privilege does not apply if there is 'a serious allegation of illegal activity, by the lawyer with the client,' he said. 'There must be some evidence presented to a federal judge here in New York City sufficient to persuade that judge to sign a search warrant to permit the FBI in broad daylight to raid an attorney’s office, particularly when that attorney has one client and it happens to be the president of the United States,' Napolitano told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto. 'That evidence would have to be such as to persuade a neutral observer, the federal judge, that it is more likely than not, that among these seized documents is evidence of crimes by Mr. Cohen or Mr. Cohen and the president.'...” ...

... Matt Ford of the New Republic: "Executing a search warrant against any attorney’s office, let alone a personal lawyer for the president of the United States, is no small matter. Attorney and legal blogger Ken White noted that the federal guidelines require prosecutors to seek approval from the Justice Department’s upper echelons before applying for a warrant targeting a lawyer’s office. That DOJ officials approved the raid suggests that the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan had an extremely good reason to search Cohen’s workplace." ...

... Betsy Woodruff & Asawin Suebsaeng of the Daily Beast: "Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are treating Michael Cohen like he’s a lawyer for the mob. That’s how seasoned white collar defense attorneys describe the raid on Cohen’s office, home, and hotel room conducted on April 9." ...

... Andrew Prokop of Vox: "... we don’t yet know exactly why Cohen is under such legal scrutiny.... Still, the fact that this is being handled by a US attorney’s office rather than Mueller does seem noteworthy. It suggests that if Trump would want to shut down this investigation, he can’t do so by firing Mueller — and that his efforts to co-opt the Justice Department have been unsuccessful for the time being." ...

... Adam Serwer of The Atlantic: "Whatever evidence federal prosecutors have collected concerning Michael Cohen, President Trump’s longtime attorney, it is most likely extraordinarily strong.... The warrant sought not only would have had to have been approved by officials at the Department of Justice, but a federal judge would have had to sign off on it, knowing that he would be sanctioning a raid against the personal attorney of a sitting president. They all signed off anyway." --safari ...

... Mrs. McCrabbie Note: It's unclear who's "in charge" here. Numerous news reports indicate it's New York's U.S. attorney, & that the raids relate to subjects of interest to that office. But Preet Bharara, the previous N.Y. U.S. attorney, said on MSNBC that any action that takes places in the New York district would require sign-off by the local U.S. attorney. So the raids on Cohen's records could be entirely related to Mueller's investigation & only tangentially to matters of interest to the N.Y. U.S. attorney. ...

... The GOP's own Rick Wilson, writing in the Daily Beast, is amused (and amusing): "Monday’s FBI raids on Michael Cohen’s Trump Tower office, his hotel room, and his home all provided a proper dose of comeuppance to a man more accustomed to screaming threats, shit-tier legal theorizing, and putting his strip-mall law degree to work in service of Donald Trump.... Master of the NDA, Cohen thought attorney-client privilege would protect him.... Trump must know this may be one of the most dangerous moments in his entire life, not just his presidency.... For Trump to have the public learn that he may not be as wealthy as he has continued to claim as the central element of his branding would hurt him more than if Mueller then proved he took sacks of cash and a foot massage from Vladimir Putin. Collusion with the Russians is nothing compared to having his baroque finances revealed. Trump would rather be known as a traitor than as someone who isn’t one of the Masters of the Universe." Thanks to unwashed for the link.

Michael Schmidt & Maggie Haberman of the New York Times: "Investigators subpoenaed the Trump Organization this year for an array of records about business with foreign nationals. In response, the company handed over documents about a $150,000 donation that the Ukrainian billionaire, Victor Pinchuk, made in September 2015 to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in exchange for a 20-minute appearance by Mr. Trump that month through a video link to a conference in Kiev. Michael D. Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer whose office and hotel room were raided on Monday in an apparently unrelated case, solicited the donation. The contribution from Mr. Pinchuk, who has sought closer ties for Ukraine to the West, was the largest the foundation received in 2015 from anyone besides Mr. Trump himself. The subpoena is among signs in recent months that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, is interested in interactions that Mr. Trump or his associates had with countries beyond Russia, though it is not clear what other payments he is scrutinizing."

Mrs. McCrabbie: For what it's worth, I think the most important story linked in yesterday's thread vis-a-vis Trump corruption was a TPM report about Trump Organization lawyers appealing to the President of Panama to intervene in a Trump-branded hotel dispute there. Safari, who linked the story, referred to both the U.S. & Panama as "banana republics," which I think is unfair to Panama. I see this as the POTUS*'s using his office to influence a foreign government -- with implied threats -- for the single aim of personal financial gain for Trump. If this doesn't invoke the Emoluments Clause, I don't know what does. ...

     ... Update. Fortunately, the AP has picked up the story. Juan Zamorano & Stephen Braun: "... Donald Trump’s company appealed directly to Panama’s president to intervene in its fight over control of a luxury hotel, even invoking a treaty between the two countries, in what ethics experts say was a blatant mingling of Trump’s business and government interests.... Even if Trump was not directly involved in the dispute, his company’s citation of the treaty and its appeal to [President Juan Carlos] Varela 'implicitly traded on President Trump’s name and power,' said University of Minnesota political governance expert Lawrence Jacobs. Despite frequent ethics complaints from critics and three current lawsuits accusing him of accepting gifts from foreign and state governments, Trump has clung to constitutional precedence holding that presidents are mostly immune from conflict-of-interest laws. While most previous presidents have divested some financial assets and placed others in 'blind trusts' they could not control during their tenures, Trump kept total control of the Trump Organization but ceded day-to-day management to two of his sons, Donald Jr. and Eric." ...

     ... Zeeshan Aleen of Vox: "... the letter appears to be more than just a request — it also seems to be a thinly veiled threat. The lawyers wrote that the Panamanian court’s ruling violates a bilateral investment treaty between the US and Panama and hinted that Varela’s response could affect US-Panamanian relations more broadly. 'We appreciate your influence in order to avoid that these damages are attributed not to the other party, but to the Panamanian government,” the letter said..., which suggests that Varela’s government would take the hit if he didn’t get involved in resolving the dispute." ...

     ... digby: "The Panamanians didn't capitulate which only proves that they have more integrity than the president of the United States."

None of the above bodes well for Syria:

... Julian Borger of the Guardian: "The US and Russia moved closer to direct confrontation over Syria on Monday night as Donald Trump said a decision was imminent on a response to a chemical weapon attack on Saturday, and Moscow warned that any US military action would have 'grave repercussions'. Trump met US generals in the White House cabinet room on Monday evening to discuss US defence issues. In particular, Trump said they were likely to decide how to react to the poison gas attack in Douma, a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, reported to have killed more than 40 people and seriously affected hundreds.” ...

... Peter Baker of the New York Times: At the start of a Cabinet meeting, "President Trump on Monday denounced the suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Syria over the weekend as 'atrocious,' and said he will make a decision in the next 24 to 48 hours about whether to retaliate militarily as he did to a similar assault last year." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

NEW. David Corn of Mother Jones: "Last week, the Trump administration slapped sanctions on a small group of Russian oligarchs.... One of the oligarchs on the list was Viktor Vekselberg, who was identified as the founder and chairman of the Renova Group, which manages investment funds in several sectors of the Russian economy.... Vekselberg ... was recently a business associate of Wilbur Ross, President Trump’s commerce secretary. Ross and Vekselberg were each a major investor in a Cyprus bank that had been linked to dirty Russian money — a connection that Ross tried to downplay when he faced confirmation before the US Senate last year.... In announcing its recent sanctions on Russia, the Treasury Department suggested that Vekselberg runs a corrupt outfit.... [T]his remains one of the Trump-Russia connections that still warrants greater explanation." --safari

Greg Sargent: "Trade is one area in which Trump’s crude understanding of the issue (it is all about a zero-sum struggle for dominance in which there are only winners and losers), is particularly destructive, given how nuanced and complicated it is.... Other countries have called for a multilateral response to [China's unfair trade practices], something that is at odds with Trump’s worldview, which holds that international cooperation is a sucker’s game. On 'Fox News Sunday,' Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow claimed the administration is assembling such an international coalition. But under intense questioning from Fox's Chris Wallace, it quickly became apparent that this is far from a reality." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Zeke Miller & Jill Colvin of the AP: Donald Trump "has never been one to stick to a script, but that ... speech [he tossed in the air at least week's event in West Virginia] illustrates a new phase in Trump’s presidency. He is increasingly at odds with his staff — and growing wise to their tactics. One favored staff strategy: Guide the president to the right decision by making the conventional choice seem like the only realistic option. Except now, 14 months into his administration, Trump is on to them, and he’s making clear he won’t be boxed in.... The shift has as much to do with changes in personnel as changes in the president’s attitude. Former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, for one, was viewed as a person Trump could trust to be an honest broker and make sure that all options were being faithfully presented to him.... Some aides, convinced that Trump puts more stock in what he sees on TV than in his own aides’ advice, regularly phone prominent commentators and news hosts to provide talking points on everything from tax policy to Syria in hopes of influencing Trump. Similar strategies have also been embraced by foreign governments and outside groups trying to sway the president’s thinking." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Oh, if only Trump still had an "honest broker" like Rob Porter around.

