"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, February 20, 2017


We're going to get, eventually, to the power and impact of social media (i.e., the internet), but on the way there....

“Why should Americans trust you?”

This is more likely the "real Donald J. Trump" than the prior tweet about Sweden was.  And it is proof there is really no gap between Donald Trump and Steve Bannon.  Bannon is not Trump's Svengali; they are twin sons of different mothers.

Mr. Selin completed a study recently focusing on negative news reports about Sweden’s acceptance of refugees. It found numerous exaggerations and distortions, including false reports that Shariah law was predominant in parts of the country and that some immigrant-heavy neighborhoods were considered “no-go zones” by the police.

Breitbart News, the right-wing website once led by Stephen K. Bannon, now Mr. Trump’s senior strategist, has published numerous stories alleging that migrants have been responsible for a surge in crime and for a wave of sexual assaults. Swedish officials have said that their statistics do not justify such sweeping assertions, and that the country has a high number of sexual assault reports relative to other European countries because more victims come forward, not because there is more violence.

Mr. Selin said the news reports “were highly exaggerated and not based in facts,” adding, “Some of the stories were very popular to spread in social media by people who have the same kind of agenda — that countries should not receive so many refugees.”

As for the cover-up alleged by Mr. Horowitz, Mr. Selin said: “That kind of claim has been in the political debate for 15 years now. But nobody has been able to prove there is a cover-up. On the contrary, the fact is that crime rates are going down.”
In an essay in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter, the journalist Martin Gelin speculated that “Trump might have gotten his news from the countless right-wing media in the United States that have long been reporting that Sweden is heading for total collapse.”

He added, “Among Trump supporters, there are common myths that Sweden is in a state of chaos after taking in refugees from the Middle East.”
Again I remind you, the man has access to more and better information than almost anyone on the planet (much of it, yes, available on the internet, like The World Factbook issued by the CIA.)  But watching basic cable is so much easier than reading....

Same song, second verse....

It's hard to find any reports on the "new" travel ban (a/k/a Muslim ban) that Trump is supposed to issue to replace the one that blew up in the 9th Circuit (and in almost every trial court where it was challenged).  The broad outlines seem to be that it will be the same as the first travel ban, only without a restriction on green card holders (something Bannon was reportedly adamant be a part of the interpretation of the original ban).  Update:  those outlines can now be found here, where the new order seems to be the old order, only without an immediate application to those in transit.  As if that was the problem with the old order....

Which means:

“I think there will be a huge legal push-back on the presumably looming executive order,” said Alén Takhsh, an Iranian American attorney based in Chicago. “The constitutional arguments against the executive order are likely to once again pass judicial muster, and on top of that, you tack on the argument that the law does not pass the ‘rational basis’ test. Yes, the President does have wide discretion in protecting us, but what he does has to be rationally based. You can’t just say I’m going to ban people from Tajikistan, [for example], you have to point to how nationals of Tajikistan traveling to the U.S. have harmed Americans. And, obviously, facts are important in that calculus.”

To revisit two key portions of what the 9th Circuit panel said:

The Government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the Order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States. Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the Executive Order, the Government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all. We disagree, as explained above.

As the lawyer said, "you have to point to how nationals of Tajikistan traveling to the U.S. have harmed Americans."  Go back to the list the White House released earlier; all the U.S. based terror attacks they could list were perpetrated by "U.S. Person."  What new evidence do they have to support this new order?  The Bowling Green Massacre?  The terrorist attack in Orlando?  What happened in Sweden?

And of course, there's the other problem, the matter of due process under law:

The Government has not shown that the Executive Order provides what due process requires, such as notice and a hearing prior to restricting an individual’s ability to travel. Indeed, the Government does not contend that the Executive Order provides for such process. Rather, in addition to the arguments addressed in other parts of this opinion, the Government argues that most or all of the individuals affected by the Executive Order have no rights under the Due Process Clause. 

Which doesn't even get close to the First Amendment issues and Trump's many statements about Muslims as the source of evil in the world (as Charlie Pierce says, Stephen Bannon drinks a glass of water while Trump speaks).  But we never have to get to the First Amendment issues, if the order can't get past the due process problems and the rational basis questions.

And nothing in the news reports indicates it's going to do that.  Because the President can't simply ban whole countries from traveling here without having a rational basis for the ban, and taking into account due process "prior to restricting an individual's ability to travel."  Which is why we do these things by legislative process, not by Presidential edicts.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

President Chicken Little

Why is the President of the United States, who has access to information from nearly 20 intelligence agencies as well as the entire United States government, getting his information from FoxNews?

And getting it wrong, to boot?

“You look at what’s happening,” [Trump] told his supporters. “We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this?”

Which makes this response, well, fake news:

Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Sunday that Trump was “talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general, and not referring to a specific incident.”

