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23.Feb.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Another one bites the dust Permalink to this item

Rick Gates—Paul Manafort's "right-hand man," as the Feb. 22 indictment put it—took a plea deal, and is now cooperating with the Special Counsel's Russia investigation. Andrew Prokop's explainer for Vox includes links to the original, 12-count indictment from last October, the superseding 32-count indictment that just dropped, the plea agreement, and Gates' statement of offense.

Suffice it to say, he sang like a bird. 2008 though 2014, yup. Millions of dollars of wire transfers, yup. Without Manafort paying taxes on tha tincome, yup. Lying about all that stuff as late as November, 2016 and February, 2017, yup.

For his part, Manafort released a statement that he “had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise.”

Also maybe the 23 reasons right there on the surface, the charges with Gates' name on them. Manafort will fight on! The series continues.

A rising tide floats all yachts Permalink to this item

Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal has been a regular in Erie, Pennsylvania for its series, The Big Promise, and this week they checked in with voters who went Obama Obama Trump to see how they're liking so much winning. In Union City, the Madonna's Restaurant breakfast group, first quote of the episode that aired Tuesday dropped my jaw:

"I think he's gonna do what he said he's gonna do, and... the man is a workaholic... I think he has our country in, in his best interests, and I think he's gonna do the job."

Donald J. Trump Jr.'s homage to the family's secret sauce, Apr. 2017

We know the man plays hard, anyway. It seemed like god's own plenty when he'd made his fifth visit to Mal-a-lago within his first two months in office, dinging taxpayers for $3 million a trip, give or take, and some more from the neighbors in Palm Beach. It was more than a $million for them with the pre-election follies and halfway through March, 2017. One of the county commissioners noted that the federal government had refused to reimburse the county, and by the way, "the county is currently facing a $40 million deficit and a devastating heroin epidemic." (For his part, Trump has sued to try to lower his property tax bill in Palm Beach County. For the fifth year in a row. He brags up his "national" golf club as worth "over $50 million" on his financial disclosures and then has his lawyers lowball it to $15 million.)

Town&Country is keeping track of the itinerary for the long haul, and I'll admit, I'm surprised to read that there have been only 13 trips since January 20, 2017. Keeping with the GOP Family Values theme, like father, like son: Junior makes his own splashes in the media, is eager to work with Russians, and he's keeping the real estate business going. ("Trump has arrived. Have you?") And people don't give him and his family credit for all the profiteering they haven't done. (Which is not to say we're not all very interested in who's giving the Trump family credit. And those fascinating tax returns that are still sooper secret.)

But up in Union City, PA, business is good. Real good in lumber. It's "really come up in the last year," Robert Blakesly said. "Tremendously. In the last ten years, we've only had two good years before this last year," "and it's lookin' good and lookin' like it's gonna be even better next year."

He's already given out raises. "Twenty bucks a thousand." Which... neither Kai nor hardly anybody listening knows quite what to make of that. (Here's context: Calculating Timber Prices: A Formula For Sawmills. It's complicated. The example of "red oak grade lumber" uses $800 per thousand board feet at retail, $450 in costs, $100-something for the trees, two or three $hundred profit. Milling cost at $250 MBF would make that $20 a thousand an 8% raise.) His company's producing 50 thousand a week, so $50k/year higher payroll versus maybe $250-500k profit.)

"It's a shame."
Donald J. Trump Jr.

For the economic elite, they felt like they were being cast as the "greedy, evil guy" under the previous administration, and "it was very hard to make money."

"If the big guy isn't makin' money, how can he hire, how can he pass it on, or even the people in this town here, this is sort of a bedroom community, a lot of people work in Erie, ya know, GE going, basically bad has really hurt this community. So I believe the big guy has to succeed in order to help us little guys. Ya know, we can't all work for the government. Somebody's gotta be making money."

[Reality check: In late 2014, the Wall Street Journal reported that the federal government was employing the fewest people since 1966. The current BLS tally for government at every level, including government-owned schools and hospitals and the U.S. Postal Service is 21.5 million, with 6.5 million of those in education.]

"When the big guy can, you know, get ahead a little bit, he can hire more people."

Ryssdal: You believe in trickle-down economics.

"Yes I do."

The series also stopped in at the Polish Falcons Social Club to find out who's better off in Erie's changing economy. Fred and Nancy Dash make an interesting couple. Nancy doesn't see a lot of future in the town ("I think it sucks. I think it's done.") and "can't really honestly tell you" whether she voted for Trump. Fred was happy to share his views on behalf of both of them.

22.2.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Current events quiz Permalink to this item

Q1: What do Global Endeavour Inc., in the Grenadines; Black Sea View Ltd, Global Highway Ltd, Leviathan Advisors Ltd, LOAV Advisors Ltd, Lucicle Consultants Ltd, Peranova Holdings Ltd, and Yiakora Ventures Ltd in Cyprus; and Pompolo Ltd in the United Kingdom have in common?

Q2: What do Vendor A (Home Improvement Company in the Hamptons, New York); Vendor B Home Automation, Lighting and Home Entertainment Company in Florida); Vendor C (Antique Rug Store in Alexandria, Virginia); Vendor D (Related to Vendor C); Vendor E (Men’s Clothing Store in New York); Vendor F (Landscaper the Hamptons, New York); Vendor G (Antique Dealer in New York); Vendor H (Clothing Store in Beverly Hills, California); Vendor I (Investment Company); Vendor J (Contractor in Florida); Vendor K (Landscaper in the Hamptons, New York); Vendor L (Payments Relating to Three Range Rovers); Vendor M (Contractor in Virginia); Vendor N (Audio, Video, and Control System Home Integration Installation Company in Hamptons, York); Vendor O (Purchase of Mercedes Benz); Vendor P (Purchase of Range Rover); Vendor Q (Property Management Company in South Carolina); Vendor R (Art Gallery Florida); and Vendor S (Housekeeping in New York) have in common?