Robert Burgess of Bloomberg: "... Donald Trump likes to equate the rally in stocks since the November 2016 elections with confidence in him and his policies. And yes, the S&P 500 Index has surged 22 percent since then -- but a deeper look at equities, bonds and the dollar reveals anything but trust in his stewardship. Here’s the executive summary: U.S. companies are valued less now than before Trump was elected, despite the run-up in stocks, big corporate tax cuts, reductions in regulations, and booming earnings. The cost to borrow for the U.S. has soared relative to other governments, a sign investors are worried about America’s creditworthiness. The dollar’s share of global currency reserves has dropped by the most since 2002. Investors are losing faith because Trump is turning into the type of president many always feared: unpredictable, volatile and tempestuous." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... A Very Short History of Macroeconomic Theory. Jonathan Chait: "The neoclassical economists of the late 19th and early 20th century believed the government should always balance its budget. Eventually, they mostly gave way to the theories of John Maynard Keynes, who argued that the government should deliberately run deficits during recessions. The modern Republican Party has pioneered a completely novel theory: Governments should balance their budgets when run by Democrats, and run extremely large deficits when run by Republicans. The new projections by the Congressional Budget Office, the first federal budget analysis to be released since the Trump tax cuts were passed into law, shows how fully the Republican government has operationalized its theory.... What’s more, as CBO explains, its figures very likely underestimate the size of the deficit. CBO is required to calculate the effects of the laws as written. That scenario is fanciful.... [Chait explains why.] CBO also assumes the middle class will face significant tax increases toward the end of the decade."

Ksenia Galouchko of Bloomberg: "Russian stocks had their biggest drop in four years and the ruble slumped the most in the world after the U.S. slapped new sanctions on Kremlin-connected billionaires and tensions with the U.S. spiraled following the latest chemical attack in Syria. The benchmark MOEX Russia Index sank 8.7 percent on Monday, the steepest slide since March 2014, when Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula triggered international penalties. The ruble and local bonds had their biggest drop since 2016 and the cost of insuring sovereign notes against default was set for the sharpest increase since December 2014." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Erik Wasson & Sarah McGregor of Bloomberg: "The U.S. budget deficit will surpass $1 trillion by 2020, two years sooner than previously estimated, as tax cuts and spending increases signed by ... Donald Trump do little to boost long-term economic growth, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Spending will exceed revenue by $804 billion in the fiscal year through September, jumping from a projected $563 billion shortfall forecast in June, the non-partisan arm of Congress said in a report Monday. In fiscal 2019, the deficit will reach $981 billion, compared with an earlier projection of $689 billion. The nation’s budget gap was only set to surpass the trillion-dollar level in fiscal 2022 under CBO’s report last June."

Daniel Arkin of NBC News: "The recent wave of harsh attacks on the Justice Department and its law enforcement arm, the FBI, have been 'painful,' former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in an exclusive interview set to air Monday. Lynch, speaking with NBC News' Lester Holt, defended the tens of thousands of people who work for the Justice Department, saying it is "troubling when people question the motivations of dedicated, committed professionals.... Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized the Justice Department and the FBI, disparaging Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Twitter and blasting the law enforcement agency over its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election."

Eric Lipton of the New York Times: "The federal government’s top ethics official has taken the unusual step of sending a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency questioning a series of actions by Administrator Scott Pruitt and asking the agency to take 'appropriate actions to address any violations.' The letter, sent to Kevin Minoli, the E.P.A. official designated as the agency’s top ethics official, addresses questions about Mr. Pruitt’s rental for $50 a night of a condominium linked to an energy lobbyist, as well as his government-funded flights to his home state of Oklahoma. The letter also cites reporting last week in The New York Times that agency staff members who raised concerns about these and other actions found themselves transferred or demoted.... The Office of Government Ethics does not have the power to punish Mr. Pruitt or to demand that he respond to the letter. But as the chief ethics officer for the executive branch of the federal government, [David] Apol’s point of view has clout and he can ask that President Trump take action to punish a federal official who has violated federal rules.” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Elaina Plott of the Atlantic: "An email that suggests Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt personally signed off on a controversial pay raise for a favored aide last month is roiling the agency. In the last few days, top staffers became aware of an email exchange between one of two aides who received such a raise and the agency’s human resources division. In mid-March, Sarah Greenwalt, senior counsel to the administrator, wrote to HR in an attempt to confirm that her pay raise of $56,765 was being processed. Greenwalt 'definitively stated that Pruitt approves and was supportive of her getting a raise,' according to an administration official who has seen the email chain. A second administration official confirmed the exchange. The email 'essentially says, "The administrator said that I should get this raise,’” the official told me.... The agency’s IG is probing whether Pruitt abused that hiring authority. On Wednesday, Pruitt was pressed by Fox News’s Ed Henry to respond to The Atlantic’s report, but denied any knowledge of the episode. 'You didn’t know they got these pay raises?” Henry asked. 'I didn’t know they got the pay raises until yesterday,' Pruitt responded.... 'Administrator Pruitt had zero knowledge of the amount of the raises, nor the process by which they transpired,' Pruitt’s chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, said in a statement." ...

... Jack Holmes of Esquire: "EPA spokespeople have repeatedly claimed that Pruitt receives a huge number of death threats. This has been shared widely by media outlets friendly to the administration.... It was also trumpeted in a presidential tweet this weekend that sought to defend Pruitt amid an avalanche of scandal.... Except when BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to EPA asking for records of the threats, the agency could not produce a single one.... And not a single person has been charged nationwide for making death threats to a cabinet secretary? Or is the more likely explanation, as things stand, that officials simply started saying there were a ton of threats to try to escape the spending scandals?" Thanks to Keith H. for the link. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...  

     ... Mrs. McC: The original excuse the EPA produced to justify Pruitt's bump to first class was that he was “'approached in the airport numerous times' and had profanities 'yelled at him'...”  Guess that lame excuse wouldn't fly, so to speak, so "You're fucking up the environment!" became "death threats." If you're shocked, shocked that Pruitt & his team would lie about pay raises & death threats, my response is ... Donald Trump. In this administration, lies & subterfuge are the go-to answers for bad behavior. ...

... Burgess Everett & Anthony Adragna of Politico: "There’s one big reason Senate Republicans are standing staunchly with Scott Pruitt: Confirming a replacement might be impossible. Even as the embattled EPA administrator faced another day of difficult headlines on Monday, there is no push from the Senate GOP to shove Pruitt out. Instead, Republicans are gently rapping him for his ethical transgressions and praising his deregulatory regime." ...

... Dana Milbank obtains security audio of "Honest Guy" (previous code name "Low Rent") Scott Pruitt's trip to Disneyland.

Help Me, Hillary! Nahal Toosi of Politico: "As a sharply partisan Republican member of Congress, CIA Director Mike Pompeo tormented former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over her response to the deadly 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, which Pompeo called 'morally reprehensible.' He also once liked a tweet that branded her successor, John Kerry, a 'traitor.' But now that Pompeo faces a tough confirmation process to become secretary of state himself, he has reached out to Clinton and Kerry, as well as every other living occupant of the office, to ask for guidance. Clinton, for one, has been willing to help.... It’s part of Pompeo’s mixture of crash course and charm offensive as he prepares for a Thursday confirmation hearing before a closely divided Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

Sara Salinas of CNBC: "Congress has released Mark Zuckerberg's prepared testimony ahead of a Wednesday hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee." Salinas reproduces the prepared remarks. (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Blah Blah. Craig Timberg & Tony Romm of the Washington Post: "Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed contrition for allowing third-party apps to grab the data of its users without their permission and for being 'too slow to spot and respond to Russian interference' during the U.S. election, according to his prepared remarks published by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Zuckerberg plans to open his remarks with a familiar recitation of the social media platform's ability to link far-flung people together but then pivot into an acknowledgement of Facebook's increasingly visible dark side." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd.

