The Wires

Public Service Announcement

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

Vanity Fair: "... Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times chief book reviewer and Pulitzer Prize winner, who has been, by a wide margin, the most powerful book critic in the English-speaking world, is stepping down.... Kakutani said that she could neither confirm nor comment. But sources familiar with her decision, which comes a year after the Times restructured its books coverage, told me that last year’s election had triggered a desire to branch out and write more essays about culture and politics in Trump’s America." -- CW 

... Washington Post: "... investigators believe they have discovered the 'smoking gun' that would support a decades-old theory that [Amelia] Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were captured by the Japanese: a newly unearthed photograph from the National Archives that purportedly shows Earhart and Noonan — and their plane — on an atoll in the Marshall Islands.... Gary Tarpinian,  executive producer of the History documentary, told the Today show that they believe the Koshu, the Japanese merchant ship in the photo, took Earhart to Saipan, where she died in Japanese custody." -- CW 

Summer Beach Reading. James Hohmann of the Washington Post suggests Al Franken's Giant of the Senate. Hohmann's column hits some of the highlights. CW: Let us be thankful that Donald Trump is incapable of learning the lessons Franken learned from his team. If Trump were half as bright as Franken, he would be a succesful president & very effective dictator.

Politico: "MSNBC has parted ways with anchor Greta Van Susteren after just six months on air, as her show failed to live up to the network's ratings expectations. An MSNBC executive said the decision to remove the former Fox News host was purely for business reasons, based on ratings." -- CW 

Click on the picture to see larger image.... Low Society News. AP: "... Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump were among the guests as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (mih-NOO’-shin’s) married a Scottish actress. Mnuchin exchanged vows Saturday night with Louise Linton at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington. Mrs. Trump wore a pink blush dress" CW: which, if you follow Reality Chex, you will know was enhanced by some really costly baubles that remind the bride of Grace Kelly or happy times or something.

New Yorker: "In a paper in the journal Nature, an international team of researchers announced that they have pushed back the date of the earliest human remains to three hundred thousand years ago. And the specimens in question were found not in East Africa, which has become synonymous with a sort of paleoanthropological Garden of Eden, but clear on the other side of the continent — and the Sahara — in Morocco." -- CW ...

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

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

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

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Thursday
Mar162017

The Commentariat -- March 17, 2017

Afternoon Update:

Louisa Loveluck of the Washington Post: "The United States said Thursday that an airstrike on an al-Qaeda meeting site in Syria killed 'several terrorists,' but reports emerged Friday that dozens of civilians may have died in the same attack. A brief statement from the U.S. Central Command said it struck a 'meeting location' in the northwestern province of Idlib, which it described as 'a significant safe haven for al-Qaeda in recent years.' Separately, a U.S. official said the strike was based on verified intelligence and targeted al-Qaeda groups gathered to discuss future operations." -- CW

Band of Buffoons. Here's the New York Times story, by Peter Baker & Steven Erlanger, on Spicey's insult to our former "special" ally Great Britain. More below. -- CW ...

... Madeline Conway of Politico: "Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, said Friday that ... Donald Trump should apologize to former President Barack Obama for accusing him of ordering an illegal wiretap of his phone lines, given that there is no public evidence to support it." -- CW

Heather Caygle of Politico: "Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly struck a defiant tone in a meeting with House Democrats Friday, lawmakers said... 'I'm the best thing that happened to DACA.... it is still on the books,' Kelly said about the Obama-era executive order that shields undocumented immigrants brought here as children from deportation. 'If you don't like the law we are enforcing, and I don't like many of them, please, please, please change the law,' Kelly added, according to multiple sources in the room. A number of Democrats left the caucus-wide confab visibly frustrated, saying Kelly wasn't actually answering questions. 'He's literally talking in circles,' said Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.). 'It's pretty damn frustrating.' Congressional Democrats requested the meeting with Kelly, with many deeply concerned President Donald Trump plans on mass deportations of undocumented immigrants." ...

     ... CW: Yeah, right. Even if Democrats could get a law through Congress liberalizing treatment of undocumented immigrants, they could never get enough Republican votes to override a Trump veto. ...

... Greg Sargent: "A new CNN poll out this morning tests one of the fundamental tenets of the Trump and Bannon worldview in a very illuminating way. It finds that large majorities reject the basic idea that undocumented immigrants who have been in this country for a long time -- and have not committed serious crimes -- should nonetheless be subject to removal.... A whopping 90 percent favor allowing those who have been working here 'for a number of years,' know English, and are willing to pay back taxes to stay and eventually apply for citizenship. Only nine percent want them deported. And 60 percent say the government should prioritize legalizing those working here illegally over deporting them.... It's the latest sign of a larger trend that goes like this: Little by little, the narrative that President Trump and his top adviser, Stephen K. Bannon, have been telling about what is happening in this country is getting translated into concrete policy specifics. And Americans are recoiling from the results." -- CW

Yes to Making the ObamaCare Replacement Bill Even Worse. Jessie Hellmann of the Hill: "The chairman of the [righty-right wing] Republican Study Committee on Friday endorsed the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill that is speeding toward a vote in the House. Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) said he is now a 'positive yes' on the bill after a meeting Friday morning with President Trump and Vice President Pence where changes to the legislation were discussed. Walker and other members of the RSC asked that work requirements be added to the bill, along with giving states the option to block grant Medicaid." -- CW

Katie Zezima of the Washington Post: "The Florida Senate passed a measure this week that would strengthen the state's so-called 'stand-your-ground' law, shifting the burden of proof from defense attorneys to prosecutors in pretrial immunity hearings. The controversial changes to the state's self-defense law passed the Senate 23 to 15 along party lines." -- CW

*****

... ** Fintan O'Toole of the Irish Times in a New York Times op-ed: "... this year's St. Patrick's Day jamboree at the White House will be a breathtaking celebration of double standards and the willful forgetting of America's recent past. Even by the crooked yardstick of the Trump administration, the disconnect is surreal: The president will salute the legacy of one wave of immigrants even as he deploys against other immigrants the same calumnies once heaped upon the Irish. In the blizzard of executive orders, it was easy to miss a proclamation President Trump issued on March 1. The president declared this Irish-American Heritage Month and called on 'all Americans to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Irish-Americans to our nation with appropriate ceremonies, activities and programs.'" Thanks to MAG for the link. ...