A: Q1's list of originating account holders were alleged to have been used by MANAFORT to wire payments totaling over $12,000,000 to Q2's vendors for personal items, with MANAFORT not paying taxes on the income used to make the purchases, in count #15 of the 32-count indictment, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA v. PAUL J. MANAFORT, JR., and RICHARD W. GATES III, brought by a Grand Jury to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division.

More than $5.4 million in 85 transactions flowing to Vendor A. That's a lot of home improvement. $1,369,655 going to clothing stores. That's a snappy dresser.

They were alleged to have been paid tens of $millions for work as unregistered foreign agents on behalf of friends of Russia in Ukraine, and to have laundered more than $30,000,000 to avoid paying taxes on it.

If some of this sounds familiar, that's because when Manafort and Gates were first indicted, back in October, a lot of this came out. But that indictment only had 12 counts.

The plot thickens. This superseding indictment is all over the news today. I've saved myself a copy for bedtime reading. In the meantime, this short tweet-take:

Again, the detail in the new Manafort is stunning, including Manafort's private communications with his family, tax advisers, etc. Mueller sending strong signal: He knows all.

— Garrett M. Graff (@vermontgmg) February 22, 2018

21.Feb.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Butterfly Permalink to this item

Snippet of Udo Keppler's 1899 cartoon, 'Japan makes her début...

ticketmaster® (as they style themselves) has added a new feature to their gouge-pricing business model (13.6% add-on at the end of the process in this latest instance): social engagement. They started sending me an email every day, and never mind my "unsubscribe from all" yesterday, here's another one today.

"It's Your Turn In The Spotlight" the email offers, with a link for me to "Share My Review," and drive more business their way. Their horrid business model notwithstanding, I appreciated the reminder to share some thoughts about Opera Idaho's most recent production of Puccini's masterpiece, Madama Butterfly, that we saw Sunday afternoon. It expanded beyond a blog post; I hope you'll take the short jump from here to the whole thing.

Presidents' Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Range war redux Permalink to this item

Rep. Rob Bishop is chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, giving him, as he puts it, "a responsibility to conduct oversight of Department of the Interior and its nine constituent bureaus that are responsible for protecting our national parks and natural resources, managing federal lands, producing impactful [sic] research and carrying out various activities to fulfill the federal government's trust responsibility to Native American tribes."

As a good old boy from Utah's 1st district, now in his eighth term in Congress (after 16 years in Utah's House, and a respite from politics to teach high school), he's so far under the radar that his Wikipedia page hasn't been updated with his 2016 re-election. But it does tell us that he co-founded the Western States Coalition and the Tenth Amendment Task Force, and is a member of the Second Amendment Task Force, Congressional Lupus Caucus, House GOP Policy Committee, Tea Party Caucus, and the Republican Study Committee.

A 38-year veteran of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rebutted Rep. Bishop in the Deseret News.

And Ed Ruth, known to me only by his response to Peter Walker's thread on Facebook in this regard said this (with my emphasis added):

"Nothing could be further from the truth. As a uniformed, field level employee of the Department of Interior for 28 years, I was given great latitude to negotiate issues, solve problems, and even implement new approaches to accommodate lawful uses and resolve unlawful conduct. In uniform for 28 years, I spoke to many thousands of people. The vast majority really, really enjoyed their experience on NPS and BLM land.

"Where does this come from? Soviet Style? Idiotic! I made thousands of independent decisions to help people on the public lands; decisions that any Soviet Bureaucrat would need to contact the local party chairman to approve. I find Rob Bishop's comments offensive and disgusting. It turns my stomach, they are false. They are a lie. They must serve some personal agenda. I would like this man to get up every work day, put on a uniform, badge, and associated hardware and meet the American people for 28 years and then reveal his beliefs.

"These agencies do everything within the law to transfer decision making to the local level. These lands belong to you. Please help protect them from theft! As with all thefts, the crime begins with a lie to self and/or others. Sad really. A grown man too. I assume. Probably not very mature though. Quote me."

Happy Birthday, Mr. President Permalink to this item

How made for America is this? Some of us still remember Honest Abe's birthday (the 12th) and our first president's (the 22d), the one who has the capital and a state and a mess of counties and a street in most every town named after him. But today, on the Monday between, because what better day for a holiday than the one after the weekend.

Today, the White House posted an article titled, and I quote, The Great Debate: Is it ‘Presidents’ Day’—or ‘Washington’s Birthday?’ We are apparently saving money by ending regulations on punctuation, so there's no longer a need for "double" quotation marks. It's slimmer now. In the text, we're assured that, and how, it is Presidents’ Day.

Another form of emanation from the White House these days comes from a Twitter account, Press Secretary Bot, capturing sur-@realDonaldTrump's tweets (such as this one) into verbatim press releases of his proclamations. To wit:

From @PressBotPlus

The morning's tweet stream came back to mind while I was reading Jeffrey Toobin's piece for the New Yorker, Trump's Miss Universe Gambit, and came to this:

"The indictment does not explicitly assert that Trump or his campaign knowingly participated in the Russian conspiracy. On Friday afternoon, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said that the President took this omission as vindication, noting that Trump “is glad to see the Special Counsel’s investigation further indicates—that there was NO COLLUSION between the Trump campaign and Russia and that the outcome of the election was not changed or affected.” In fact, Mueller’s charges suggest the opposite. The undertaking had more than eighty employees and a budget of more than a million dollars a month."