Jon Swaine of the Guardian: "The chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group met Donald Trump at the White House during a visit to pitch a potentially lucrative new product to administration officials, the Guardian has learned. David D Smith, whose company has been criticised for making its anchors read a script echoing Trump’s attacks on the media, said he briefed officials last year on a system that would enable authorities to broadcast direct to any American’s phone.... He also recalled an earlier meeting with Trump during the 2016 election campaign, where he told the future president: 'We are here to deliver your message.' Sinclair is the biggest owner of local TV in the US, and may soon reach 72% of American households if a proposed $4bn takeover of a rival is approved by federal regulators." --safari

Paul Krugman: "The hiring-then-firing of Kevin Williamson followed a familiar script. A mainstream media organization [-- the Atlantic --] hires a conservative in the name of intellectual diversity, then is shocked, shocked to discover that he’s dishonest and/or holds truly reprehensible views – something that the organization could have discovered with a few minutes on Google. But when the bad hire is let go, the right treats him as a martyr, proof of liberal refusal to let alternative viewpoints be heard.... The real problem here is that media organizations are looking for unicorns: serious, honest, conservative intellectuals with real influence.... The left has genuine public intellectuals with actual ideas and at least some real influence; the right does not. News organizations don’t seem to have figured out how to deal with this reality, except by pretending that it doesn’t exist. And that’s why we keep having these Williamson-like debacles." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)


Senate Race. Patricia Mazzei
of the New York Times: "Gov. Rick Scott made official on Monday what Floridians have suspected for months: He is running for the United States Senate against Bill Nelson, the incumbent Democrat, in a premier race that will return the nation’s largest swing state to its familiar role as the political vortex of a tumultuous election year." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.)

Beyond the Beltway

There Are Two Michigans. Bill Chappell of NPR: "In a much-watched case, a Michigan agency has approved Nestlé's plan to boost the amount of water it takes from the state. The request attracted a record number of public comments — with 80,945 against and 75 in favor. Nestlé's request to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to pump 576,000 gallons of water each day from the White Pine Springs well in the Great Lakes Basin was 'highly controversial,' member station Michigan Radio reports.... The company bottles the water for sale under its Ice Mountain label." Emphasis added. BUT as Adrienne Varkiani of ThinkProgress reported (linked below), the state will no longer provide free drinking water to residents of Flint, which still pumps water through lead pipes, tho some pipes have been replaced. Thanks to Nisky Guy for the link. Mrs. McC: Wouldn't you think the poor people of Flint would would some state pride & just buy bottles of Nestle's Ice Mountain? (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) 

Tracy Lee of Newsweek, via RawStory: "Virginia 'Ginni' Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, criticized efforts by survivors from February's mass shooting in Parkland, Florida in several Facebook posts that she shared. One post contained an image of shoes from people who were killed during the Holocaust [in defense of the 2nd amendment].... Thomas [also] shared a post from a Facebook page called The Great American American Movement, which had a side-by-side comparison of the outspoken Parkland students next to a graveside memorial. Thomas captioned the post with the words 'I want the old regular America back ... MINUS the left's awful tactics.'" --safari ...

... Deranged Prick. Adam Peck of ThinkProgress: "Last week ... a since-deleted tweet from a far-right St. Louis-based talk show host named Jamie Allman threatening 17-year-old Stoneman Douglas survivor David Hogg circulated widely around the region. 'I’ve been hanging out getting ready to ram a hot poker up David Hogg’s ass tomorrow,' tweeted Allman. 'Busy working. Preparing.'... At least three of Allman’s sponsors publicly announced they were abandoning his shows.... His television show airs on KDNL, St. Louis’s ABC affiliate owned by far-right media conglomerate Sinclair Broadcast Group. " --safari

Way Beyond

Shaun Walker of the Guardian: "Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has pledged to push through a controversial package of bills targeting civil society, described by his government as the 'Stop Soros' package. Orbán said his Fidesz party’s landslide victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections had given the government perhaps the strongest mandate in modern Hungarian history.... Orbán, who will now serve a third consecutive term as prime minister, portrayed himself on the campaign trail as the defender of a white, Christian Hungary at risk from refugees and migrants, and under attack from George Soros, the financier and philanthropist of Jewish-Hungarian origin." --safari

Michael McGowan of the Guardian: "A high-ranking Australian union official has been suspended amid reports he ran a fake Black Lives Matter Facebook page that solicited donations from the movement’s supporters. CNN reports that Ian MacKay [a white guy] – an official with the National Union of Workers – helped set up and run a Facebook page called Black Lives Matter as well as other domain names linked to black rights. The page, which was removed by Facebook after CNN’s queries, had almost 700,000 followers – more than double the official Black Lives Matter page.... The investigation quoted sources who said the page may have garnered upwards of $100,000 in donations, at least some of which was directed to bank accounts registered in Australia." --safari

Jamie Grierson of the Guardian: "Yulia Skripal, the daughter of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal, has been discharged from hospital, doctors have said. Just over a month after she and her father were found collapsed on a park bench in Salisbury, Wiltshire, after being poisoned with a nerve agent, medics confirmed she had left Salisbury district hospital." Mrs. McC: I sure hope she's in "an undisclosed location" AND has police protection.

Sunday
Apr082018

The Commentariat -- April 9, 2018

Afternoon Update:

Uh-Oh. Matt Apuzzo of the New York Times: "The F.B.I. on Monday raided the office of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, seizing records related to several topics including payments to a pornographic-film actress. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan obtained the search warrant after receiving a referral from the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, according to Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, who called the search 'completely inappropriate and unnecessary.' The search does not appear to be directly related to Mr. Mueller’s investigation, but likely resulted from information he had uncovered and gave to prosecutors in New York.... The payments [Cohen says he made] to [Stephanie] Clifford are only one of many topics being investigated, according to a person briefed on the search. The F.B.I. also seized emails, tax documents and business records, the person said." ...

... Carol Leonnig & Tom Hamburger of the Washington Post: "Among the documents seized were privileged communications between Cohen and his clients — including those with Trump, according to a person familiar with the investigators’ work. Investigators took Cohen’s computer, phone and personal financial records as part of the search of his office at Rockefeller Center, the person said.... Under Department of Justice regulations governing the special counsel’s work, Mueller is required to consult with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein if his team finds information worth investigating that does not fall under his mandate." Mrs. McC: I'm hearing on the teevee that the FBI raided other locations -- like Cohen's homes. ...

... Also, Trump has made a statement; I'll get up a video of that when it becomes available.

Peter Baker of the New York Times: At the start of a Cabinet meeting, "President Trump on Monday denounced the suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people in Syria over the weekend as 'atrocious,' and said he will make a decision in the next 24 to 48 hours about whether to retaliate militarily as he did to a similar assault last year."

Greg Sargent: "Trade is one area in which Trump’s crude understanding of the issue (it is all about a zero-sum struggle for dominance in which there are only winners and losers), is particularly destructive, given how nuanced and complicated it is.... Other countries have called for a multilateral response to [China's unfair trade practices], something that is at odds with Trump’s worldview, which holds that international cooperation is a sucker’s game. On 'Fox News Sunday,' Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow claimed the administration is assembling such an international coalition. But under intense questioning from Fox's Chris Wallace, it quickly became apparent that this is far from a reality."