... ** Tim Egan: "As of this moment, an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish are living in the shadows of our country. Will Donald Trump's deportation police eventually get around to them?... The Mexicans and refugees from Muslim countries targeted by Trump commit fewer crimes than Americans born here, and certainly fewer as a percentage than the immigrant Irish did. Imagine what Sean Hannity would say if Mexicans burned down much of New York City, as the Irish did in 1863, in what may have been the bloodiest riot in American history." -- CW

Steven Mufson & Tracy Jan of the Washington Post: "Trump has unveiled a budget that would slash or abolish programs that have provided low-income Americans with help on virtually all fronts, including affordable housing, banking, weatherizing homes, job training, paying home heating oil bills, and obtaining legal counsel in civil matters. During the presidential campaign last year, Trump vowed that the solution to poverty was giving poor people incentives to work. But most of the proposed cuts in his budget target programs designed to help the working poor, as well as those who are jobless, cope. And many of them carry out their missions by disbursing money to the states, which establish their own criteria. 'This is a budget that pulled the rug out from working families and hurts the very people who President Trump promised to stand up for in rural America and in small towns,' said Melissa Boteach [of] the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington." -- CW ...

... Paul Krugman: "This week the Trump administration put out a budget blueprint — or more accurately, a 'budget' blueprint. After all, real budgets detail where the money comes from and where it goes; this proclamation covers only around a third of federal spending, while saying nothing about revenues or projected deficits.... In any case, this pseudo-budget embodies the same combination of meanspiritedness and fiscal fantasy that has turned the Republican effort to replace Obamacare into a train wreck.... Mr. Trump himself gives every indication of having no idea what the federal government does...." -- CW: Krugman at his snidest; I would not want this guy mad at me. ...

... John Cassidy: "... Mick Mulvaney has said that he saw his job as taking what Trump said on the stump and translating it into figures. In carrying out this task, Mulvaney performed a public service of sorts. Thanks to his translation, the entire world can see what America would look like if Trumpism were fully converted into practice. The country would be an uglier, less equal, less prosperous, more paranoid, more myopic, and more mean-spirited place. Its claims that it's a role model for other countries would be besmirched, perhaps beyond redemption. And far from being rendered great again, it would be a weaker world power." -- CW ...

... Michael Shear of the New York Times: "The approach is a risky gamble for Mr. Trump, whose victory in November came in part by assembling a coalition that included low-income workers who rely on many of the programs that he now proposes to slash.... To those who object to deep cuts in those programs, Mick Mulvaney, the president's budget director, had a blunt message on Thursday: What did you expect? He said that after-school programs had failed to help children in schools, that housing programs were 'not well run,' that government health research had suffered 'mission creep' and that grants to local communities 'don't do any good.' Mr. Mulvaney waved aside questions about cuts to the United Nations, saying that they 'should come as a surprise to no one who watched the campaign.' And he said that the president made no apologies for eliminating the government's efforts to curb climate change." -- CW ...

... Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post: "At a news conference Thursday, Mick Mulvaney, President Trump's budget chief, defended proposed cuts to the Meals on Wheels program, which provides food aid to needy senior citizens, by saying the program is one of many that is 'just not showing any results.'... A 2013 review of studies, for instance, found that home-delivered meal programs for seniors 'significantly improve diet quality, increase nutrient intakes, and reduce food insecurity and nutritional risk among participants. Other beneficial outcomes include increased socialization opportunities, improvement in dietary adherence, and higher quality of life.... These programs are also aligned with the federal cost-containment policy to rebalance long-term care away from nursing homes to home- and community-based services by helping older adults ... remain in their homes and communities as their health and functioning decline.'... 'The average cost of a one-month nursing home stay is equivalent to providing home-delivered meals five days a week for approximately seven years,' one of the studies in the analysis found. How's that for 'results'?" ...

     ... CW: I read elsewhere -- I forget where -- that the federal government funds only 3.3 percent of Meals on Wheels. Most of its income is from foundations & other private donations. But, hey, why not cut an effective program that feeds elderly stay-at-homes who might not vote anyway? ...

... Kelsey Snell & Karoun Demirjian of the Washington Post: "Some of President Trump's best friends in Congress sharply criticized his first budget Thursday, with defense hawks saying the proposed hike in Pentagon spending wasn't big enough, while rural conservatives and others attacked plans to cut a wide range of federal agencies and programs. The bad mood among Republican critics was tempered by a consensus that the president's budget wasn't going very far on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers reminded everybody that they ultimately control the nation's purse strings." -- CW ...