Eighty workers. A million dollars a month.

Toobin's story isn't so much about beauty pageants as it is about that topic in everyone's reflections these days, Russia. Where there was, and is "a lot of money" on the loose, and it seems our current president "was always trying to get in touch" with it.

That timeless quote from Junior, in 2008, when the real estate bubble was blowing up, and his dad had to coast on his reality TV odd job: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. ... We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.

And like most anything in the unreflective oeuvre of the man, there's a tweet that captures his personal Zeitgeist perfectly, from June, 2013:

Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow - if so, will he become my new best friend?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2013

That was two years after the last White House Correspondents' Dinner to feature him in person, where just desserts were served, and a desire for revenge on pretty much everyone in the world was seared on to his brain. (What Seth Meyers said in 2011: "Donald Trump said that he was running for president as a Republican. That's funny, because I thought he was running as a joke." Yes, and no.)

Which is not to say beauty pageants don't keep popping up. Two years after the tweet with the sycophantic longing for Russia's strongman, and after the "notorious" speech declaring his candidacy, "in which he accused Mexico of exporting criminals and rapists and called for the building of a border wall," the outrage that followed, led Trump to "quickly [make] a deal to sell his ownership of the Miss Universe Organization."

18.Feb.18 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dodgy expertise Permalink to this item

This story's a little stale, but I just stumbled on it yesterday, and it's an interesting look at two ways of leveraging science. The way of the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) looks rather permanently tarnished.

On the one hand, you have the European Food Safety Authority's scientific decision-making process that "can be traced from start to finish," with documents on EFSA's website that show how their assessment evolved over time, and the US Environmental Protection Agency's "full 1,261-page transcript of a three-day scientific advisory panel meeting on its ongoing evaluation of the carcinogenic potential of glyphosate in December 2016."

On the other, IARC's assessment and its very different conclusion that had been relatively opaque, until the reporting last October that contradictory findings (i.e. that would have agreed with the EFSA's and EPA's conclusion) were edited out.

"IARC did not respond to questions about the alterations. It said the draft was 'confidential' and 'deliberative in nature.' After Reuters asked about the changes, the agency posted a statement on its website advising the scientists who participate in its working groups 'not to feel pressured to discuss their deliberations' outside the confines of IARC.

"Reuters contacted 16 scientists who served in the IARC expert working group that conducted the weedkiller review to ask them about the edits and deletions. Most did not respond; five said they could not answer questions about the draft; none was willing or able to say who made the changes, or why or when they were made."

IARC's director did refer Reuters to a letter in which he said his agency’s assessments are "widely respected for their scientific rigor, standardized and transparent process," in case that seems convincing.

Given a wave of lawsuits against Monsanto, there will be a legal team discovering the hell out of IARC's process, and the reporting responded to the one section no longer covered by a confidentiality order of the court, on animal studies.

I'm not a lawyer, but I think the plaintiffs are going to lose.

Looked for more recent news without finding any. Wikipedia has a page devoted to Monsanto legal cases, which has a link to a March 2017 story about the lawsuit (including a view of the complaint) filed in Alameda County Superior Court that seems to rely on the IARC's outlying assessment.

Whatever the safety of the stuff, it gives pause to read that "hundreds of millions of pounds" were applied in just one California County. Is that true? Looking at the tally in the California Dept. of Pesticide Regulation link they gave, I saw just over 300,000 pounds in San Joaquin Co. for 2014. It's been in use for 40 years... and 40 times 300 thousand is 12 million, so I think that risible figure is almost certainly wrong by more than an order of magnitude. In case that matters.

Says there on the CDPR site that "California's pesticide use reporting program is recognized as the most comprehensive in the world," which I have no reason to doubt. Most recent "top 5" data is for 2015, and glyphosate is #5, at 314,303 pounds. (Sulfur is #1, at 6.8 million pounds.) The reported total pounds of all active ingredients applied for all counties in California was "hundreds of millions of pounds" in 2014 and 2015, 190 million and 213 million respectively. Fresno Co. is #1, running 3x the rate of fourth-place San Joaquin.

In the "top 100" list, two forms of glyphosate are #7 and #8 on the list. Combined, those would be #5 overall in 2015, 11.3 million pounds, for all of California. (Bon appetit!)

17.Feb.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Thoughts and prayers Permalink to this item

The day after the latest school shooting mayhem, I was in the car listening to the radio to hear the regular programming preëmpted by the president's speech. Having more than half my attention on staying on an icy mountain road, and without a distracting visual of him, it seemed easier to attend to the words. (It's possible, of course, to watch the delivery if you want to. And read the transcript.)

He kept to the script, no mean feat. I wondered who wrote the words he was delivering, fashioning empathy for a man who apparently has none. A speech can't do anything, but it can be a signal that you will do something. The speechwriter covered horror and grief pretty well, "these moments of heartache and darkness." The empty pieties some find comforting, at a distance. God heard our prayers, really? He will heal us? In spite of our iniquity, and staunch refusal to act on our own?

"We must also work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life, that creates deep and meaningful human connections and that turns classmates and colleagues into friends and neighbors."

Amen to that.

"It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make that difference."

Starting right... when? We haven't taken any actions, really. So that's less than actions that only make us feel better.