Zeke Miller & Jill Colvin of the AP: Donald Trump "has never been one to stick to a script, but that ... speech [he tossed in the air at least week's event in West Virginia] illustrates a new phase in Trump’s presidency. He is increasingly at odds with his staff — and growing wise to their tactics. One favored staff strategy: Guide the president to the right decision by making the conventional choice seem like the only realistic option. Except now, 14 months into his administration, Trump is on to them, and he’s making clear he won’t be boxed in.... The shift has as much to do with changes in personnel as changes in the president’s attitude. Former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, for one, was viewed as a person Trump could trust to be an honest broker and make sure that all options were being faithfully presented to him.... Some aides, convinced that Trump puts more stock in what he sees on TV than in his own aides’ advice, regularly phone prominent commentators and news hosts to provide talking points on everything from tax policy to Syria in hopes of influencing Trump. Similar strategies have also been embraced by foreign governments and outside groups trying to sway the president’s thinking." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Oh, if only Trump still had an "honest broker" like Rob Porter around.

Robert Burgess of Bloomberg: "... Donald Trump likes to equate the rally in stocks since the November 2016 elections with confidence in him and his policies. And yes, the S&P 500 Index has surged 22 percent since then -- but a deeper look at equities, bonds and the dollar reveals anything but trust in his stewardship. Here’s the executive summary: U.S. companies are valued less now than before Trump was elected, despite the run-up in stocks, big corporate tax cuts, reductions in regulations, and booming earnings. The cost to borrow for the U.S. has soared relative to other governments, a sign investors are worried about America’s creditworthiness. The dollar’s share of global currency reserves has dropped by the most since 2002. Investors are losing faith because Trump is turning into the type of president many always feared: unpredictable, volatile and tempestuous."

Ksenia Galouchko of Bloomberg: "Russian stocks had their biggest drop in four years and the ruble slumped the most in the world after the U.S. slapped new sanctions on Kremlin-connected billionaires and tensions with the U.S. spiraled following the latest chemical attack in Syria. The benchmark MOEX Russia Index sank 8.7 percent on Monday, the steepest slide since March 2014, when Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula triggered international penalties. The ruble and local bonds had their biggest drop since 2016 and the cost of insuring sovereign notes against default was set for the sharpest increase since December 2014."

Eric Lipton of the New York Times: "The federal government’s top ethics official has taken the unusual step of sending a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency questioning a series of actions by Administrator Scott Pruitt and asking the agency to take 'appropriate actions to address any violations.' The letter, sent to Kevin Minoli, the E.P.A. official designated as the agency’s top ethics official, addresses questions about Mr. Pruitt’s rental for $50 a night of a condominium linked to an energy lobbyist, as well as his government-funded flights to his home state of Oklahoma. The letter also cites reporting last week in The New York Times that agency staff members who raised concerns about these and other actions found themselves transferred or demoted.... The Office of Government Ethics does not have the power to punish Mr. Pruitt or to demand that he respond to the letter. But as the chief ethics officer for the executive branch of the federal government, [David] Apol’s point of view has clout and he can ask that President Trump take action to punish a federal official who has violated federal rules.” ...

... Jack Holmes of Esquire: "EPA spokespeople have repeatedly claimed that Pruitt receives a huge number of death threats. This has been shared widely by media outlets friendly to the administration.... It was also trumpeted in a presidential tweet this weekend that sought to defend Pruitt amid an avalanche of scandal.... Except when BuzzFeed reporter Jason Leopold submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to EPA asking for records of the threats, the agency could not produce a single one.... And not a single person has been charged nationwide for making death threats to a cabinet secretary? Or is the more likely explanation, as things stand, that officials simply started saying there were a ton of threats to try to escape the spending scandals?" Thanks to Keith H. for the link. ...  

     ... Mrs. McC: The original excuse the EPA produced to justify Pruitt's bump to first class was that he was “'approached in the airport numerous times' and had profanities 'yelled at him'...”  Guess that lame excuse wouldn't fly, so to speak, so "You're fucking up the environment!" became "death threats."

Sara Salinas of CNBC: "Congress has released Mark Zuckerberg's prepared testimony ahead of a Wednesday hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee." Salinas reproduces the prepared remarks. ...

... Blah Blah. Craig Timberg & Tony Romm of the Washington Post: "Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressed contrition for allowing third-party apps to grab the data of its users without their permission and for being 'too slow to spot and respond to Russian interference' during the U.S. election, according to his prepared remarks published by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Zuckerberg plans to open his remarks with a familiar recitation of the social media platform's ability to link far-flung people together but then pivot into an acknowledgement of Facebook's increasingly visible dark side."

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Paul Krugman: "The hiring-then-firing of Kevin Williamson followed a familiar script. A mainstream media organization [-- the Atlantic --] hires a conservative in the name of intellectual diversity, then is shocked, shocked to discover that he’s dishonest and/or holds truly reprehensible views – something that the organization could have discovered with a few minutes on Google. But when the bad hire is let go, the right treats him as a martyr, proof of liberal refusal to let alternative viewpoints be heard.... The real problem here is that media organizations are looking for unicorns: serious, honest, conservative intellectuals with real influence.... The left has genuine public intellectuals with actual ideas and at least some real influence; the right does not. News organizations don’t seem to have figured out how to deal with this reality, except by pretending that it doesn’t exist. And that’s why we keep having these Williamson-like debacles."

Patricia Mazzei of the New York Times: "Gov. Rick Scott made official on Monday what Floridians have suspected for months: He is running for the United States Senate against Bill Nelson, the incumbent Democrat, in a premier race that will return the nation’s largest swing state to its familiar role as the political vortex of a tumultuous election year."

There Are Two Michigans. Bill Chappell of NPR: "In a much-watched case, a Michigan agency has approved Nestlé's plan to boost the amount of water it takes from the state. The request attracted a record number of public comments — with 80,945 against and 75 in favor. Nestlé's request to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to pump 576,000 gallons of water each day from the White Pine Springs well in the Great Lakes Basin was 'highly controversial,' member station Michigan Radio reports.... The company bottles the water for sale under its Ice Mountain label." Emphasis added. BUT as Adrienne Varkiani of ThinkProgress reported (linked below), the state will no longer provide free drinking water to residents of Flint, which still pumps water through lead pipes, tho some pipes have been replaced. Thanks to Nisky Guy for the link. Mrs. McC: Wouldn't you think the poor people of Flint would would some state pride & just buy bottles of Nestle's Ice Mountain?

*****

Ben Hubbard of the New York Times: "Big power tensions in the Syria conflict, already running high after an apparent chemical weapons attack, ratcheted up again on Monday as Syria and Russia blamed Israel for early morning airstrikes on a Syrian military base that a conflict monitoring group said had killed 14 people, including fighters from Iran.... American and French officials denied that their countries had carried out the airstrikes, and a spokesman for the Israeli military declined to comment." ...

... Julie Davis of the New York Times: "President Trump on Sunday promised a 'big price' to be paid for what he said was a chemical weapons attack that choked dozens of Syrians to death the day before, and a top White House official said the administration would not rule out a missile strike to retaliate against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. In a tweet, Mr. Trump laid the blame for the attack partly on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the first time since his election that he has criticized the Russian leader by name on Twitter. Mr. Putin’s forces have been fighting for years to keep the Assad government in power amid Syria’s brutal civil war.... 'Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price...' '...to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!'... 'If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!'" (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Ben Hubbard & Julie Davis: "Days after President Trump said he wanted to pull the United States out of Syria, Syrian forces hit a suburb of Damascus with bombs that rescue workers said unleashed toxic gas. Within hours, images of dead families sprawled in their homes threatened to change Mr. Trump’s calculus on Syria, possibly drawing him deeper into an intractable Middle Eastern war that he hoped to leave. His homeland security adviser, Thomas P. Bossert, said the White House national security team had been discussing possible responses and would not rule out a missile strike." ...

... Robin Wright of the New Yorker: "The truth is that little is likely to markedly change the military balance on the ground—or the outcome of the war. With the help of Russian airpower, as well as Iranian and Hezbollah manpower, the Assad regime has simply retaken too much territory, including most of Syria’s major cities.... Senator Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, called on Trump to reconsider his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria. She also urged him to take the unprecedented step of imposing sanctions on Moscow for its long-standing aid to Damascus." ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Sorry, Susan, according to Axios, even Trump's BFF Bibi "Netanyahu could not convince Trump to rethink his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria." However, that was before the chemical strike. ...

... Conor Finnegan & Patrick Reevell of ABC News: "Russia is warning the U.S. against any 'military intervention' in Syria over the government's alleged chemical attack against civilians this weekend, saying any such response would be 'unacceptable' and lead to the 'most serious consequences'. The foreign ministry in Moscow also says in a statement on its website that allegations of the chemical attack are 'fabricated,; suggesting the claims were invented by rebel forces and the Syrian Civil Defense known as the White Helmets." ...