Sanders added that the president had been “referring to a report he had seen the previous night.”
So, what "happened last night in Sweden" is that President Trump, the man with the largest information gathering apparatus ever assembled by human beings at his fingertips (and no, I don't mean Google, though even that would be better), saw a false report on basic cable news.*  And declared the sky to be falling.

*In that FoxNews story it was asserted that:  “Sweden had its first terrorist Islamic attack not that long ago, so they’re now getting a taste of what we’ve been seeing across Europe already.”  The last terrorist attack in Sweden was in 2010.  The terrorist was a Swedish citizen.

I read the FAKE NEWS today, o boy!

I'm sure it's just a coincidence:

The Soviet Union made extensive use of the term (Russian language: враг народа, "vrag naroda"), as it fit well with the idea that the people were in control. The term was used by Vladimir Lenin after coming to power, as early as in the decree of 28 November 1917:

"all leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party, a party filled with enemies of the people, are hereby to be considered outlaws, and are to be arrested immediately and brought before the revolutionary court."
Right, Reince?

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said Saturday that President Donald Trump should be taken "seriously" in his claim that the press is "the enemy of the American people."
"I think you should take it seriously," Priebus said of Trump's claim in an interview on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"Both stories grossly inaccurate, overstated, overblown and it's total garbage," he said. "So we spend, you know, 48 hours on bogus stories, and the American people suffer. So I do think it's a problem." 
Speaking of the "last 48 hours":  "Our President Spent His Saturday Lying To Our Faces."  Including a terrorist attack in Sweden that no one has heard of!  And, of course, just beyond the 48 hour limit, there was this:

“Why should Americans trust you?” asked [NBC reporter Peter] Alexander.

“I was given that information,” Trump said, cutting Alexander off. “I don’t know. I was just given it. We had a very, very big margin.”

“Why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they receive of being fake, when you provide information that’s not accurate?” Alexander asked.

“I was given that information,” said Trump. “Actually, I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?”

“You’re the president,” Alexander replied.  
At least the press can legitimately say they were just "given that information."  And then there was that National Guard memo that was "100% false" until it turned out to be true.

So, about those "enemies of the people....."

Friday, February 17, 2017

We're getting sick of the winning!

And no, we're still not through with that press conference.

Trump's approval rating hits -18%.

Trump supporters will no doubt be elated.  The problem will be finding any.

A look inside the "fine tuned machine"

They've spread like cancer. ISIS has spread like cancer — another mess I inherited. And we have imposed new sanctions on the nation of Iran, who has totally taken advantage of our previous administration, and they're the world's top sponsor of terrorism, and we're not going to stop until that problem is properly solved. And it's not properly solved now, it's one of the worst agreements I've ever seen drawn by anybody. I've ordered plans to begin for the massive rebuilding of the United States military. Had great support from the Senate, I've had great support from Congress, generally.

We've pursued this rebuilding in the hopes that we will never have to use this military, and I will tell you that is my — I would be so happy if we never had to use it. But our country will never have had a military like the military we're about to build and rebuild. We have the greatest people on Earth in our military, but they don't have the right equipment and their equipment is old. I used it; I talked about it at every stop. Depleted, it's depleted — it won't be depleted for long. And I think one of the reason I'm standing here instead of other people is that frankly, I talked about we have to have a strong military.

We have to have a strong law enforcement also. So we do not go abroad in search of war, we really are searching for peace, but it's peace through strength. At home, we have begun the monumental task of returning the government back to the people on a scale not seen in many, many years. In each of these actions, I'm keeping my promises to the American people. These are campaign promises.

Some people are so surprised that we're having strong borders. Well, that's what I've been talking about for a year and a half, strong borders. They're so surprised, oh, he having strong borders, well that's what I've been talking about to the press and to everybody else. One promise after another, after years of politicians lying to you to get elected. They lied to the American people in order to get elected. Some of the things I'm doing probably aren't popular but they're necessary for security and for other reasons.

And then coming to Washington and pursuing their own interests which is more important to many politicians. I'm here following through on what I pledged to do. That's all I'm doing. I put it out before the American people, got 306 electoral college votes. I wasn't supposed to get 222. They said there's no way to get 222, 230 is impossible.

270 which you need, that was laughable. We got 306 because people came out and voted like they've never [done] before, so that's the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan. In other words, the media's trying to attack our administration because they know we are following through on pledges that we made, and they're not happy about it for whatever reason.

And — but a lot of people are happy about it. In fact, I'll be in Melbourne, Florida, five o'clock on Saturday and I heard — just heard that the crowds are massive that want to be there. I turn on the TV, open the newspapers, and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet, it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can't get my Cabinet approved.