Unlike "crime" in this country, which peaked in 1980, and has been declining more or less steadily through the last three decades, the special category of school shootings has become horrifically worse. It wouldn't be crazy to imagine that the highest per capita rate of civilian gun ownership in the world is a factor. The 2007 Small Arms Survey had the US in first place by a mile. 89 guns per 100 people, with Yemen in second place with 55. (Switzerland and Finland roughly tied for 3rd, with half the rate as in the US, so this isn't the only dimension that matters, to be sure. Switzerland doesn't make the chart for gun-related deaths in high-income countries, whereas Finland is in 2nd place, with ten times as many "unintentional, suicides and undetermined" as homicides.)

We have 5% of the world's population, but almost a third of the mass shooters in the last 5 decades.

One thing this president did do, last February, is cancel a regulation finalized under Obama that would have required the Social Security Administration to disclose information quarterly to the national gun background check system about certain people with mental illness. (Plenty of people have been quick to point out that this would not have stopped this particular disturbed shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High school in Parkland, Florida.)

One thing this president (and his speechwriter) did not do, is include anything whatsoever about the role a gun played in the scope of this new Valentine's Day massacre. The president, in his brief stop before yet another weekend at his golf resort, focused on praising responders, congratulating them on their response to an unspeakable event.

He had nothing to say about the Colt AR-15 in particular, the weapon of choice for mass mayhem of late. He had nothing to say about how the NRA has made the gun a symbol of tribal identity, particularly that of the white tribe that got him into office.

He did not echo Rosanne Cash's observation that the NRA funds domestic terrorism, that "the people who write gun regulations are the very people who profit from gun sales." And he certainly did not mention that the NRA chipped in $30 million to support his 2016 campaign, possibly with the help of a Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin. (McClatchy reported that bombshell just a month ago, remember?)

Brandi Carlile Permalink to this item

Heard this gal on the radio a couple days ago, must've been this, here, on Valentine's Day. Reminded myself to remember that name, and looked it up today. Her newest album, "By The Way, I Forgive You" was the topic, and now that I've looked it up I can listen again.

Found her YouTube page, and listened to and watched the top video, from that album, "The Joke." I'm in love with that voice, that songwriting, that videography. Wow. I might have to figure out how to buy music again.

The Russian trolls indictment Permalink to this item

Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov using the Trump administration talking point to avoid the question about the indictment of 13 Russians for an attack on the US election seems about par for the course. Fake news! First comments under Nicholas Burns' tweet are about "message discipline." My mind jumps back to that candid moment last May when Sergey Lavrov heard about Trump firing FBI Director James Comey. You are kidding!

Russian dolls

Looking at the old picture again, maybe that's just Resting Oligarch Face on Rex Tillerson, but that's a creepy postscript on the event. Not, however, as creepy as the Oval Office tête à tête for Tass TV with Sergeys Lavrov and Kislyak that followed.

Give Lavrov credit for a more nuanced command of the english language than some of our own leaders, and especially Dear Leader, in his endless homage to Lady MacBeth. (Look how he rubs his hands.)

"Just blather," Lavrov said. (Now former Russian ambassador to the US, Kislyak was there too. He called the allegations "simply fantasies.")

US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster's remarks at the Munich Security Conference are more detailed, but the headline/pull quote/takeaway was his bold declaration that Russia's efforts to meddle in the US are "just not working." How can we tell?

"He noted that the deeply partisan and divided U.S. Senate had voted 98 to two to renew sanctions against Russia, calling the vote clear evidence that Moscow's campaign was not working."

Never mind that less than 3 weeks ago the Trump administration said it would hold off on Russian sanctions. (Majority leader Mitch McConnell toothlessly flapped a stern warning in response.)

Contrary to Mr. Lavrov's self-serving epithet, this five-author Lawfare blog item finds quite a bit more than blather about the Russian influence campaign in the Latest Mueller Indictment.

"[H]ere is the Justice Department on the record declaring that the Russia investigation isn't, in fact, a witch hunt. It isn't a hoax. It isn't just a 'phony Democrat excuse for losing the election,' as the president has tweeted. There really was, the Justice Department is saying, a Russian influence operation to interfere in the U.S. political system during the 2016 presidential election, and it really was at the expense of Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump."

And ICYMI, the US intelligence community "has already shouted it from the rooftops about as loudly as the intelligence community announces its conclusions," for more than a year. Since before the 2016 election.

"[T]he indictments on Friday reflect a different level of certainty, confidence and evidence. Here the special counsel is stating not merely that he has 'high confidence' that the interference happened. He is stating that he can prove the existence of the Russian operation in court beyond a reasonable doubt, using only admissible evidence, and that the operation violated U.S. federal criminal law. And he is laying out an astonishingly specific set of forensic conclusions that reflect an impressive intelligence operation against the very operation on which the indictment reports. Even if the special counsel never gets the chance to prove his allegations in court by bringing any of the indictees before a federal judge, the formal statement that he is prepared and able to do so represents a remarkable rebuke of the president's claims."

Read the piece, and share the takeaways from the allegations (in context):

The latest fussilade of hand-rubbing victory tweets ("no collusion!"), dripping with self-obsession, signal how unlikely it is that the president will take the persistent threats to this November's election seriously. To do so would be to face the prospect that his friends (and Hillary Clinton's enemies) in Russia helped him win in November 2016.

♥.Feb.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

With God as my witness, and so on Permalink to this item

The required ethics code for Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training declares “I will constantly strive to achieve these objectives and ideals, dedicating myself before God to my chosen profession – law enforcement.”