... Eli Watkins of CNN: "Republican Sen. John McCain said Sunday that ... Donald Trump's comments that the US military would leave Syria 'very soon' had emboldened Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, resulting in the reported chemical weapons attack Saturday that killed dozens of the country's civilians." ...

... digby: Trump "even called out his pal Vlad, in the process betraying the fact that he still, after being in office all this time, sees all relationships between world leaders as personal, rather than strategic.... He believes that war should be 'short and brutal' and should not spare civilians so this is frustrating to him because pictures of toddlers suffering and dying make him look bad.... He does not want any pictures of children dying from chemical attacks on the front pages or on cable news. He thought if he withdrew troops from Syria, Assad wouldn't have to gas kids and it won't be on the front page because he'd win and it would all be over."

David Nakamura of the Washington Post: "North Korea has confirmed directly to the Trump administration that it is willing to negotiate with the United States about potential denuclearization, administration officials said Sunday, a signal that the two sides have opened communications ahead of a potential summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month. The message from Pyongyang offers the first reassurance that Kim is committed to meeting Trump. The U.S. president accepted an offer made in March on Kim’s behalf by South Korean emissaries during a meeting at the White House, but Pyongyang had not publicly commented."

** From One Banana Republic to Another. Juan Zamorano of TPM: "Lawyers representing U.S. President Donald Trump’s family hotel business appealed to Panama’s president [Juan Carlos Verela] for help days before an emergency arbitrator declined to reinstate the Trump management team to a luxury waterfront hotel.... The letter asks Varela to intervene, complaining that Panama’s courts denied the organization due process in violation of a bilateral treaty.... The letter goes on to say that the eviction violates the Bilateral Investment Treaty ... suggesting that the government, not the new management team, could be blamed for wrongdoing. The letter raises questions about the president’s family business matter-of-factly requesting another president’s help in a private business matter by invoking a treaty signed by the two countries. [T]he front page of Panama’s La Prensa newspaper Monday ... described the letter as a warning that there could be consequences for Panama if the old management team was not reinstated." --safari

Michelle Lee, et al., of the Washington Post: "President Trump and his allies again assured the country on Sunday morning that they do not expect China to actually implement threatened tariffs that could rock the U.S. economy and hurt American farmers, especially those who grow soybeans or raise hogs. 'China will take down its Trade Barriers because it is the right thing to do,' Trump said in a tweet on Sunday morning. 'Taxes will become Reciprocal & a deal will be made on Intellectual Property. Great future for both countries!' In interviews on Sunday morning talk shows, administration officials defended the president’s trade approach and emerging policy with regard to China. China and the United States have threatened to levy new tariffs on each other in an escalating trade dispute.” (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Jonathan Swan of Axios: "When the president threatened China with $100 billion in new tariffs, there had hardly been any White House discussion.... There wasn’t one single deliberative meeting in which senior officials sat down to debate the pros and cons of this historic threat. Trump didn’t even ask for advice from his new top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, instead presenting the tariffs as a fait accompli. Chief of Staff John Kelly knew Trump wanted more tariffs but was blindsided by the speed of the announcement. And Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short — the White House’s liaison to Capitol Hill — was totally in the dark.... The topic came up at the senior staff meeting the morning of the announcement. And he personally ordered Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to put together the threat and to get it done by Thursday.... For some White House officials, the moment was jarring: Trump had melted down Capitol Hill and roiled the markets with zero substantive internal debate."...

...Kevin Yao & Christian Shepard of Reuters: "China stepped up its attacks on the Trump administration on Monday over billions of dollars worth of threatened tariffs, saying Washington is to blame for trade frictions and repeating it was impossible to negotiate under 'current circumstances'. The comments come after U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday predicted China would take down its trade barriers, and expressed optimism that both sides could resolve the issue through talks. Chinese state researchers and media ... described the Trump administration’s posturing on trade as the product of an 'anxiety disorder'.” --safari

Amy Wang of the Washington Post: "... there were two accounts of the fire Saturday night that tore through a 50th-floor apartment in Trump Tower, President Trump’s namesake building on Fifth Avenue in New York. The first narrative unfolded through official alerts and images from the New York Fire Department, which painted a picture of an extraordinarily challenging — and ultimately fatal — blaze to contain and extinguish.... For the president, however, the fire seemed first a chance to boast of the construction quality of Trump Tower on Twitter.... Trump also declared that the fire had been extinguished — before it actually had been.... Though Trump thanked the 'firemen (and women)' who responded to the blaze, his tweet made no mention of those who had suffered injuries.... Trump’s Saturday evening tweet has remained the only comment he has made regarding the fire in his building.... On Sunday morning, Trump posted about a half-dozen tweets on a variety of subjects.... But he has not revisited the Trump Tower fire, even after news of [resident Todd] Brassner’s death.... Several residents also spoke of the fear and chaos that erupted after they realized their building was on fire." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Wang might has well have written, "The President of the United States is a flaming ass." At any rate, she rightly let readers know it. ...

... Trump Lobbied against Safety Sprinklers. Caroline Linton of CBS News: "The fire on the 50th floor New York City's Trump Tower that left 67-year-old Todd Brassner dead and six firefighters injured was the second fire in the building in 2018. President Trump's centerpiece Manhattan skyscraper opened in 1984, but does not have sprinklers on its residential floors, a measure required in new buildings since 1999. President Trump, then a private citizen and property developer, lobbied to try and prevent the mandate at the time.... Two civilians suffered minor injuries and a firefighter was hurt by debris in a fire on Jan. 8 on the top of the building. That blaze was sparked by an electrical issue, Mr. Trump's son, Eric, said at the time. Eric Trump said the fire had been in a cooling tower. [The FDNY commissioner] said in a press conference that the cause of Saturday's fire is still unclear." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) ...

... Esha Ray of the New York Daily News: "Todd Brassner, a 67-year-old art dealer who lost his life Saturday in the Trump Tower fire, despised building owner Donald Trump, a friend of the victim told the Daily News. The feeling was evidently mutual, with now-President Trump allegedly calling Brassner a 'crazy Jew' soon after the art dealer moved into the Fifth Ave. high-rise more than two decades ago, Brassner pal Patrick Goldsmith said Sunday. A fellow art dealer, Goldsmith said he heard the vile remark in 1996 as he entered the building and passed by the exiting Trump." Mrs. McC Note: Obviously, a one-source story.

Washington Post Editors: "The American people do not have a right to know all the details of what went on between Mr. Trump and Ms. Clifford in their personal lives many years ago. They do have a right to know, however, whether their president is lying to them now, or if he has received what amounts to a large financial subsidy from a secret personal benefactor. Unless and until Mr. Trump directs his lawyer to identify the source of the $130,000, both of these sorry scenarios will remain within the realm of plausibility." (Also linked yesterday afternoon.) 

I love the poorly educated. -- Donald Trump, February 2016 ...

... King of the News Deserts. Shawn Musgrave & Matthew Nussbaum of Politico: "... Donald Trump’s attacks on the mainstream media may be rooted in statistical reality: An extensive review of subscription data and election results shows that Trump outperformed the previous Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, in counties with the lowest numbers of news subscribers, but didn't do nearly as well in areas with heavier circulation.... The results show a clear correlation between low subscription rates and Trump’s success in the 2016 election, both against Hillary Clinton and when compared to Romney in 2012.... That gives new force to the widely voiced concerns of news-industry professionals and academicians about Trump’s ability to make bold assertions about crime rates, unemployment and other verifiable facts without any independent checks.... Politico’s analysis suggests that Trump did, indeed, do worse overall in places where independent media could check his claims.... Voters in so-called news deserts — places with minimal newspaper subscriptions, print or online — went for him in higher-than-expected numbers. In tight races with Clinton in states like Wisconsin, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, the decline in local media could have made a decisive difference." ...