... GOP Family Values. Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post: "Sorry, poor people of America. Republicans are quietly sealing all the exits on the poverty trap. It's a four-part process, in which officials at all levels of government are taking part.... The cumulative effect of Republicans' family policies: force poor people to have more children than they want or believe they can afford, then tell them and their children that they're on their own." -- CW

... Ashley Halsey of the Washington Post: "President Trump's support for a plan to lop more than 30,000 Federal Aviation Administration workers from the federal payroll gives fresh momentum to an effort that stalled in Congress last year.... The ... federal workers comprise 14,000 air traffic controllers and about 16,000 other FAA employees, many of whom work on a project called NextGen. The NextGen program is a combination of several projects intended to speed air travel, save airline fuel and accommodate a 20 percent increase in passengers in the next two decades.... If [the proposals] wins congressional support this year, the FAA would lose more than 65 percent of its workers and be reduced to the role of a regulatory oversight agency, much like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which issues auto regulations and recalls faulty vehicles." -- CW

Philip Rucker & Abby Phillip of the Washington Post: "In a remarkably combative exchange with reporters at his daily news briefing, [Sean] Spicer was asked whether Trump still believes Obama ordered the alleged surveillance effort. 'He stands by it,' Spicer said, going on to assail journalists for the way they have reported on the controversy.... Spicer refused to say whether Trump was relying on classified information to base his claims, and pointed repeatedly to news articles and 'widespread, open source material.'... 'The president said last night that there would be additional information coming forward,' Spicer said. 'There are a ton of media reports out there that indicate that something was going on during the 2016 election.' He added that he believed the president would ultimately be 'vindicated.' Spicer spent nearly 10 minutes reading a litany of news stories, including from conservative reporters and the New York Times, that discuss reports of inquiries into the president's campaign aides and Russian officials. But it did not appear that any of the reports confirm that Trump Tower was wiretapped.&" -- CW ...

... SCROTUS's Lies Lead to Another International Incident. Steven Swinford of the [U.K.] Telegraph: "The US has made a formal apology to Britain after the White House accused GCHQ of helping Barack Obama spy on Donald Trump in the White House. Sean Spicer ... repeated a claim on Thursday evening -- initially made by an analyst on Fox News - that GCHQ was used by Mr Obama to spy on Trump Tower in the lead-up to last November's election. The comments prompted a furious response from GCHQ, which in a break from normal practice issued a public statement: 'Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct 'wiretapping' against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.' Intelligence sources told The Telegraph that both Mr Spicer and General McMaster, the US National Security Adviser, have apologised over the claims. 'The apology came direct from them" a source said." ...

     ... CW: I'm guessing that Spicey delivered the Napolitano nonsense in his 10-minute "litany of news stories." (See also this NYT report which says Spicey "read" the Napolitano charge.) That is, this lie would have been a prepared remark, not an off-the-cuff gaffe. ...

... Margaret Talev & Justin Sink of Bloomberg: "British officials complained to the White House Thursday after press secretary Sean Spicer cited a Fox News commentator's report claiming former President Barack Obama had enlisted U.K. intelligence to spy on ... Donald Trump.... British officials have categorically denied [Andrew] Napolitano's reporting, and Spicer's decision to cite it from the White House podium threatened to strain relations between the transatlantic allies." -- CW ...

... Charlie Savage of the New York Times: "The top two senators overseeing the intelligence community joined on Thursday the chorus of lawmakers debunking President Trump's claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped his phones last year, issuing a bipartisan statement that they had seen no evidence supporting the accusation. 'Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016,' said Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina, and Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia. The blunt statement by the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee means that all four congressional leaders who oversee intelligence-based surveillance by the government have rejected Mr. Trump's claim. On Wednesday, their counterparts on the House Intelligence Committee, Representatives Devin Nunes, a Republican, and Adam B. Schiff, a Democrat, made similar statements; both are from California." -- CW ...

... Austin Wright of Politico: "Sen. Lindsey Graham, meanwhile, said that while he was glad the intelligence committee leaders were speaking out, he thought the Justice Department and FBI needed to clarify matters. 'I strongly believe that these statements by political leaders should not be a substitute for a public response from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice on this matter,' the South Carolina senator said. 'I believe such a statement would serve the public well, and I fear that without an official answer, this issue will continue to linger.'" CW: Yeah, especially since Trump & Spicer keep promising, a la Trump's birther claims, that the evidence is about to come out to "vindicate" Trump's lies about President Obama. ...

... President Loose Lips. Olivia Beavers of the Hill: "The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee suggested Thursday President Trump disclosed classified information during a Fox News interview the night before. 'In his effort to once again blame Obama, the President appeared to have discussed something that, if true and accurate, would otherwise be considered classified information,' Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a news release. Trump spoke to Fox News's Tucker Carlson Wednesday night, when he said the CIA was hacked during the Obama administration. 'I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked, and a lot of things taken -- that was during the Obama years. That was not during us,' Trump said. 'That was during the Obama situation. Mike Pompeo is there now doing a fantastic job.' Schiff on Thursday dismissed the possibility that Trump made 'a purposeful decision' to disclose the CIA hack..., suggesting instead that the president handled the information recklessly. 'The president has the power to declassify whatever he wants, but this should be done as the product of thoughtful consideration and with intense input form any agency affected. For anyone else to do what the President may have done, would constitute what he deplores as "leaks,"' Schiff said." -- CW: I guess we should hope the nuclear code is more than 140 characters. AND "That was not during us"??? Good grief! ...

... Aaron Roston of BuzzFeed: "Telephone eavesdropping and video surveillance have indeed long taken place at Trump properties -- it's just that they were conducted by Trump's own team. At his private club at Mar-a Lago, as BuzzFeed News revealed last June, Trump listened in on employee phone calls using a special switchboard that was installed in his bedroom and was connected to every phone line in the estate. The Trump Organization employs a 'director of surveillance,' Matt Calamari, son of Trump's longtime bodyguard. Inside Trump's house near Washington, DC, where guests would sometimes stay, an extensive video surveillance system was monitored by Trump security personnel in New York. A surveillance company said that in public areas of the Trump National Doral resort, it installed video cameras to blend in with the décor.... At Trump's hotel in New York, collecting information about guests was routine, said two former managers.... [Trump] once wrote that he knew of a conservative senator who had 'spent more than a few nights with his twenty-something girlfriend at a hotel I own.' He also wrote that a married conservative columnist 'brought his girlfriend to my resorts for the weekend.'" -- CW ...