Valentine's Day mash-up

It's a rather quirky turn of phrase. Presumably it was intended to mean "in the eyes of God" rather than putting one's job ahead of one's faith in a supreme being. "So help me God" is the more usual form. That could provide sincere affirmation of the preceding oath, a genuine supplication to have divine support, or just a vacuous nod to the forms of public piety that we so love to honor in the breach.

Someone paying attention might object. Story is, one applicant did object, arguing "that it was ironic that they would have to lie while signing an ethics form."

Props to Idaho POST Division Administrator Victor McCraw for recognizing the problem and trying to fix it. “With sincere and unfaltering commitment” was suggested as a replacement, and "a divided POST Council agreed."

And then the House Judiciary and Rules committee got to weigh in and embarrass themselves. Rep. Christy Zito, R-Hammett, insisted—incorrectly— that “The founding documents of our country and state are based on the belief of a supreme being.” And, she believes "it is important to protect the strong belief in God of those in my district and our state."

Through... the ethics code that law enforcement officers have to sign, whether or not they do actually believe there's a God? Lord amercy, Rep. Zito, you've got your work cut out for you. So help you God.

I've had some bad experiences in coach, too Permalink to this item

Scott Pruitt, the tireless critic of the Environmental Protection Agency who President Topsy-Turvy put in charge of it, is of the studied opinion that it's "fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what [the ideal surface temperature] should be in 2100."

He's all about "having an honest, open, transparent debate about what do we know, what don't we know."

Coincidentally, the staff of the Concord Monitor had that same word in their lede about Pruitt's surprise visit to New Hampshire yesterday, "in an unannounced stop that environmental advocates said raises transparency issues and that critics say is another example of a Trump administration official living lavishly on the taxpayer’s dime."

As seen in Sunday's Washington Post story about Pruitt's (and others') high-flying year of "lean[ing] toward first-class seats and expensive flights, racking up tens of thousands of dollars in overall costs." Also, "the secrecy of the visit." According to the Monitor, "Pruitt said the secrecy and first-class travel arrangements are set by his agency, and decisions are made based on security concerns."

“There have been instances, unfortunately, as I’ve flown and have spent time, of interaction that’s not been the best,” he said. “So ingress and egress off the plane those are decisions all made by our detail team, by the chief of staff, by the administration. ... They place me on the plane where they think is best from a safety perspective.”

There's a policy for it: agencies can authorize more expensive arrangements than you'd buy for yourself when exceptional security circumstances” mean “use of coach class accommodations would endanger your life or government property.” It seems Pruitt is always insecure about something. He really needs to sit in the front of the plane.

He's made a lot of enemies over the years? Also, that visit with seven political aides and a security detail to see the pope doesn't seem to have absolved his guilty conscience.

H/t to Daniel Dale for the link.

10.Feb.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Deep due do Permalink to this item

Someone, maybe even it was our Dotard in Chief himself, tweeted in indignation about the lack of due process, lives "being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation."

I bet that would play super strong down in Guantánamo Bay. Or among the Central Park Five.

Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) pointed out that the writing style hearkens to that of a Dr. Suess book, albeit without much süßigkeit. "Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new."

Some of Rob Portman's ex-wives' and girlfriends' bruises were black; some were blue.

While the First Reader level is somewhat convincing, others thought the style and structure were #FakeTweety. The odd capitalization of the rhetorical punchline seems Trumpian enough: "Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?" The timing—8:33 am EST—is a bit on the late side, but still within the typical Executive Timeframe. Saturday morning, no help from Fox & Friends. (Remarkably, he is not down at Mal-a-lago this weekend.)

Ed Krassenstein has some rhetorical questions, too: "Remember when you accused Obama of illegally wiretapping you? Remember when you accused democrats of rigging the elections? Remember when you said Obama was born in Kenya?"

Simon Hedlin notes this is "Funny" (not ha ha). "I know someone who has been *credibly accused* of sexual misconduct by at least 19 women and who got elected to the most powerful office in the world." Also,

For example, the domestic abuse accusations against your former Staff Secretary Rob Porter are not a "mere allegation." There are multiple victims. There is a temporary emergency protective order against Porter. And there are pictures. pic.twitter.com/4Q1GWG2Wr5

— Simon Hedlin (@simonhedlin) February 10, 2018

It's like the big man tabloid-tweeted when he had greater mental capacity 5½ years ago: "A beater is always a beater--just watch!"

But since we're talking about DUE PROCESS, let's talk about that crazy cocked-up Devin Nunes memo that told half the story, badly, about one small part of the investigation of campaign shenanigans and your subsequent obstruction of the investigation, shall we? The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence voted unanimously to release the minority's rebuttal memorandum on Monday, and oh my, here's a surprise: upon further review, you said that bit of due process will require some "adjustments." All of a sudden, can't be too careful.

The good news is, all indications are the Robert S. Mueller III is a very, very careful investigator, and unlike the general run and flop of this administration, he has assembled an exceptionally competent team to do the job at hand.

9.Feb.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Round and round it will go Permalink to this item

My $11 dryer belt is a member of the jet-set. Starting from Kenosha, Wisconsin, it flew to Louisville, Kentucky, and then to Billings, Montana, a city apparently enjoying Amazon's business as a western distribution hub. After a brief stay in Billings (5:05 to 6:17 am), it flew to Boise, where, somewhat inexplicably, between its 7:50 am arrival and 8:40, I'm told there was a "Delay in delivery due to weather or natural disaster."