... For What It's Worth. Sharon Bernstein & Chris Khan of Reuters: "Older, white, educated voters helped Donald Trump win the White House in 2016. Now, they are trending toward Democrats in such numbers that their ballots could tip the scales in tight congressional races from New Jersey to California, a new Reuters/Ipsos poll and a data analysis of competitive districts shows. Nationwide, whites over the age of 60 with college degrees now favor Democrats over Republicans for Congress by a 2-point margin, according to Reuters/Ipsos opinion polling during the first three months of the year. During the same period in 2016, that same group favored Republicans for Congress by 10 percentage points." --safari

Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post (who is no liberal): "... as [H.R.] McMaster suggested [in a speech last week], the democratic model is under more pressure than at any time since the Cold War.... Ordinarily, at such a time, the world would look to America for leadership. But, Freedom House said, the United States has 'retreated from its traditional role as both a champion and an exemplar of democracy. That retreat has been woven from dozens of statements, policy changes and missed opportunities from a president who famously seems to admire and, yes, glamorize dictators more than democrats: cheering when China’s ruler declared himself president for life ('I think it’s great'); laughing with the Philippines’ strongman as he demonized reporters; congratulating Egypt’s dictator for his sham reelection; itching to withdraw from Syria to leave that field to Iran and Russia; abandoning human rights improvement as a policy objective anywhere in the world...; and so on.” See also Roger Cohen's essay, linked at the bottom of the page.

** Judd Legum of ThinkProgress: Jared Kushner apparently is getting an extraordinary $1.2 billion loan (or something) for his underwater behemoth at 666 Fifth Avenue in what is described in an SEC filing as a "handshake" agreement. In the filing, the company that bought out the Kushner family's retail & some residential space notes that "the situation continues to be fluid -- there can be no assurance that a final agreement will be reached...." Here's the kicker: whoever shook Kushner's hand in a promise to fork over $1.2 billion is secret. Mrs. McC: Over to you, SEC. ...

... Tangled Web, Ctd. Stephanie Kirchgaessner of the Guardian: "A senior private equity executive was approached about taking the job of US budget director a year before his company agreed to loan Jared Kushner’s private family business tens of millions of dollars, according to two sources who spoke to the Guardian. Joshua Harris, the billionaire co-founder of Apollo Global Management, was considered to be a candidate for the job of director of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) shortly after Donald Trump won the 2016 election, according to the sources, who had knowledge of the situation and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The sources told the Guardian that Harris ... backed out of the potential job because it would have been too difficult to unravel his personal finances in the short amount of time required to accept the government position. The sources said the alleged approach was initiated and backed by Kushner.... The circumstances surrounding the $184m loan by Apollo to Kushner Companies, Kushner’s private family business, is currently the subject of an internal inquiry by the White House counsel’s office after the 2017 loan was revealed in a New York Times report in February."

Uh-Oh. Vladdy's Gonna Be Pissed. AFP: "Shares in Russian aluminium giant Rusal collapsed on Monday after Washington targeted it with sanctions, putting the metals major at risk of defaulting on part of its debt. On the Hong Kong stock market, one of the exchanges where Rusal's shares are listed, it closed 50 percent down at HK$2.34. The fall wiped more than 3.5 billion euros ($4.3 billion) off the market capitalisation of the company which is headed by billionaire Oleg Deripaska and accounts for some seven percent of the world's aluminium production.... The latest wave of sanctions also saw Russian stock market indices plummet around 10 percent...Russia's currency also took a hit.... In all, Trump's administration targeted seven oligarchs, 12 companies they own or control, 17 senior Russian officials and a state-owned arms export company." --safari

Brad Reed of RawStory: "On Monday, Ret. Gen. Mark Hertling humiliated first daughter Ivanka Trump  after she showed ignorance of federal child nutrition and fitness programs that her own father has short changed. Ivanka Trump on late Sunday sent out a tweet saying that the United States needs to do a better job of promoting physical activity among American children or else risk raising a generation of unhealthy kids.... Hertling ... proceeded to school Ivanka about ways she could easily help promote child fitness just by having her father do his job and appoint people to important positions within his administration. 'Ummm… there’s this thing called the President’s Council on Fitness, Sport, and Nutrition,' he wrote. 'Been around 60 years. Used to have 25 appointees… I was one of them. Michelle Obama helped and generated momentum in this area. No one is on the Council now.'" --safari

Alice Ollstein of TPM: "A high-ranking official at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation has repeatedly shared conspiracy theories on his personal Facebook page ... including posts calling the students who survived the Parkland school shooting 'Nazis' and alleging the massacre was a staged false flag. Kevin Sabo, who was originally hired for a career position in budget analysis at the DOI in 2016, was promoted to the political role of acting chief of the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs at the Bureau of Reclamation when the Trump administration came into power.... [I]n 2000, when he was convicted of 'attempted malicious wounding' for cutting the brakes on his ex-girlfriend’s car, causing her to crash." --safari: Sounds like a perfect résumé to get into the White House.

Eliana Johnson of Politico: "National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said Sunday that he plans to leave the White House — a move that will leave ... Donald Trump without one of the earliest and sharpest defenders of his 'America First' foreign policy. Though Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, brought Anton into the administration, he spent the majority of his tenure serving as spokesman for Flynn’s replacement, H.R. McMaster."

Michelle Costillo of CNBC: "Facebook is suspending a data analytics firm called CubeYou from the platform after CNBC notified the company that CubeYou was collecting information about users through quizzes. CubeYou misleadingly labeled its quizzes 'for non-profit academic research,' then shared user information with marketers. The scenario is eerily similar to how Cambridge Analytica received unauthorized access to data from as many as 87 million Facebook user accounts to target political marketing. The company sold data that had been collected by researchers working with the Psychometrics Lab at Cambridge University, similar to how Cambridge Analytica used information it obtained from other professors at the school for political marketing. The CubeYou discovery suggests that collecting data from quizzes and using it for marketing purposes was far from an isolated incident. Moreover, the fact that CubeYou was able to mislabel the purpose of the quizzes — and that Facebook did nothing to stop it until CNBC pointed out the problem — suggests the platform has little control over this activity." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: Once again, Facebook is acting only because a media outlet exposed its bad practices.

** Franklin Foer of The Atlantic: "In a dank corner of the internet, it is possible to find actresses from Game of Thrones or Harry Potter engaged in all manner of sex acts.... An artificial intelligence has almost seamlessly stitched the familiar visages into pornographic scenes.... The genre [called 'deepfakes'] is one of the cruelest, most invasive forms of identity theft invented in the internet era. At the core of the cruelty is the acuity of the technology: A casual observer can’t easily detect the hoax.... The internet has always contained the seeds of postmodern hell. Mass manipulation ... is the currency of the medium.... In this respect, the rise of deepfakes is the culmination of the internet’s history to date — and probably only a low-grade version of what’s to come...But soon this may seem an age of innocence. We’ll shortly live in a world where our eyes routinely deceive us. Put differently, we’re not so far from the collapse of reality." --safari

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. Terri Gerstein in the Guardian: Why did anchors & reporters across the country recite an Orwellian Sinclair Broadcast Group script rather than quit in disgust? "Among other things, Sinclair contracts contain a requirement that employees must pay their employers if they leave their jobs before their contract terms end. For example, an employee making $50,000 annually might have to pay in the ballpark of $10,000 if she wanted to leave after one year of a two-year term. While it’s plainly illegal to impose a penalty on employees for leaving a job, the contract describes this requirement as 'liquidated damages'.... The Sinclair contracts also contain a non-compete clause, barring employees from working for competitors for a set time period after separation.”

Beyond the Beltway

Let Them Drink Lead. Adrienne Masha Varkiani of ThinkProgress: "Michigan won’t be giving the city of Flint free bottled water anymore, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) announced, claiming that water quality is now 'well within the standards.'... But many other city officials and public health experts think it’s too soon to end the program .. .Steve Branch, the acting city administrator, told the Times that about 6,200 lead or galvanized steel waterlines have been replaced so far, but an estimated 12,000 could still be in the city. Water going through those pipes might still pick up lead and could be dangerous for consumption." --safari

Way Beyond

Marc Santora of the New York Times: "Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, who has set about transforming this former Soviet bloc member from a vibrant democracy into a semi-autocratic state under one political party’s control, appeared to have won a sweeping victory in national elections on Sunday, with 93 percent of the vote counted. By securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament, Mr. Orban’s Fidesz party — along with its ally, the Christian Democrats — now has the power to change the Constitution and further bend the nation to his will.... Mr. Orban’s victory is likely to embolden other leaders who have used a similar playbook, including those in neighboring Poland, where the governing party has openly emulated his tactics." ...