And they're outstanding people like Sen. Dan Coats who's there, one of the most respected men of the Senate. He can't get approved [for director of National Intelligence]. How do you not approve him? He's been a colleague — highly respected. Brilliant guy, great guy, everybody knows it. We're waiting for approval. So we have a wonderful group of people that's working very hard, that's being very much misrepresented about, and we can't let that happen.

So, if the Democrats who have — all you have to do is look at where they are right now. The only thing they can do is delay because they screwed things up royally, believe me. Let me list to you some of the things that we've done in just a short period of time. I just got here. And I got here with no Cabinet. Again, each of these actions is a promise I made to the American people.

I'll go over just some of them, and we have a lot happening next week and in the weeks — in the weeks coming. We've withdrawn from the job-killing disaster known as Trans Pacific Partnership. We're going to make trade deals but we're going to have one-on-one deals, bilateral. We're going to have one-on-one deals.

We've directed the elimination of regulations that undermine manufacturing and call for expedited approval of the permits needed for America and American infrastructure and that means plant, equipment, roads, bridges, factories. People take 10, 15, 20 years to get disapproved for a factory. They go in for a permit, it's many, many years. And then at the end of the process — they spend tens of millions of dollars on nonsense and at the end of the process, they get rejected.

Now, they may be rejected with me, but it's going to be a quick rejection. Not going to take years. But mostly it's going to be an acceptance. We want plants built, and we want factories built, and we want the jobs. We don't want the jobs going to other countries. We've imposed a hiring freeze on nonessential federal workers. We've imposed a temporary moratorium on new federal regulations.

We've issued a game-changing new rule that says for each one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated. Makes sense. Nobody's ever seen regulations like we have. You go to other countries and you look at indexes they have, and you say “let me see your regulations,” and they're fraction, just a tiny fraction of what we have. And I want regulations because I want safety, I want environmental — all environmental situations to be taken properly care of. It's very important to me. But you don't need four or five or six regulations to take care of the same thing.

We've stood up for the men and women of law enforcement, directing federal agencies to ensure they are protected from crimes of violence. We've directed the creation of a task force for reducing violent crime in America, including the horrendous situation — take a look at Chicago and others, taking place right now in our inner cities. Horrible.

We've ordered the Department of Homeland Security and Justice to coordinate on a plan to destroy criminal cartels coming into the United States with drugs. We're becoming a drug infested nation. Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars. We are not going to let it happen any longer.

We've undertaken the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe. And are now in the process of beginning to build a promised wall on the southern border, met with general — now [Homeland Security] Secretary [John] Kelly yesterday, and we're starting that process. And the wall is going to be a great wall, and it's going to be a wall negotiated by me. The price is going to come down just like it has on everything else I've negotiated for the government. And we are going to have a wall that works, not gonna have a wall like they have now which is either nonexistent or a joke.

We've ordered a crackdown on sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal law and that harbor criminal aliens, and we have ordered an end to the policy of catch and release on the border. No more release. No matter who you are, release. We have begun a nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens, gang members, drug dealers and others who pose a threat to public safety. We are saving American lives every single day.

The court system has not made it easy for us. And are even creating a new office in Homeland Security dedicated to the forgotten American victims of illegal immigrant violence, of which there are many. We have taken decisive action to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of our country. No parts [that] are necessary and constitutional actions were blocked by judges, in my opinion, incorrect, and unsafe ruling. Our administration is working night and day to keep you safe, including reporters safe. And is vigorously defending this lawful order.

I will not back down from defending our country. I got elected on defense of our country. I keep my campaign promises, and our citizens will be very happy when they see the result. They already are, I can tell you that. Extreme vetting will be put in place, and it already is in place in many places.


Of course, the real question is:  why does the President of the United States have 77 minutes clear on his calendar to go on like this, and then take the weekend off?  Who's minding the store?  Who's in charge?  What the hell is really going on?

Ladies and Gentleman, the President of the United States

What is he even talking about?

The man has absolutely no clue how a government of laws, not of men, works:

Let me tell you about the travel ban. We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. But we had a bad court. Got a bad decision. We had a court that's been overturned. Again, may be wrong. But I think it's 80 percent of the time, a lot.

We had a bad decision. We're going to keep going with that decision. We're going to put in a new executive order next week some time. But we had a bad decision.

That's the other thing that was wrong with the travel ban. You had Delta with a massive problem with their computer system at the airports. You had some people that were put out there, brought by very nice busses, and they were put out at various locations.

Despite that the only problem that we had is we had a bad court. We had a court that gave us what I consider to be, with great respect, a very bad decision. Very bad for the safety and security of our country. The rollout was perfect.

Now, what I wanted to do was do the exact same executive order, but said one thing. I said this to my people. Give them a one-month period of time. But Gen. Kelly, now Sec. Kelly, said if you do that, all these people will come in and (inaudible) the bad ones.