Utility work

Was it... the overnight federal government shutdown turning off air traffic control? ("Like kids scrambling to clean up before Mom and Dad get home, lawmakers then had to rush to turn the lights back on before federal employees were due to report to work.") Couldn't be that, it flew from Louisville to Billings to Boise. Checking local news, there's 7 hospitalized after pileup near Payette last night, highway 52 blocked for nearly three hours, but my part shouldn't have been wandering that far west. And winter supplies collecting dust this unexpectedly warm season, it's been kind of a disaster for skiing and riding at Bogus Basin.

Outside my window, the day is mostly sunny, a light breeze, mid-40s. Inside, the power is on, and life seems pretty normal.

Weather or natural disaster notwithstanding, they got the thing "out for delivery" as of 8:55 am MST, and 9:17 am, it's "out for delivery" some more.

Update: 2:25 pm MST, UPS dropped it on our sunny doorstep and drove off. Inside, the package label has "MX" for country of origin, which I'd guess is Mexico. Inside inside, the belt says it came from Thailand.

Photo of the belt's label

Update #2: Back together and operational. Woot!

8.Feb.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not the sharpest tools in the shed Permalink to this item

Here we go again, on the way to burnishing our national laughingstock status: after "experts from throughout the state that were working on this issue, some of our best and brightest science teachers and professionals in industry" made another attempt at spelling out standards for science education in Idaho schools... the partisan, "citizen" legislators in the majority of the House Education committee voted again to eliminate those parts of science they don't care for.

Feb. 2017 photo

One of them fatuously announced his vague suspicions about the "supporting content" behind the revised standards proposal. He was unmoved by two dozen members of the public taking the time and trouble to come testify before the committee. As was the leader of the anti-science vigilantes, Scott Syme.

"I learned a lot about these standards over the last year," Syme said. "When we have conclusions over standards, it stifles inquiry, and I don't think that is the intent of the (State Department of Education) to stifle inquiry."

Last week, Syme said he didn't care if students come to the conclusion the Earth is flat, so long as that was the student's own conclusion."

I assumed the "supporting content" was some detailed set of demonstrated facts, but Eye on Boise reports it was considerably more direct—and considerably more incomprehensible what was the source of their objection.

"Natural Resources: Energy and fuels that humans use are derived from natural sources, and their use affects the environment in multiple ways. Some resources are renewable over time, and others are not.

"Natural Hazards: A variety of hazards result from natural processes (e.g., earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions). Humans cannot eliminate the hazards but can take steps to reduce their impacts.

"Designing Solutions to Engineering Problems: Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions."

If this were a reality TV show, it would be droll. But since we compete with countries not hamstrung by absurd anti-science ideology (to which we occasionally send trade delegations to see if they'll buy our commodities), this is not going to end well.

5.Feb.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Let's see what tomorrow brings Permalink to this item

NYT Money headline for this story wasn't compelling, try mine: Buy Late, Sell Early. It seems the best time to be invested is when the markets are closed. Nevermind the roller coaster of last year's Trump bump and the screaming plunge of the last two days, look at this comparison of what you get if you buy at the open, hold during "regular hours," and sell at the close, versus the opposite:

NYT infographic, Bespoke Investment Group idea

Lots of possibilities for after-the-fact explanation. I like this one: Panicky people trade when the market is open. Not-so-panicky people tend to stay invested. Speaking of panicky people...

The lighter side of day two of the Gasbag 2018 Profit Flushing, this top headline on Google Finance just now: Trump Considering Firing Dow Jones Industrial Average. Andy Borowitz is lots more fun than the lemon-faced mid-morning headline, Dow Plunges 1,175, The Biggest Point Drop In History. (Today would not have been a great day to put this "sell at open" strategy into practice, but "buy at close" might have been brilliant. You never know.)

Friday's mark-of-the-beast 666 point plunge seems pleasant by comparison. Early December, 24,300 was an ALL TIME RECORD that we blew right by, on the way to more than a month of records topping out at 26,616.71 on January 26. Than it caught a fierce cold and dropped more than 8.5%, in just a week.

The guy who took credit for all the upside (and is more invested in real estate than equities) is not worried about being blamed for the downside. Homey don' play dat!

4.Feb.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Computational propaganda is information warfare Permalink to this item

You might think this is yet another Nunes memo-themed post, but it's actually meta-memo themed. At some point in the debate, I remember hearing the argument that the "public interest" in the memo was what justified its release. Two ways you could take that: "it's in the public interest," or, something like "the public are clamoring to hear about it!"

That angle hasn't played as top-of-the-page as most, but it's one that will be haunting us a while. Molly McKew, for Politico : How Twitter Bots and Trump Fans Made #ReleaseTheMemo Go Viral. Contrary to Kellyanne Conway's counterfactual (with my emphasis):

"The [House Intelligence Committee] vote marked the culmination of a targeted, 11-day information operation that was amplified by computational propaganda techniques and aimed to change both public perceptions and the behavior of American lawmakers.

"And it worked. By the time the memo got to the president, its release was a forgone conclusion—even before he had read it."

An apparently real guy in Michigan kicked off the hashtag at 3:52pm EST on January 18. In eight hours, it had ramped up to 250,000 tweets an hour.

"Up until the time of the vote, Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee were collectively targeted with #releasethememo messages over 217,000 times. Raul Labrador, Lee Zeldin, Steve King, Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz—all of whom promoted #releasethememo to the public and their colleagues—were targeted more than 550,000 times in 11 days. By the time Speaker of the House Paul Ryan spoke in favor of releasing the memo, he had been targeted with more than 225,000 messages about it.

"President Trump, whom the Washington Post reported was swayed by the opinions of some of the congressmen listed above, was targeted more than a million times."