... Roger Cohen of the New York Times (April 6): "Hungary and Poland are turning the clock back to Europe’s darkest hours. Today they are all about erecting borders — real and imagined — against Islam, migrants and refugees, Jews, the European Union, the United Nations, [George] Soros and what they portray as a pluralistic international conspiracy. Hungary erected an actual barrier on its southern border following the refugee crisis of 2015.... It was precisely the measures taken to construct and preserve a homogeneous society that lay at the core of the most heinous crimes of the last century. The illiberal trend represents a rejection of the core postwar insight that borders should be dismantled to save Europe from its repetitive suicides.... Taken to its end point, the new Hungarian and Polish authoritarianism means danger. It is more dangerous because Trump’s despot-coddling America has disappeared as a countervailing force. The president has ceased upholding the values that advance liberty."

Saturday
Apr072018

The Commentariat -- April 8, 2018

Afternoon Update:

Julie Davis of the New York Times: "President Trump on Sunday promised a 'big price' to be paid for what he said was a chemical weapons attack that choked dozens of Syrians to death the day before, and a top White House official said the administration would not rule out a missile strike to retaliate against the government of President Bashar al-Assad. In a tweet, Mr. Trump laid the blame for the attack partly on President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, the first time since his election that he has criticized the Russian leader by name on Twitter. Mr. Putin’s forces have been fighting for years to keep the Assad government in power amid Syria’s brutal civil war.... 'Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price...' '...to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!'... 'If President Obama had crossed his stated Red Line In The Sand, the Syrian disaster would have ended long ago! Animal Assad would have been history!'"

Michelle Lee, et al., of the Washington Post: "President Trump and his allies again assured the country on Sunday morning that they do not expect China to actually implement threatened tariffs that could rock the U.S. economy and hurt American farmers, especially those who grow soybeans or raise hogs. 'China will take down its Trade Barriers because it is the right thing to do,' Trump said in a tweet on Sunday morning. 'Taxes will become Reciprocal & a deal will be made on Intellectual Property. Great future for both countries!' In interviews on Sunday morning talk shows, administration officials defended the president’s trade approach and emerging policy with regard to China. China and the United States have threatened to levy new tariffs on each other in an escalating trade dispute.”

Trump Lobbied against Safety Sprinklers. Caroline Linton of CBS News: "The fire on the 50th floor New York City's Trump Tower that left 67-year-old Todd Brassner dead and six firefighters injured was the second fire in the building in 2018. President Trump's centerpiece Manhattan skyscraper opened in 1984, but does not have sprinklers on its residential floors, a measure required in new buildings since 1999. President Trump, then a private citizen and property developer, lobbied to try and prevent the mandate at the time.... Two civilians suffered minor injuries and a firefighter was hurt by debris in a fire on Jan. 8 on the top of the building. That blaze was sparked by an electrical issue, Mr. Trump's son, Eric, said at the time. Eric Trump said the fire had been in a cooling tower. [The FDNY commissioner] said in a press conference that the cause of Saturday's fire is still unclear."

Washington Post Editors: "The American people do not have a right to know all the details of what went on between Mr. Trump and Ms. Clifford in their personal lives many years ago. They do have a right to know, however, whether their president is lying to them now, or if he has received what amounts to a large financial subsidy from a secret personal benefactor. Unless and until Mr. Trump directs his lawyer to identify the source of the $130,000, both of these sorry scenarios will remain within the realm of plausibility."

*****

Louisa Loveluck & Erin Cunningham of the Washington Post: "Syrian doctors and rescue workers said Sunday that scores of people had died in an apparent chemical attack on a besieged enclave near Damascus, as government forces escalated their offensive to recapture one of the last rebel strongholds near the capital. At least 40 people were killed in the attack in Douma in eastern Ghouta, about 12 miles from Damascus, according to the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS), a Washington-based nonprofit that supports health facilities in the area. The State Department said it was monitoring mass casualty reports, describing them as 'horrifying' and urging an immediate response from the international community.'” ...

... Kyle Balluck of the Hill: "The U.S. is calling on Russia to end its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad after dozens of people were killed in an alleged chemical attack on Saturday. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement..., 'The United States calls on Russia to end this unmitigated support immediately and work with the international community to prevent further, barbaric chemical weapons attacks.'...” ...

     ... Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: Who is running the State Department? Apparently Pompeo, since he's already been confirmed to another Cabinet-level position, can run it for quite a while, but is he?

... Kareem Shaheem of the Guardian: "Dozens of people have been killed in what local medics say was a toxic gas attack on the besieged town of Douma near Damascus. Videos and images showed bodies of dead children and other family members, some foaming at the mouth. Rescue workers said the attack led directly to the deaths of at least 42 people, with hundreds of injured showing symptoms they said were consistent with exposure to an organophosphorus compound." --safari

A 67-year-old man died after being injured in a fire at Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan on Saturday, the police said. The man was in an apartment on the 50th floor at the time of the fire, which was reported around 5:30 p.m., the police said. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His identity was not immediately released. Four firefighters sustained injuries that were not life-threatening, Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said at a news conference. He said the apartment, a large unit that was heavily furnished, was 'virtually entirely on fire.' Video footage showed flames bursting through broken windows.... More than 200 firefighters responded to the fire, the cause of which was unknown, the commissioner said." ...

... Noah Goldberg of the New York Daily News: "One person was critically injured in a fast-moving fire at Trump Tower in Midtown, authorities said. The FDNY arrived at the Fifth Ave. highrise just before 6 p.m. Twitter users posted pictures of flames shooting out of windows on the 50th floor. President Trump also took to Twitter with an update, 'Fire at Trump Tower is out. Very confined (well built building). Firemen (and women) did a great job. THANK YOU!' Several firefighters suffered minor injures.” (Also linked last evening.)

Andrew Kaczynski of CNN: "Roger Stone, a longtime associate of ... Donald Trump, said he knew the date of upcoming WikiLeaks disclosures in October 2016, despite claiming on Friday in an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper that he didn't.'I had no advanced notice of the content source or exact timing of the WikiLeaks disclosures including the allegedly hacked emails,' Stone said on CNN....On CNN, Stone, while discussing comments he had made claiming to have had dinner with Julian Assange in August 2016, also 'categorically' denied having advance knowledge of the contents of the hacked emails.Those comments stand in sharp contrast with ones he made on the October 2, 2016, episode of InfoWars' radio show, to discuss a tweet he had sent a day earlier that read, 'Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done. #Wikileaks.' 'Now, an intermediary met with him (Assange) in London recently -- who is a friend of mine and a friend of his...," Stone said. 'I am assured that the motherlode is coming Wednesday.'... The emails were not released that Wednesday, October 5, but ... two days later, WikiLeaks began releasing the first installment of John Podesta's hacked emails."

Juan Cole: "Greg Jaffe at the Washington Post reports that Trump has reversed an Obama-era push to get the Central Intelligence Agency out of the business of assassinating people with drone strikes.... In the course of reviewing video of a drone strike, Trump noticed that the drone pilot held off hitting the suspected militant in his own home (which would have killed his family as well) and waited until he was some distance outside it until they assassinated him.... Trump asked, 'Why did you wait?’... [W]hen Trump came into office, I warned of psychopathocracy, the rule of persons without conscience, without empathy, without the milk of human kindness, without any appreciation for the rule of law. What Trump was asking for was the murder of children. He was actually, if the report is true, scolding the CIA for leaving the children alive rather than burned and dismembered by a rocket." --safari

** Everything Is Going So Smoothly. Ashley Parker, et al., of the Washington Post: Trump & John Kelly get into shouting matches. "The recurring and escalating clashes between the president and his chief of staff trace the downward arc of Kelly’s eight months in the White House. Both his credibility and his influence have been severely diminished, administration officials said, a clear decline for the retired four-star Marine Corps general who arrived with a reputation for integrity and a mandate to bring order to a chaotic West Wing." Mrs. McC: This story is rather long & amusing, in a Michael-Wolffish way. There are so many things to despise about both of these guys that one hardly cares who "wins." At least some of the gladiators who fought to the death probably had character. ...