You do agree there are bad people out there, right? That not everybody that's like you. You have some bad people out there.

Kelly said you can't do that. And he was right. As soon as he said it I said wow, never thought of it. I said how about one week? He said no good. You got to do it immediately because if you do it immediately they don't have time to come in.

Now nobody ever reports that. But that's why we did it quickly.

Now, if I would've done it a month, everything would've been perfect. The problem is we would've wasted a lot of time, and maybe a lot of lives because a lot of bad people would've come into our country.

Now in the meantime, we're vetting very, very strongly. Very, very strongly. But we need help. And we need help by getting that executive order passed.
Does he even understand the difference between signing an executive order and signing a bill into law?

So much winning!

The sad part is, Trump seems to think removing a rule that protects water from coal mining waste is a good thing.

January 9 was the third anniversary of the Elk River spill.  Is our children learning?

"Say a prayer for the pretender...."

This is how WaPo's transcript has it:

QUESTION: So first of all, my name is (Inaudible) from (Inaudible) Magazine. I (inaudible). I haven't seen anybody in my community, including yourself or any of the -- anyone on your staff of being (OFF-MIKE).

Because (OFF-MIKE). However, what we've already heard about and what we (OFF-MIKE) is (OFF-MIKE) so you're general forecast (ph) like 48 (OFF-MIKE). There are people who are everything (ph) happens through their packs (ph) is one of the (OFF-MIKE)...


TRUMP:...he said he was gonna ask a very simple, easy question. And it's not, its not, not -- not a simple question, not a fair question. OK sit down, I understand the rest of your question.

So here's the story, folks. Number one, I am the least anti- Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life. Number two, racism, the least racist person. In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican -- quiet, quiet, quiet.

See, he lied about -- he was gonna get up and ask a very straight, simple question, so you know, welcome to the world of the media. But let me just tell you something, that I hate the charge, I find it repulsive.

I hate even the question because people that know me and you heard the prime minister, you heard Ben Netanyahu (ph) yesterday, did you hear him, Bibi? He said, I've known Donald Trump for a long time and then he said, forget it.

So you should take that instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.

So I'm including the tweet and video above, because the reporter was Jake Turx of the Jewish publication Ami Magazine, which provided it's own transcript of the exchange:

And there's this:

When Turx tried to interject—maybe to remind the president he had specifically said he wasn't accusing him, personally, of anti-Semitism—Trump shouted him down again: "Quiet, quiet, quiet." The president went on to say he found the line of questioning "repulsive" and "insulting."

That answer is as weird and inappropriate as anything Trump said in the entire 77 minutes.

Yeah, about that....

It's like a logo for this press conference....
I'm here today to update the American people on the incredible progress that has been made in the last four weeks since my inauguration. We have made incredible progress. I don't think there's ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we've done.

Oh, I can think of at least one....

So much material for blog posts, you'll get sick of all the blog posts!

If we change the channel will he go away?

The President thinks this is a TeeVee show:

“And I’ll tell you what else I see. I see tone. You know the word tone. The tone is such hatred. I'm really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is—I do get good ratings, you have to admit that—the tone is such hatred. I watched this morning a couple of the networks—I have to say, Fox and Friends in the morning, they’re very honorable people.”
Latest approval poll results:
Click poll name for details:

Fox RV


- 17


- 9


- 8


- 9

1/31 - 2/2/17

- 6

1/27 - 2/2/17

- 8


Latest Gallup tracking has an approval rating of -14%.

So much winning!  I'm getting sick of the winning!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

So much uniting, I'm getting sick of the uniting!

No, it's not the right album.  But it's how I feel....

Somebody's gonna have to explain it to me, I'm not sure what it means:

We've begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare is a disaster, folks. It it's disaster. I know you can say, oh, Obamacare. I mean, they fill up our alleys with people that you wonder how they get there, but they are not the Republican people that our representatives are representing.

But it has something to do with Obamacare, people who "fill up our alleys" and "you wonder how they get there" (on foot?), and, I guess, town hall meetings with U.S. Representatives (in alleys?):  "but they are not the Republican people that our representatives are representing."

So, apparently, in the Trump Era, Republican office holders only represent Republican voters, and the rest can go screw.  Or they only represent Republicans in alleys.  And it all has something to do with Obamacare being a disaster.


Say a prayer for the pretender....


You don't have to be stupid to be a racist, but it helps:

"We're going to do a lot of work on the inner cities. I have great people lined up to help with the inner cities," [Trump] said during a press conference.

"When you say the inner cities, are you going to include the CBC (Congressional Black Caucus), Mr. President, in your conversations with your urban agenda, your inner city agenda—" American Urban Radio Networks reporter April Ryan asked.