On Feb. 4, the top of Raúl R. Labrador's Twitter feed is the pronouncement that the "#FISAMemo" (hmm, did he get the memo about #ReleaseTheMemo?) "shows real collusion between Dem operatives & key officials at the FBI & DOJ to spy on the #Trump campaign & interfere in the 2016 election. The politicization of our intelligence & law enforcement agencies should concern every American." It's a teaser for his press release of his reaction, which, you would have thought could have been more considered, given the lead time. Let's break down the misstatements, factual errors and bogus innuendo.

"For over a year, the media has been focused on alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia without producing any hard evidence."

Not just "the media," of course. The House and Senate Intelligence committees, the general public, Vladimir Putin is certainly focused, and don't forget the Special Counsel and his investigation. As for "hard evidence," there are the indictments and plea bargains with admission of guilt. So far. Quite a bit more than "not any" has been brought to light in many ways.

"What today’s memo shows is real collusion between Democrat operatives and key officials at the FBI and DOJ to spy on the Trump campaign..."

That is nonsense. The Congressman and his writing staff either know that or are incompetent. The warrant that is the only thing the memo tackles, addressing "spying" (I think the FBI likes "surveillance" better) on Carter Page, after he was out of the Trump campaign.

"and interfere in the 2016 election."

There's nothing in the memo about that. (Did Labrador read it?)

"The politicization of our intelligence and law enforcement agencies should concern every American regardless of their party."

We can agree on something, that's good.

"Congress should continue to investigate this matter and release all the evidence supporting the memo’s allegations."

All the evidence? He does know (or should know), that members of his party are slow-playing evidence that's available, starting with voting against releasing the House committee minority's memorandum intended to correct misstatements and misleading aspects of Nunes memo.

"The document shows the dangers of allowing secret courts under our constitutional form of government."

We agree there are dangers. We do not agree that the document shows them to any meaningful degree. (Did Labrador actually read it?) The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the court it established 40 years ago were designed to protect against abuse, while meeting the needs for national security.

It's a tough job, and made tougher by campaigners and sabotage, Congressman who get swept along and amplify information warefare.

It's all about the memo Permalink to this item

"I enjoy the Justice system more. I enjoy being fair. I enjoy the pursuit of fairness... as a virtue... I was a pretty good prosecutor, I think, but I've been a pretty lousy politician." - @TGowdySC, on his way out of politics.

Why in the HELL are there no politicans who can be candid and honest until they put in their resignation?

"In politics, it's just about winning, and I can't... I don't want to live like that."

.@TGowdySC on why he isn't seeking reelection: pic.twitter.com/WcXeRD36U1

— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) February 4, 2018

ICYMI, Gowdy is the #2 man for the majority on the House Intelligence committee, nominally in charge of things to do with Russia because of Nunes' sort-of recusal. He and ranking member Adam Schiff were the only two guys to actually see the underlying FISA court business the Nunes memo is supposedly about. And he helped write it. What's next, then, Congressman?

.@TGowdySC: “So you need an investigation into Russia. You need an investigation into the Trump Tower and the Cambridge Analytica email, separate and apart from the dossier. So those are not connected issues to me.”

— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) February 4, 2018

What Asha Rangappa, senior lecturer at Yale University and a former FBI agent has to say:

"In a brief 3½ pages, Nunes managed to confirm that the investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible ties with Russia has a very solid basis and that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III must keep looking into the case."

Speaker Paul Ryan's walking back from any notion the Nunes memo is a something burger. See here: "What this memo is, is Congress [sic] doing its job in conducting legitimate oversight over a very unique [sic] law, FISA..."

It's a CIVIL LIBERTIES issue, don't you know.

But anyway, it's NOT "an indictment on [sic] our institutions, our justice system." NOT an indictment of the FBI, the Department of Justice. It doesn't impugn anyone!

True enough. Also, if you want to argue that loose screw Carter Page's civil liberties were unfairly attacked, there's more work to do than this memo, because it doesn't begin to address any of that.

Ryan said— much like Rep. Hurd of Texas said—"I say, let all of it out, so long as we're not involving sources and methods... "The more transparency, the better."

Starting right... when?

But it's all a distraction Permalink to this item

Paul Kane's report for the Washington Post said the Speaker had "hoped to use the three-day retreat at the Greenbrier resort to get GOP lawmakers focused on touting the $1.5 trillion tax cut," but then he got in his own way on that one, too, perhaps from too much affection for "$1.5."

Have you heard the one about the secretary who's saving $1.50 a week?

"The tweet was deleted within hours, probably guaranteeing it will never be forgotten, and leaving people baffled as to why Ryan ever thought it would make a good advertisement for the tax plan’s supposed middle-class benefit."

Idaho's CD-1 rep and TEA PartyFreedom Caucus back-bencher's blundering gaffe in his Dec. 22 Labrador Letter (entitled "Myths and Facts About the Historic Tax Bill," no less) didn't make near the splash. He hasn't deleted it, for one thing, but there it is still with the laughably wrong claim:

"For the average family that is working paycheck to paycheck, this tax bill will lower their taxes by an average of 60 percent. The average single mother will receive a 70 percent tax cut."

Something about 60, and 70, isn't it? What the WaPo story says:

"It’s true that the bill is stingy to people at the bottom of the pay scale. In fact, the average tax break for someone making $25,400 a year or less happens to be $60 — the exact price of a Gold Star Costco membership."

That's right, sixty dollars.