     ... CW: As we learned during the campaign, when Trump accuses a rival of some misdeed, it's usually one that he himself has been guilty of committing. So it's no wonder that when media were contrasting his incompetent, scandalous presidency with President Obama's early successes, Trump would lash out by accusing Obama of one of his own stunts.

Sophia Tesfaye of Salon: During questioning by Tucker Carlson, of all people, Trump acknowledged that CAHCA "would devastate his voters and actually do the exact opposite of what he promised voters during the campaign & provide huge tax cuts for the rich. "'Oh, I know,' Trump said matter-of-factly. 'I know. It;s very preliminary.'... Responding to Carlson's critique about the apparent contradiction between his rhetoric and his proposed legislation, Trump simply responded, 'a lot of things aren't consistent.' He went on to say, 'These are going to be negotiated. We've got to go to the Senate; we'll see what happens in the Senate.'" CW: Isn't Trump aware that Trumpbots watch Fox "News" & might be upset at how blithely he throws them under the bus? ...

     ... Dan Diamond of Politico: "Sen. Susan Collins [R-Maine] on Thursday said she couldn't back the House GOP's Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation, an expected -- if crucial -- defection for Republicans trying to corral enough votes to enact a repeal bill. 'This is not a bill I could support in its current form,' Collins told the Portland Press Herald, saying the American Health Care Act's coverage cuts go too far. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 24 million fewer Americans will be insured if the GOP bill takes effect. 'It really misses the mark,' Collins added." -- CW

Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: Trump constantly passes the buck, blaming underlings when things don't go well. "... it's very rare to see a president publicly suggest he'd have done things differently than his team ultimately did. And even if you don't consider it throwing his staff under the bus, if nothing else it's basically telegraphing the fact that things aren't going well. Which might be the most significant takeaway of all." -- CW

Caleb Melby & Keri Geiger of Bloomberg suggest one reason Trump is so fond of Russia: "When Trump World Tower at 845 United Nations Plaza began construction two decades ago as the tallest residential building in the country (90 stories), its most expensive floors attracted wealthy people getting their money out of what had been the Soviet Union.... On the 78th floor: a Russian who once was accused of mob ties and extortion by an oligarch. On the 79th, an Uzbek jeweler investigated for money laundering who was eventually executed on the street in Manhattan.... Trump needed the big spenders. He was renegotiating $1.8 billion in junk bonds for his Atlantic City resorts, and the tower was built on a mountain of debt owed to German banks." -- CW

Trump's Excellent Winning Week:

David Sanger of the New York Times: "Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson ruled out on Friday opening any negotiation with North Korea to freeze its nuclear and missile programs and said for the first time that the Trump administration might be forced to take pre-emptive action 'if they elevate the threat of their weapons program' to an unacceptable level. Mr. Tillerson's comments in Seoul, a day before he travels to Beijing to meet Chinese leaders, explicitly rejected any return to the bargaining table in an effort to buy time by halting North Korea's accelerating testing program, which the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, said on New Year's Day was in the 'final stages' of preparation for the first launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach the United States." -- CW

Salvador Hernandez of BuzzFeed: "California's chief justice on Thursday asked the federal government [to] stop using courthouses as bait for arresting undocumented immigrants, saying the tactics amount to 'stalking.' Attorneys and civil rights groups have blasted the Department of Homeland Security for the practice, where they say Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents detain undocumented immigrants in courtrooms while they tend to unrelated cases. On Thursday, California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye spoke out in a letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly." -- CW

Lili Bayer & Larry Cohler-Esses of the Forward: "Sebastian Gorka, President Trump's top counter-terrorism adviser, is a formal member of a Hungarian far-right group that is listed by the U.S. State Department as having been 'under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany' during World War II, leaders of the organization have told the Forward.... Gorka's membership in the organization -- if these Vitézi Rend leaders are correct, and if Gorka did not disclose this when he entered the United States as an immigrant -- could have implications for his immigration status. The State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual specifies that members of the Vitézi Rend 'are presumed to be inadmissible' to the country under the Immigration and Nationality Act." -- CW ...

... Jesse Singal of New York: "This could help explain why Gorka was seen at President Trump's inaugural balls sporting a medal associated with Vitézi Rend founder Miklós Horthy, the virulently anti-Semitic World War II–era ruler of Hungary ... who cooperated with the Nazis, and why he reportedly signs his name with initials meant to signify membership in the group." -- CW ...

... Talal Ansari & Lissandra Villa of BuzzFeed: "Sebastian Gorka ... has denied reports that he is a member of and took an oath of loyalty to a Nazi-allied group.... When BuzzFeed News reached Gorka by phone on Thursday, he stonewalled when asked about the [Forward] report. [CW: Gorka also stonewalled the Forward reporters.] Ansari & Villa cite condemnations by Democratic Congressmen & civil rights groups. ...

I cannot recall any time in our nation's history when the President selected as his National Security Advisor someone who violated the Constitution by accepting tens of thousands of dollars from an agent of a global adversary that attacked our democracy. -- Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), in a letter to Donald Trump, Jim Mattis & Jim Comey ...