"Am I going to include who?" Trump interrupted.

"Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus—" Ryan said.

"Well, I would. I tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting?" Trump said, speaking over her. "Do you want to set up the meeting?"

"No, no, no, I'm just a reporter," Ryan said.

"Are they friends of yours? No, go ahead," Trump continued. "Set up the meeting."

"I know some of them, but I'm sure—" Ryan began.

"Let's go," Trump said. "Set up a meeting."

I don't think Trump even knows what the Congressional Black Caucus is.

I missed this press conference.  It sounds like it was an out of town effort at Theater of the Absurd.  So quoting from it is my way of coping:

"The leaks are absolutely real," Trump said during a press conference. "The news is fake, because so much of the news is fake."

"If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake?" a reporter pressed.

"The reporting is fake," Trump insisted. "Here's the thing, the public isn't — you know, they read newspapers, they see television, they watch. They don't know if it's true or false because they're not involved. I'm involved."

Trump said that he has been "involved with this stuff" for his entire life.

"So I know when you are telling the truth or when you're not. I just see many, many untruthful things," Trump said. And I'll tell you what else I see. I see tone. You know the word tone. The tone is such hatred. I'm really not a bad person, by the way."

Even Jake Tapper can't take it any more:

“Everybody at home needs to ask themselves, how would you react if that were your boss coming in and giving a speech to the employees where you work?” Tapper said. “How would you react if that was somebody in your family that you were trying to have a conversation with? You would think, 'This is very difficult to assess in a positive way. The person is not dealing with with world in which we live.'”

“He said things that weren’t true, he was called out by one reporter,” Tapper continued. “‘You said you had the biggest electoral victory since Reagan, that’s not true.’ And he said well, ‘Somebody gave me that information. Somebody gave me that information.’ The buck stops there? Is that where we are with this presidency? You said it. Own the words. You were wrong.”

Tapper turned to the camera, presumably to address the President.

“But it’s not just about electoral votes. It’s about the fact that he's still fixated on whether or not he legitimately won the presidency,” he said, “President Trump if you're watching, you’re the president. You legitimately won the presidency, now get to work and stop whining about it." 
The irony about screams of "fake news" and claims of his electoral college victory, is not even sharp. It's more like a sign of megalomania:

"Our administration inherited many problems across government, and across the economy. To be honest, I inherited a mess," Trump said. "It's a mess. At home, and abroad. A mess."

A "mess" he once again promised he would "fix."  Given how thoroughly clueless he was yesterday about the situation between Israel and the Palestinians, confidence in his ability to "fix" the "mess" in the world is low.  Since I'm quoting from TPM so freely, I'll let Josh Marshall speak for me, too.  I would only add to his comments that Josh is too young to remember Nixon's Final Days, but I'm not. Nixon was crushed by what he had done, and how hard the Congress had come down on him.  Not to be forgotten is that Agnew was forced to resign and then convicted on criminal charges, and Ford was the only Vice President never to be elected to that office, who subsequently became President when Nixon finally realized he had to get out of town ahead of justice in the guise of the U.S. Congress.  I've noted before that Trump already sounds like Nixon in those days, just the Nixon we knew from news reports and television appearances, not the Nixon Woodward later limned.  This is not good at all:

There are credible reports of Richard Nixon being in this sort of state in the final weeks of his presidency. But Nixon, to give him his due, was at the center of the greatest political scandal in American history, bearing down on him for months and pushing him toward the greatest political disgrace and humiliation in his nation's political history. He was overseeing the Vietnam War, witnessing various domestic civil disturbances, grappling with foreign policy blowups which neared superpower confrontations. There was a lot going on. Trump has been President for less than four weeks. Aside from domestic, media driven and other crises of his own making, virtually nothing has happened.

But the man who just appeared before the press for a free-ranging airing of grievances looked tired, sullen and half broken. His bracing insistence that everything is going perfectly in his White House sounded desperate and bizarre.

He's coming up on one month down and 47 to go.


This is the question and answer Tapper was talking about:

“Why should Americans trust you?” asked [NBC reporter Peter] Alexander.

“I was given that information,” Trump said, cutting Alexander off. “I don’t know. I was just given it. We had a very, very big margin.”

“Why should Americans trust you when you accuse the information they receive of being fake, when you provide information that’s not accurate?” Alexander asked.

“I was given that information,” said Trump. “Actually, I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory. Do you agree with that?”

“You’re the president,” Alexander replied. 
Trump's margin in the electoral college put him 46th out of 56 Presidential elections.

And:  there is an annotated version of the transcript at WaPo.  Good reading if you don't want to sleep at night.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

VERY Un-American!