... Presidential* Review. The Washington Post is far more fiction than fact. Story after story is made up garbage - more like a poorly written novel than good reporting. Always quoting sources (not names), many of which don’t exist. Story on John Kelly isn’t true, just another hit job! -- Donald Trump, in a tweet this morning

... Benjamin Hart of New York: Kelly "badly damaged his own reputation with a series of comments and actions that seem to have revealed his true character. He made an extremely ignorant comment about the Civil War; blatantly lied about a congresswoman’s past comments and refused to apologize; and badly bungled the departure of White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who was accused of domestic abuse, among other missteps.... The conception of Kelly as a serious moral counterbalance to his boss is long gone. But that doesn’t mean his (probably) impending departure is good news."

Coral Davenport & Lisa Friedman of the New York Times: "As ethical questions threaten the Environmental Protection Administrator, Scott Pruitt, President Trump has defended him with a persuasive conservative argument: Mr. Pruitt is doing a great job at what he was hired to do, roll back regulations. But legal experts and White House officials say that in Mr. Pruitt’s haste to undo government rules and in his eagerness to hold high-profile political events promoting his agenda, he has often been less than rigorous in following important procedures, leading to poorly crafted legal efforts that risk being struck down in court. The result, they say, is that the rollbacks, intended to fulfill one of the president’s central campaign pledges, may ultimately be undercut or reversed." ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: That's because neither one of these science-denying jamokes has any idea what he's doing, & Pruitt, in a mini-version of Trump, "governs by press release," as one environmental activist said recently. ...

Rene Marsh, et al., of CNN: "EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is facing renewed questions about the size and cost of his 24-hour security detail, adding to a string of ethically questionable arrangements or actions on his part that have surfaced over the past year. Pruitt's security team currently consists of 19 agents and includes a fleet of at least 19 vehicles, a source with direct knowledge of Pruitt's security detail said. With the cost of maintenance, gas, and training for agents, that leaves the dollar amount for his round-the-clock security in the millions. The size of Pruitt's security is unprecedented." ...

... We're Going to Disneyland! Inae Oh of Mother Jones: "Scott Pruitt may have been spared in Friday evening’s news dump, but the ethical questions threatening his role as Environmental Protection Agency administrator continue apace. Financial documents obtained by the Associated Press reveal that over the year that Pruitt has been on the job, the embattled EPA head has spent upwards of $3 million on his 20-member security detail — a staggering figure that is reportedly more than three times the amount his predecessor shelled out for a part-time security team. The records also appear to confirm previous allegations that Pruitt had used multiple security agents for non-EPA trips, including a family vacation to Disneyland and the Rose Bowl football game." ...

... Presidential* Response. While Security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA. Record clean Air & Water while saving USA Billions of Dollars. Rent was about market rate, travel expenses OK. Scott is doing a great job! -- Donald Trump, in a tweet last night

Elizabeth Shogren in Mother Jones: "National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge, contradicting Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s vow to Congress that his department is not censoring science. The research for the first time projects the risks from rising seas and flooding at 118 coastal national park sites.... [T]he ... report is intended to inform officials and the public about how to protect park resources and visitors from climate change.... [According to] Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist and dean of the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability, 'To remove a very critical part of the scientific understanding is nothing short of political censorship and has no place in science,' he said. 'Censorship of this kind is something you’d see in Russia or some totalitarian regime. It has no place in America.'" --safari ...

Reuters: "The Keystone crude oil pipeline leak in November in rural South Dakota was nearly double the original estimate, making it one of the largest U.S. inland spills since 2010, a newspaper report on Saturday said. Robynn Tysver, a spokeswoman for Calgary-based TransCanada Corp, which owns the pipeline, told the Aberdeen American News some 9,700 barrels of oil leaked in the Nov. 16 spill, the South Dakota paper reported. The original estimate was 5,000 barrels." Mrs. McC: No doubt Scotty will get right on this. ...

... Fossil Fuel Fears. Juan Cole: "The aspiration for a 100% green electricity grid is no longer a dream. It is regularly being achieved in the real world for weeks or months on end.... In this past March, Portugal not only generated enough electricity from renewables to power the whole country for the whole month, it actually produced extra electricity this way.... Scotland, with over 5 million people, got 68.1 percent of its electricity from renewables last year. In 2016, the percentage of electricity from renewables was only 54%.... Scotland is now perhaps the world leader in renewables, and has innovated recently in offshore, in-the-sea wind turbines.... Costa Rica, a country of nearly 5 million, ran on renewables for 300 days of the past year. It has hydro and geothermal as well as having put in a lot of wind turbines. Costa Rica has a great deal of untapped solar potential, as well." --safari

More about Friends of Donald. Inae Oh: "... Donald Trump’s favorite conspiracy theorist Alex Jones recently sat down with Ted Nugent — the rock guitarist and NRA board member who was invited to the White House for a bizarre photo-op last year — for a conversation on the 'true, America-hating' evil found in gun control advocates. The two are seen rabidly discussing the renewed, unprecedented calls for restricting the sales of firearms, when Nugent starts comparing Democrats to 'rabid coyotes' that deserve to be shot. 'There are rabid coyotes running around. You don’t wait till you see one to go get your gun. Keep your gun handy, and every time you see one, you shoot one.'” Includes video. Mrs. McC: I don't know why remarks like this are legal. Nugent seems to be inciting mass murder.

Rebecca Morin of Politico (April 6): "The Department of Justice on Friday dismissed Rep. Devin Nunes‘ demand for an unredacted copy of the document that initiated the FBI’s investigation of links between Russia and ... Donald Trump’s campaign.... The Justice Department ... said it accommodated the committee in a 'manner consistent with relevant legal precedents' by providing members of the department and the FBI to review the FISA applications and renewals in camera."

Congressional Races

The No-Show Corral. Mother Jones: "The organizers of last month’s March for Our Lives have taken their movement to town halls across the country and invited congressional lawmakers — who have returned to their districts for a two-week recess — to discuss action on gun control. According to the Town Hall Project, more than 130 of these meetings are taking place, with most of the events happening on Saturday. Though invited, no Republicans appeared at any town halls, and many of the forums featured empty chairs to symbolize their absences." [Emphasis mine] --safari


Ticking Time Bomb. Michael Savage
of the Guardian: "An alarming projection produced by the House of Commons library suggests that if trends seen since the 2008 financial crash were to continue, then the top 1% will hold 64% of the world’s wealth by 2030.... Since 2008, the wealth of the richest 1% has been growing at an average of 6% a year – much faster than the 3% growth in wealth of the remaining 99% of the world’s population. Should that continue, the top 1% would hold wealth equating to $305tn (£216.5tn) – up from $140tn today." --safari

Michael Kimmel of the Guardian: "[T]he fact that virtually every single violent extremist is male creates hardly a ripple.... I have interviewed over 100 current or former extremists, including Americanneo-Nazis and white supremacists, jihadists and Islamists in Canada and Great Britain, and anti-immigration skinheads in Europe, to understand how they experience masculinity on the extreme right. I heard many stories of what I came to call aggrieved entitlement: a gendered sense of entitlement thwarted by larger economic and political shifts, their ambitions choked, their masculinity lost.... It is this sense of victimhood – that they are the new victims of the politically correct, multicultural society – that lends a degree of righteousness to their political activities.... Just for a moment, then, let’s pay attention to gender and see where it takes us." --safari

Way Beyond the Beltway

Shaun Walker of the Guardian: "Voting is under way in Hungary, where the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, is seeking to win a third consecutive term. After running a campaign almost exclusively focused on the threat posed by migration, Orbán’s Fidesz party is expected to win a majority in parliament. However, a late push for coordination among the opposition, as well a string of corruption scandals around the government has given Orbán’s foes a glimmer of hope. Voter turnout in the first hours of voting was the highest since 1998." --safari ...

     ... Mrs. McCrabbie: If Orbán win, expect him to get a congratulatory call from the POTUS*.

Sam Cowie of the Guardian: "Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has handed himself in to police after spending two nights at the metalworkers’ union headquarters in São Paulo in defiance of an arrest warrant.... Although the 72-year-old will appeal the conviction and is unlikely to serve the whole [12-year] sentence, his imprisonment has for now ended his hopes of regaining the presidency in October’s elections. A final decision on his eligibility will be made by the electoral court." --safari