... Rosalind Helderman & Tom Hamburger of the Washington Post: "Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign as national security adviser amid controversy over his contacts with Russia's ambassador, collected nearly $68,000 in fees and expenses from Russia-related entities in 2015, a higher amount than was previously known, according to newly released documents.... The newly disclosed documents were released by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He included the additional payments to Flynn in a letter to Trump, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and FBI Director James B. Comey, questioning whether Flynn's fees violated prohibitions on retired military officers accepting payments or gifts from foreign governments. Cummings also asked for the release of documents Flynn filed to get a security clearance for his White House job, to examine whether Flynn was candid in response to detailed questions about his contacts with foreign governments." -- CW ...

... CW: So the lying Führer thinks the best people to advise him on national security & counterterrorism ops are a lying foreign agent & a lying Nazi. Despite all the warnings & caterwauling from both sides, I don't think anyone anticipated Trump would be this horrid a president this soon. ...

... AND This Guy. Pema Levy of Mother Jones: "Stephen Bannon ... recently spoke approvingly of the ideas of an anti-Semitic French intellectual who was sentenced to life in prison for cooperating with the Nazis during World War II.... Politico describes Charles Maurras as a Catholic nationalist -- like Bannon -- and notes that Bannon has parroted several of Maurras' ideas.... Maurras is not the only racist or anti-democratic intellectual Bannon has gravitated toward. According to Politico, he has been in contact with Curtis Yarvin, a blogger who believes democracy is a failed form of government and whose ideas are influential to the white nationalist 'alt-right' movement. The Huffington Post recently reported that Bannon is a big fan of a racist French novel, The Camp of the Saints, about immigrants invading Europe." -- CW: Happy St. Patty's Day, Steve-O. ...

... Help Wanted. Only Crazy Bigots Need Apply. Jeet Heer of the New Republic: "... Steve Bannon is fond of the adage that 'personnel is policy.' In the Trump administration, personnel is also the problem. Trump and Bannon have a radical 'America first' agenda that puts them at odds with many in their own party and also in the bureaucracy.... To fully implement this agenda, they need to staff the administration with loyalists. But their difficulty in finding enough qualified loyalists has led them to rely on more mainstream figures, while also leaving many positions unfilled.... Although they've granted power to mainstream figures like Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Trump and Bannon still want to control hiring at a lower level, to shore up their power with as many loyalists as possible. This has caused many clashes over personnel.... Bannon's hostility toward the federal government and Trump's reliance on a few loyalists point down a dangerous path.... With Trump, we might have the worst of all possible worlds: Nixon's paranoia without his achievements." -- CW

What Double Standard? Matthew Rozsa of Salon: When Sen. Rand Paul [RTP-Ky.] "voted to block a treaty that would have helped the Balkan nation of Montenegro join NATO" earlier this week, Sen. John McCain concluded, on the floor of the Senate, that 'The Senator from Kentucky is now working for Vladimir Putin.' That, of course, is a direct and serious charge against Paul, but -- oddly enough -- Mitch McConnell did not invoke Senate Rule 19, which prohibits Senators from 'directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another senator or to other senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a senator.' This was the rule McConnell used last month to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren when she read a letter from Coretta Scott King denouncing Sen. Jeff Sessions for his racial discrimination during the debate on Sessions' confirmation as attorney general. CW: The contrast is stark. McCain essentially accused Paul of treason; Warren read a historical document pertinent to a confirmation debate (a letter that McConnell allowed male senators to read later). I guess IOKIYAR. Or a man.

The Pro-Torture Nominee. Charlie Savage: Judge Neil Gorsuch "joined the Justice Department in June 2005 as ... the top aide to the No. 3 official in the department. He left in August 2006, when Mr. Bush appointed him as a federal appeals court judge in Denver. But those 14 months were tumultuous ones for the Bush administration amid controversies over detainee abuses, military commissions, warrantless surveillance and its broad claims of executive power. Judge Gorsuch's job put him at the center of both litigation and negotiations with Congress over legislation about such topics." Gorsuch visited Guantánamo & was "extraordinarily impressed" by the "professionalism" of prison staff. "Judge Gorsuch helped persuade lawmakers to weaken a provision [of the Detainee Treatment Act] that permitted a civilian appeals court to review decisions by military tribunals.... He was also part of teams that helped draft speeches on national security for Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and an op-ed published by USA Today, under his supervisor's byline, defending President Bush's warrantless surveillance program and his use of a signing statement to claim a right to bypass the Detainee Treatment Act’s provision banning torture." -- CW

Annals of "Journalism," Ctd. That Time Hannity Pulled a Gun on Juan Williams. Dylan Byers of CNN: "Last year, after ending one of his many spirited on-air arguments with liberal contributor Juan Williams, [Sean] Hannity pulled out a gun and pointed it directly at Williams, according to three sources with knowledge of the incident. He even turned on the laser sight, causing a red dot to bob around on Williams' body. (Hannity was just showing off, the sources said, but the unforeseen off-camera antic clearly disturbed Williams and others on set.)... Hannity's colleagues brought the Williams incident to the attention of Fox News executives, though it's not clear whether anything came of it. The sources said it went to Bill Shine, the network's co-president and longtime Fox News executive, who is Hannity's longtime friend and a former producer. A Fox News spokesperson said the incident was referred to the legal and human resources departments." -- CW ...