As part of intelligence operations being conducted against the United States for the last seven months, at least one Western European ally intercepted a series of communications before the inauguration between advisers associated with President Donald Trump and Russian government officials, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.

The sources said the interceptions include at least one contact between former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and a Russian official based in the United States. It could not be confirmed whether this involved the telephone call with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that has led to Flynn’s resignation, or additional communications. The sources said the intercepted communications are not just limited to telephone calls: The foreign agency is also gathering electronic and human source information on Trump’s overseas business partners, at least some of whom the intelligence services now consider to be agents of their respective governments. These operations are being conducted out of concerns that Russia is seeking to manipulate its relationships with Trump administration officials as part of a long-term plan to destabilize the NATO alliance.

Moreover, a Baltic nation is gathering intelligence on officials in the Trump White House and executives with the president’s company, the Trump Organization, out of concern that an American policy shift toward Russia could endanger its sovereignty, according to a third person with direct ties to that nation’s government.

And oh-by-the-way, remember the "dossier"?

For the first time, US investigators say they have corroborated some of the communications detailed in a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent, multiple current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials tell CNN. As CNN first reported, then-President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the existence of the dossier prior to Trump's inauguration.

None of the newly learned information relates to the salacious allegations in the dossier. Rather it relates to conversations between foreign nationals. The dossier details about a dozen conversations between senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals. Sources would not confirm which specific conversations were intercepted or the content of those discussions due to the classified nature of US intelligence collection programs.
But the intercepts do confirm that some of the conversations described in the dossier took place between the same individuals on the same days and from the same locations as detailed in the dossier, according to the officials. CNN has not confirmed whether any content relates to then-candidate Trump.

The corroboration, based on intercepted communications, has given US intelligence and law enforcement "greater confidence" in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier as they continue to actively investigate its contents, these sources say.

It ain't over 'til it's over.

I blame the leakers, myself.

"Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?"

And when did he know it?

Yates communicated her concerns to White House Counsel Don McGahn, a longtime Trump adviser whose main qualification was his loyalty to Trump and knowledge of business and campaign finance. He knows little or nothing about national security.

But what chance is there that McGahn would not have told the president about the warning from Yates?
Was never the right question, even when applied to Richard Nixon.  It isn't necessary to prove Trump masterminded contacts with Russia, approved of conversations with Russian intelligence operatives, knew his people were talking with Putin's people.  It's only necessary to prove such contacts happened, by people appointed or even just allowed to work for, Donald Trump.

The buck stops there.

The genial dunce defense of Ronald Reagan, who actually was genially dense because of an organic brain condition which should have disqualified him from remaining in office under the 25th Amendment, doesn't apply here.   Reagan was still responsible for what Oliver North & Co. did, because he was the President and North was on his staff.  Was the President criminally responsible?  That's the high bar of "what did he know, and when?".  That standard doesn't apply here.  The standard here is:  why is the President establishing an administration this incompetent, or possibly even corrupt, and certainly since January 20, not preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution of the United States of America?  Because that's the standard the President must be held to, or the oath of office is an empty sham.  And if the President cannot oversee his own staff and be sure they do not, at a minimum, harm the national interests of the country, then what business does he have being President?

And that whole question of who is "leaking" this "classified information"?  Bullshit.  These reports are coming out of the FBI, as part of their investigations into the Trump Administration and the Trump campaign.  The source of the information is not Edward Snowden.  It is information that may soon be the basis of a criminal charge.  Trump is screaming about "leaks" because he's been pantsed on the national stage.

Richard Nixon tried the same defense, before he was forced to release the information that finally drove him from office.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Happy VD!

On second thought....

There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when Sally Yates resigned rather than defend Trump's indefensible Muslim ban in court.  I didn't read the arguments, but I know there were lawyers who thought she had an obligation to do her job.  It didn't surprise me:  whenever someone takes an ethical stance, there are always people enraged that someone would behave ethically, usually because it makes them realize how unethical they are.

But maybe there was more to her stance than first met the eye:

The acting attorney general informed the Trump White House late last month that she believed Michael Flynn had misled senior administration officials about the nature of his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States, and warned that the national security adviser was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials said.

The message, delivered by Sally Q. Yates and a senior career national security official to the White House counsel, was prompted by concerns that ­Flynn, when asked about his calls and texts with the Russian diplomat, had told Vice ­President-elect Mike Pence and others that he had not discussed the Obama administration sanctions on Russia for its interference in the 2016 election, the officials said. It is unclear what the White House counsel, Donald McGahn, did with the information.

Yes, this does raise the question of what did the President know and when did he know it.  But it raises another question:  why did Sally Yates declare herself superior to the White House, knowing how that would end?  Maybe because she didn't want to resign quietly from this Administration, because she had already seen how it worked, and she wanted to get some attention for it.