     ... AP Update: "Sean Hannity says he 'never pointed' a gun at Fox News colleague Juan Williams, despite a CNN report to the contrary.... Williams said on Twitter that he and Hannity are 'great friends' and the 'incident is being sensationalized.' He says 'everything was under total control throughout and I never felt like I was put in harm's way.'" -- CW

Beyond the Beltway

Kristine Phillips of the Washington Post: "A state senator from Oklahoma is facing prostitution charges after he was caught in a motel room with a 17-year-old boy to whom he offered money in exchange for '"sexual" stuff,' authorities said. The charges against Sen. Ralph Shortey (R) were filed Thursday, one week after he and the teenager were found at a Super 8 motel in Moore, Okla., just south of Oklahoma City, according to an affidavit. Authorities said the two met through an online personal ad about a year ago and had been texting since. Shortey has been charged with three felonies: soliciting the prostitution of a minor; transportation for the purpose of prostitution; and prostitution within 1,000 feet of a church. The motel is near First Christian Church." -- CW

CBS News: "Just hours after Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced Thursday that she will not seek the death penalty in any case under her administration, including the case of a man accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend and a police officer, the state’s governor asked her to recuse herself from the Markeith Loyd case, reports CBS affiliate WKMG. When Ayala refused, Governor Rick Scott removed her.... Ayala is the State Attorney for Orange and Osceola counties." -- CW

News Lede

New York Times: "Derek Walcott, whose intricately metaphorical poetry captured the physical beauty of the Caribbean, the harsh legacy of colonialism and the complexities of living and writing in two cultural worlds, bringing him a Nobel Prize in Literature, died early Friday morning at his home near Gros Islet in St. Lucia. He was 87." -- CW

Reader Comments (20)

Eliminating the funding for meals on wheels seems to be engendering the most outrage and press. Trump will rescind that cut. It's a pittance of the whole budget, it will look like a concession and his older voters will see it as a heroic move. Make no mistake, he has no critical thinking skills nor is he capable of anything but abject cruelty. This wasn't a clever plan, but it will work out for him. The focus will shift from the plethora of horrible cuts that have destructive domestic and global implications.

Speaking of cuts...where is Mattis with his famous line about buying more bullets if State is defunded. Tillerson is turning out to be completely irrelevant. Clearly, Kushner is the shadow SOS and chief rain maker for Trump.

Since facts and history are anathema, most people must have seen movies about dictators or the mafia? Trump organization - Corleone family? Ring a bell?

March 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

In celebration of St. Patrick's Day, Fintan O'Toole (a columnist for The Irish Times) takes a hard look at: " Green Beer and Hypocrisy " In the Trump era, there are only two ways to toast the achievements of the Irish in America. One of them is tacitly racist. It relies on a silent distinction, an assumption that the Irish are somehow different from, say, today’s migrants from Latin America.

...O'Toole seems perplexed by the positions/attitudes of those Irish-American such as: "... so many of the people who have devised, defended and attempted to carry out Mr. Trump’s policy of identifying immigrant communities with criminality and terrorism are themselves Irish-Americans.

He notes those include: White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, (...his pride in his own Irish roots. Mr. Trump’s senior strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, boasts of his “blue-collar, Irish Catholic” family background. Kellyanne Conway (née Fitzpatrick) is half-Irish. Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, who has the job of enforcing Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, “is remembered fondly” in Massachusetts, according to The Boston Globe.

We could also add Mike Mulvaney, Tom Price, Paul Ryan, et al in the list of "What is going on with the Irish in America?"

Me, I'm only "Irish" by marriage, but damn and begorrah, I wonders meself.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMAG

@MAG: It's only been a few generations since the Irish were treated as undesirables, and old habits dying hard, I suspect there are still American WASPs who, like my maternal grandmother, would be horrified if their daughter married an Irishman (Mom did, and it was lucky for her). You can imagine how thrilled Grandmama was when her son married a beautiful Mexican-American. This is the sort of tribalism we see the world over in multi-cultural societies, and I might add, in Ireland itself, where people will spit on little children who look just like them because those children have parents who practice a different, if extremely similar, religion.

It is not at all surprising to me that Trump, whose mother was an immigrant and whose grandfather was, too, hates more recent immigrants. Steve Bannon's "Irish-Catholic pride" is just another word for bigotry. These small-minded assholes think the only way to "belong" is to exclude others. Carl Sandburg once said that "exclusive" was the dirtiest word in the English language. I'm with Sandburg. When I use the word "exclusive," I mean it disparagingly. Like Groucho, "I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."

Marie

March 17, 2017 | Registered CommenterThe Constant Weader

Gee, the Republicans don't like the Trumpbudget. Maybe they will finally catch on to the fact that Trump isn't a Republican. He is a Trump!

And not given enough attention by the media is the multi-billion cut in medical research. Besides the impact on health, the effect on medical education would be devastating.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarvin Schwalb

@Marie: Know what you mean. Exactly. I grew up in a predominantly German-American (Protestant) community...and remember as a kid the hushed, whispered voices as some of the 'elders' discussed the daring audacity of someone from 'here' who had married into the 'katholisch' community of Hungarians/Polish/Czechs some miles away. "She had to change...." they would add. It was quite the scandal!

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMAG

For my nephews birthday, on FB someone posted a photo of Trump with the statement 'no one wishes happy birthday better than me!'. Says it all.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarvin Schwalb

Some time ago I wrote about Robert Mercer since he had backed Ted Cruz and then switched over to Trump. Before that he had backed Arthur Robinson, that kook who was running for congress and was asking for everyone's urine for some experiment he was doing. Luckily for the country, he lost. The Mercers then made a $10 million investment in a new right-wing media operation called––drum roll here––BREITBART. Yippee! no more pee but fun to screw all of thee!

Now we have a long article about these nice folks. "The Blow–it-all-up Billionaires:

When politicians take money from mega-donors there are strings attached; with the Mercers it's a fuse:
http://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/mercers/

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPD Pepe

Here's yer St. Paddy's Day Immigrant song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSYkKpii1kc

God bless all here.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPatrick

NYT:
White House Tries to Soothe Britain, Angry Over Spy Claim

When are we going to get serious over the word 'crazy'.

Trump is making sure we have no one called an ally. Wants to go to war with N. Korea. The most interesting piece is the stories that suggest that the Netherlands right wing nut case lost the election because the voters saw a piece of Trump in him.

We are moving from chaos to hell.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMarvin Schwalb

Variations on a theme

This morning, with images of the elderly awaiting meals on wheels that never arrive, and scenes of Dickensian cruelty, the poor, scattered to the wind, clutching their meager belongings as wealthy oligarchs zoom past them in their limousines, off to a meeting with the president*, wondering how they can scrape even more off the backs of the middle class, I needed a reminder of order and beauty in the world and the possibility of the sublime.

And so, as I drove to work, I listened to Bach's Goldberg Variations (the Glenn Gould recording; the first one, not the second--don't get me started!). The solo piano (clavier for Bach) variations of a simple idea is an exercise in the grandeur of the possibilities of an aesthetic, intellectual, and emotional life for human kind and Gould's interpretation is an astonishing (really, it is) display of technical prowess. But his skill at the ivories is directed and wonderfully endowed by an ardor, a humanity that does Bach proud.

Around about the fifth variation (which, if you don't laugh out loud at the breathtaking, almost inhuman virtuosity of the playing, I never want to meet you, and that's that. It's like watching a guy on a high wire, waiting for him to fall off, but instead, seeing him execute a double jig followed by a triple back flip), I thought about Trump and the Confederates.

"Ugh", you might say. "Listening to the Bach and thinking about the Boor? Why?"

Here's why, and it's part of the reason I needed this reminder of the potential for human greatness and achievement in the face of arrant cruelty and incompetence.

The Goldberg is an enduring statement of musical accomplishment, but also of the importance of art in daily life (it was written to soothe an insomniac diplomat), requiring skill and musicianship to bring it to life. In much the same way, the founders began with a basic idea, that of a government of and for and by the people, and, through the multiple variations in the Federalist Papers, culminating in the grand tutti of the Constitution, fleshed out that basic idea, or aria, as Bach would have it.

But in order for these variations to come to life, they require proficiency, skill, humanity, and a belief in the importance--the absolute necessity--of human dignity. They need their own Glenn Gould, whose consummate competence, expertise, and ingenuity in navigating the trickier variations--without losing sight of the basic idea, the originating principle--brings them to life and offers them as a guide to a distinguished and respectful political and social life.

Instead of a Glenn Gould, rippling the keys with finesse, authority, and grace, we get a three year old banging on a tin pot with a wooden spoon and congratulating himself for his musicality.

Which brings me to the Confederates in general, a group that for a generation now, has based their arias on a dissonant, arrhythmic set of fucked up fairy tale ditties. "Businessmen know how to run the government, you'll see." "The poor get too much!" "The rich need our help". "Black people are moochers out to kill us all." "Government is the problem!" La-di-fucking-da. Ditties without the nitty-gritty. Grating jingles with no harmonic foundation, establishing vicious policy schemes based on these sour-note, discordant descants.

And now we see, literally, the toxic indifference to the poor, the needy, the middle class, to medical care for the less well off, to the things which help millions to live decently, and things like the arts which make that life worth living.

Their only interest is in helping the rich get richer, the religious fanatics exert unearned authority, and the military bomb poor people in other parts of the world. It is a poisonous, but ultimately unsustainable, ideology because, in fact, there is no there, there. There is emptiness and cruelty and hatred. The originating idea is greed, ignorance, and intolerance. And that does not make for a very pretty song.

This isn't just a tin-pot banger trying his hand at our own Goldberg Variations, the Constitution, this is that ignorant, malevolent banger tearing it up, pissing on the pieces, and tweeting "Oh, what a good boy am I"

Perhaps, there is a Glenn Gould, or many Glenn Goulds, in our future. We've been lucky to have had leaders who have been able to appreciate the wonders of the founders' composition and to interpret it so as to, hopefully, make them, and us, proud. The incompetent clowns now conducting things can never diminish the greatness of human achievement and the value of human decency, as much as they try, just as Trump, sitting down to try his tiny hand at Bach, could never dissipate or devalue those great works.

So it's Bach and Gould for the ride home. Can't wait.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAkhilleus

Patrick,

A good one. Love the Pogues. Great pictures accompany that clip. Thanks!

So, here's two other Paddy's Day songs back at ya.

The great Christy Moore sings about the life of an "Ordinary Man" in the Age of Trump. It ain't pretty.

And here's an old friend of mine, Robbie O'Connell, with a song about immigration in a time when people came to America but never went back. Trump's nightmare.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAkhilleus

@AK: you can't hear me, but I'm clapping––I applaud your connections here and since I am also a fan of Gould my small hands (bigger than tiny) may just reach for those round disks of his to play later. Your message here is beautifully wrought and I thank you.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPD Pepe

What in the hell is this bullshit about threatening North Korea with nuclear weapons? I mean, aren't we already doing that? If need be, we can have a whole fleet armed to the teeth incinerate the place in half an hour. But Trump wants everyone to have nukes, now. Hey, let's have a party!

Are these people stupid? I'm not suggesting that getting tough with North Korea is a terrible idea, but it depends on how--and why--it's done. So, according to diplomatic expert Rex Tillerson, who's been on the job for, oh....what, a couple of weeks? we need to wave bombs at Pyongyang. Great idea, Rex! Why didn't anyone think of that before? Maybe because a dick measuring contest is not entered into lightly with a paranoid psycho?