After all, would WaPo be leading an article about what Sally Yates knew in January, if the country's response would be:  "Who?"  Which is not to say Sally Yates was a martyr for legal ethics; but this is how ethical people behave.  They don't quietly withdraw:  they point out the corruption.  Sally Yates did that, twice.

We owe her a debt of gratitude, not the whining complaint that she's making the rest of us, who keep our heads down and do what the boss tells us so we can keep our jobs, look bad.

We Shall Overcome

Just to connect with what NTodd said, this from the New York Times about Iran celebrating its revolution:

“Today’s rally shows that the government does not want any confrontation with the U.S.,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, an analyst who is close to the government of President Hassan Rouhani. “Don’t be surprised, we have no interest with tensions.”

Throughout the week, Iranians on social media had asked people not to burn flags, but instead to thank American protesters for standing up to Mr. Trump’s targeted travel ban and for defending refugees, students, tourists and others affected by the executive order. Others said they had underestimated the new president at first, but now worried about new sanctions on Iran, or even military strikes.

Most of the hundreds of thousands at the rallies carried signs handed to them at the starting points of the rally. Several people carried black and white signs with text in English calling on Americans to visit Iran.

Trump is our President, not our monarch.  He answers to us; we don't abdicate our moral authority to him.  He is not us; we are not him.

Monday, February 13, 2017

The branches of the tree of evil

v. the roots:

There is something more than faintly wrong about the whole salt-of-the-earth genre of journalism that's sprung up since the presidential election revealed to many editors and producers that there is a country between the coasts. I have grown tired of the expeditionary journalism that seeks to explain why so many Americans suffering from serious economic and social dislocation voted for a transparent charlatan who sold them snake oil by the bucketful.

I also am tired of these stories soft-pedaling the fact that a lot of the appeal was pure nativism—racism and xenophobia blended smoothly into a cocktail. (By comparison, imagine a story about a black community that is suffering from serious economic and social dislocation that doesn't mention street crime. You can't, because there aren't any.) There's a lot more going on between the coasts than shuttered stores and giant, blank-staring mils. Journalism does nobody any favors by pretending otherwise.

When Charlie Pierce is right, he's just damned right.  Our problems go well beyond who is in the White House or even on the Sunday showz (yes, "showz").  We have elected a white racist who is being advised by a madman who thinks he holds the keys to history in his hand.  And all our national discourse allows us to discuss is "serious economic and social dislocation" among whites, and "street crime" among blacks.

I'll retire to Bedlam.....

Phones on Ice

Our national security measures aren't this good.... 

The launch, which wasn't expected, presented Trump with one of the first breaking national security incidents of his presidency. It also noisily disrupted what was meant to be an easygoing weekend of high-level male bonding with the more sobering aspects of global diplomacy.

Sitting alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with whom he'd spent most of the day golfing, Trump took the call on a mobile phone at his table, which was set squarely in the middle of the private club's dining area.

As Mar-a-Lago's wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning in the background, Trump and Abe's evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners, who described it in detail to CNN.
And yes, all Trump had to say about this event was that the United States "stands behind" Japan 100%.  End of statement.

Just for comparison, this is where Trump should have been while he was discussing this matter:

And this is why it's a problem:

The two leaders could have discussed classified documents within earshot of waiters and club patrons. Those cellphones-turned-flashlights might also have been a problem: If one of them had been hacked by a foreign power, the phone’s camera could have provided a view of what the documents said.
Why is this important? Mobile phones have flashlights, yes — and cameras, microphones and Internet connectivity. When Edward Snowden was meeting with reporters in Hong Kong at the moment he was leaking the material he’d stolen from the NSA, he famously asked that they place their phones in the refrigerator — blocking any radio signals in the event that the visitors’ phones had been hacked. This was considered the most secure way of ensuring that the phones couldn’t be used as wiretaps, even more secure than removing the battery. Phones — especially phones with their flashes turned on for improved visibility — are portable television satellite trucks and, if compromised, can be used to get a great deal of information about what’s happening nearby, unless precautions are taken.

Precautions weren’t taken. One of DeAgazio’s photos shows Trump using a phone at the table, within view of other diners (and while sitting next to a foreign leader). It’s not clear what phone Trump is using in that picture, but it’s known that he uses a relatively old Android device, even while serving as president. As we noted last week, Trump generally uses that device when he’s not in the middle of a work day. Shortly before the dinner with Abe, he tweeted from it.
And there is no question Trump's personal phone could be hacked, and he'd never know it.  No, really:

“Donald Trump for the longest time has been using a insecure Android phone that by all reports is so easy to compromise, it would not meet the security requirements of a teenager,” [Berkeley computer scientist Nicholas] Weaver told NPR, and while he couldn’t say for sure, “we must assume that his phone has actively been compromised for a while, and an actively compromised phone is literally a listening device.”
What was that about Hillary Clinton's e-mail server and national security, again?