So, here's the thing. We've been engaged in a policy of containment with North Korea. What are the Trumpies suggesting we do now? So Pyongyang does its little hippity hop now and then. Let them. They've been largely outlawed around the world. Even China is leery of these nuts.

Is there something going on that requires us, now, to start waving nukes in their faces? I mean, other than for Trump and his boys to look manly and tough? What do we get out this display of nuke waving? Other than everyone thinking we're unstable kooks?

I don't get it. Really, I don't. It's not like the North is mounting an invasion force and there's a need for immediate countermeasures. And what are we gonna force them to do that they haven't done already? Because here's another thing. Like Trump, Kim is a thin-skinned little shit. He may feel compelled to start something if he feels his manhood is being threatened.

Finally, ask yourself this: is this a policy scheme that has been well thought out? You know, like the ACA replacement, maybe? Or the "budget"? Have they consulted experts in the field, talked to old Asia hands in the various intelligence services? Spoken with our allies in the region? Because if not, if Trump is getting ready to start whipping it out on the world stage, just so he can prove to everyone that the nickname "Needledick Don" doesn't really apply to him, and he's sending oilman Rex, with his hours of experience on the job to send the message, then these assholes are way more dangerous than I thought.

My guess is they think, like Bush and Cheney did with Iraq, that North Korea will be an easy target. It's not like they're taking on China (although that might be a concern if we start bombing runs over North Korean military installations). Reagan had his "war" with Grenada. Wow. Big strong man, there, Ron. Bush wanted his war too. Iraq. How'd that work out? But now Trump sees North Korea as a place where he can flex his muscles and look tough on the world stage without paying much of a price? Be careful what you wish for. If this were, as I suggested earlier, something that was really necessary and thought through as carefully as possible, I probably still wouldn't support it, but at least I wouldn't think of it as the stupidest idea going. But has Trump EVER thought anything through?

This shit is Fucked.Up.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAkhilleus

" CW: Krugman at his snidest; I would not want this guy mad at me."

Somehow I have the feeling, Marie, that you could hold your own.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterNancy

HUH?

According to a story on CNBC'S Web site today, "...A brazen thief in New York City reportedly stole a Secret Service agent's laptop computer that contained Trump Tower's floor plans, information about the Hillary Clinton email probe and national security information.

The theft from the agent's car in Brooklyn (my boldface added here).... occurred Thursday morning, according to the New York Daily News... his car was parked in his driveway!

The calibre of Secret Service agents is looking pretttty inept!

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMAG

Stupid Fox Tricks (and lies)

So, Sean (I lick Trump's balls--and love it) Hannity, claims he never pointed a gun at Juan Williams.

Juan Williams says, in so many words, that he DID point a gun at him, but he "never felt in danger" or some such. Hannity says something like "Oh, I 'showed' him my gun, but in a 'professional' way". What a moron.

Ask anyone who teaches gun safety--go to the NRA site. What's the first rule?

Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. Never point a weapon at anyone you're not prepared to kill.

And this is a loaded or unloaded weapon. If you're cavalier about it, ie, "Oh, well, I can stick this weapon in your face because it's unloaded"...then you may decide to do it, and pull the trigger, just to show off in a "professional way" but, oops....the gun was loaded.

He's just another Fox idiot.

They're legion. And they're liars.

Must be in the job description.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAkhilleus

I came across this video of Mick Mulvaney, who is shaping up to be one of the more despicable douchebags in an enormous bag full of douches in the Trumpado administration, teaching a Trump supporter who has just learned that his family is about to lose their health insurance, that his grandma won't be getting food anymore, that his community is losing tens of thousands of dollars in federal money, and that, sorry, but coal ain't coming back, so that Trump and his wealthy pals can get another enormous tax break, that he made a huge mistake, but now has to live with it, because Trump.Doesn't.Really.Give.A.Shit.About.Him.

Big sad.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAkhilleus

Caught part of the press conference with DFT and Angela Merkel and if I were Merkel I'd skip dinner and head home. Words totally fail me to adequately describe DFT's embarrassing performance. Anyone else see it?

First he read his opening statement from a scripted document on the podium in a stilted manner with emphasis either missing or inappropriate to what the words were. Then, while Merkel was speaking...confidently, strongly, not looking at pages of notes...Trump is standing like a lump on the side with arms extended to his podium where he is tapping his fingers on the side in a bored-can't-wait-'til-this-over manner. Uggggggh!

During the question period from the floor he managed to quickly insult the reporter from a German publication. Uggggh!

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMAG

Yes, MAG, I did see a little of the joint presser. Couldn't watch much.

Even the best words fail, so I made one up.

Question: What's a "boorfoon?"

Answer: A cross between a boor and a buffoon...or our Pretender.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKen Winkes

I got a chuckle out of Rep pedophile's name. In prison, the pedophiles are known as "short eyes." He's so aptly named, I wonder if Rep Shortey is just living the family history.

The whole cabal of neo-nazi, white supremacists that populate the inner circle are impossible to ignore, even for the profoundly self serving GOP. The psychopath GOP continue to willfully choose perversion of democratic values instead of the well being of fellow citizens. Merkel wasn't meeting with an equal today, she was trying to manage a despot sporting a raging character disorder with a side of ignorance and no moral compass. In several video bits that I saw on my twitter feed, she seemed unable to contain her disgust. It falls to her to try and hold the West together with some semblance of democratic values and a moral foundation. Those idiot Trump voters are not worthy of either sympathy or empathy. They clearly have none beyond their own backward cruel and stupid tribe.

March 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDiane
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