Meanwhile, in La-La Land.....

So it's Stephen Miller weekend.

STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR:  Last night, what you saw was the president of the United States sending a powerful and unmistakable signal to North Korea and the entire world as he stood shoulder to shoulder with the prime minister of Japan and declared our steadfast and unwavering support of the alliance.  And the meaning of that symbolist will be lost on no one.  

I think the most charitable description of what Trump did was hide behind Japan's skirts:

"North Korea's most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable. North Korea must fully comply with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions," Abe told a news conference at Palm Beach, Florida.

Trump spoke after Abe and gave a one-sentence statement: "I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100%."
 Chris Wallace seems to agree with me:

WALLACE:  But you say it’s an unmistakable message.  Other than the fact that we’re standing with Japan, what’s the message?

MILLER:  The message is, is that we are going to reinforce and strengthen our vital alliances in the Pacific region as part of our strategy to deter and prevent the increasing hostility that we have seen in recent years from the North Korean regime.  More broadly, as you know, we are inheriting a situation around the world today that is deeply troubling.  The situation in North Korea, the situation in Iraq, the situation in Syria, the situation in Yemen, and this president is committed to a fundamental rebuilding of the armed forces of the United States that will again send a signal to the world that America's strength will not be tested. 
Which is not at all what Trump said, but:  no matter.  Besides, we can't prevent countries from testing America's strength; what we can only do is try to stand up to the test of strength.

And on the issue of the 9th Circuit and the travel ban, Miller just wanders off into la-la land:

MILLER:  No, the Ninth Circuit has a long history of being overturned and Ninth Circuit has a long history of overreaching.  We don’t have judicial supremacy in this country.  We have three coequal branches of government.

The Ninth Circuit cannot confer on to a Yemeni national living in Yemen, with no status in our country a constitutional right to enter our country.  Such a right to exist, Chris, that would mean every time we denied a visa to a foreign national, they can sue an American court for damages for lost benefits in terms of welfare and employment.  That would be ludicrous.  
This, of course, is not what the 9th Circuit did; at all.

Eighty million people visited this country through airports, land ports, and seaports.  Of course, the president has the authority to impose moderate, necessary and sensible restrictions, including putting in place new vetting procedures to protect this country.  That power was delegated to him explicitly by Congress, and adheres to him under its Article 2 powers under the U.S. Constitution.  
But the Constitution also requires a rational basis for the exercise of governmental power, by the President or the Congress.

This is a judicial usurpation of the power.  It is a violation of judges’ proper roles in litigating disputes.  We will fight it.  And we will make sure that we take action to keep from happening in the future what’s happened in the past.  
Or they won't fight it, and they'll just issue another executive order.  And "in the past" means all the terrorist attacks carried out on American soil by American citizens?

We’ve had hundreds of individuals enter the country through the immigration system on visas, who’ve gone on to do enormous harm to this country from 9/11, through San Bernardino, to the Boston bombing, in Chattanooga, and on and on and on it goes.

Should we refer to that White House list yet again, and the fact that the incidents he mentions here  were all committed by what that list called "U.S. Person[s]"?  Is the Trump White House proposing a temporary travel ban, or cutting off all contact with Middle Eastern countries?

And, of course, it's all about a fear of brown people:

But not to get off track here, because we are going all over the place, let's just be very clear and straightforward saying the following: The United States of America has a terrorism problem.  We’ve had hundreds cases of foreign national entering our country from other countries and plotting, attempting, or even carrying out terrorist attacks.  We’ve spent countless dollars a year, and we have thousands of federal officers and investigators who do nothing but run around the country trying to stop terrorist attacks for no other reason because we make the mistake of letting people in who harbor hatred for this country.

Our immigration system should not be a vehicle for admitting people who have anything but love in their hearts for this nation and this Constitution. 
Is that the extreme vetting Trump is talking about?  Because by that standard Miller is going to throw out a lot of U.S. citizens who don't see eye to eye with him.  I mean, when even the White House can't come up with a list of terrorist attacks on American soil committed by immigrants.....

And, from another "White House Advisor":

“I’ve actually spoken with the President himself about this problem, and we've talked about various ways you can go after this problem, you can find those people who are criminally voting illegally,” [Kansas Secretary of State Kris] Kobach said. “And, by the way, many of the people in Kansas have been voting in multiple elections we have found. So yes, there is a way to go after it, and I think the federal government will do it.”

I, myself, have actually voted in multiple elections.  City council elections, school board elections, state elections, federal elections; and in several different cities in Texas alone!  Well, over the past nearly 45 years....

La-la land.