Charles, a Koch brother in Wichita, said he was pleasantly surprised that his pay went up $26,923,076 a week... he said [that] will more than cover the cost of buying several more Paul Ryans. pic.twitter.com/pyNYDtTUGw

— LOLGOP (@LOLGOP) February 3, 2018

Groundhog Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

The nothingburger might be something. Eventually Permalink to this item

The memo is out! And... so... what? It's been good for Twitter traffic, for sure. Retweet @SethAbramson if you agree that, after releasing a deliberately misleading memo over the objections of the DOJ/FBI, Devin Nunes must be removed from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. (He was supposed to be recused from the Russia probe when he did this.)

Or give a shout to the hacks over at Conservative HQ who declared their love for Devin Nunes, Twenty-First Century Patriot. George Rasley says "Americans of every political stripe will find the revelations in the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence memo on the Obama-era abuses of the surveillance powers of the federal government friightening."

That's right, friightening. Possibly even friiiightening.

Our president said "it's a disgrace what's happening in this country," and true dat. Our shameless chief narcissist thinks "a lot of people should be ashamed of themselves, and much worse than that." That's also true. There must be a version of the Dunning-Kruger effect for shame, eh?

Then there was a majority member of the Intelligence committee given his say, former CIA agent Rep. Will Hurd, of Texas. He doesn't think the president will use this as cover to fire deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, and we'll see. Asked directly by Judy Woodruff whether he'd vote in the committee to release the Democratic memo, Hurd said:

"Of course, as long as it doesn’t have direct revelations of existing ongoing intelligence, which I think we can take out, but of course I would support that."

Except that he just voted NO to seeking the advice of the DOJ and FBI and delaying the release of the partisan Nunes memo. And he voted NO to including the minority's memo with the Nunes memo for sending to the president and requesting public disclosure. And he voted AYE to releasing the Nunes memo by itself.

Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee got a few words in on the Newshour tonight. "There are a number of things that are directly misleading in the Republican memo."

The only other member of the House Intelligence Committee who saw the underlying information on which the selective Nunes memo was based, #2 Republican Trey Gowdy (since chairman Nunes had to recuse himself from the whole Russia thing, remember?) had this to tweet today:

As I have said repeatedly, I also remain 100 percent confident in Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The contents of this memo do not - in any way - discredit his investigation.

— Trey Gowdy (@TGowdySC) February 2, 2018

We'll hear more about just how the Nunes memo was directly misleading, eventually. I'll bet you $10 to a donut that it'll be a disgrace to Devin Nunes, and the president, and that they should be ashamed of themselves, and much worse than that.

Half transparency Permalink to this item

Thanks to Michelle Goldberg's column, Don't Believe the Liberal FBI, for highlighting the recent meeting of the House Intelligence Committee in which the Republican members voted to #ReleaseTheKraken. And the link to the unclassified transcript, which she notes "reveals a process that's half banana republic, half Alice in Wonderland."

MR. SCHIFF: Mr. Gowdy and I are apparently the only two members of this committee who have read the underlying materials. At the time the majority sought to release its memo to the full House, I made a motion that all of our committee members have access to the underlying materials before we took that step, and that motion was voted down on a party-line basis.

As Mr. Swalwell put it, the majority proposes to release "a book review on a book it has not read." Before the vote, this, from another member of the minority:

MR. QUIGLEY: I just think it needs to be said that we are not interviewing anybody this week. We haven't for a while. We have canceled them. The American public is -- good job talking about this and not what a former CIA Director called the political equivalent of 9/11. So if the job -- if the task was to distract, delay, deflect, obstruct, mission accomplished. ...

The big picture, from the ranking member:

MR. SCHIFF: ...I think we all understand what President Trump will do if we vote to release this document. He has already signaled his interest in it being disclosed without having read it. We cannot count on the President to put the national interest over his personal interest. I would hope that we could count on this committee, though, to put the national interest over anything else.

The chairman was asked directly if he had consulted with the White House in this matter:

MR. QUIGLEY: ...When you, as the majority, conceived of doing this memo for release to the body and to the public, the preparation, the thought of doing it, the consultation of it, was any of this done after/during conversations with anyone in the White House?

Did they have any idea you were doing this? Did they talk about doing this with you? Did they suggest it? Did you suggest it to them? Did you consult in deciding how to go forward with this before, during, and after this point right now?

THE CHAIRMAN: I would just answer, as far as I know, no.

Quigley followed up to ask if he meant "that none of the staff members [who] worked for the majority had any consultation, communication at all with the White House?" and the Chairman refused to entertain that question.

As for what balance might be possible in releasing BOTH the majority and minority memoranda, together, lip service to "full transparency" doesn't seem to be going quite that far.

MR. SCHIFF: I understand the political strategem. You want your memo to be out there for a week and the public to have only one version for a week so you can set the narrative. That makes this political exercise all the more transparent.

Your staff isn't going to be able to tell you anything about whether your memo or ours could compromise sources and methods, and you are preventing the people who could [that is, the FBI and DOJ] from being able to speak. ...

[I]s that really where we are now? The majority is going to vote to release classified information without it being vetted, even though the Department says that is extraordinarily reckless. Each one of you, to a person, castigated Secretary Clinton for being extremely careless with emails, and now you are going to be extraordinarily reckless with this? I don't know you reconcile that.

Yes, that is really where we are now. On party line votes the Nunes memo was approved for release to the public (pending the White House's agreement), and the minority's memo is to be kept secret. They did, at least, agree (unanimously) to "call to the attention of the House the classified executive session memo prepared by the minority staff."

Good luck catching up with that. As Goldberg concludes her op-ed:

"The most dangerous thing about the release of the Nunes memo is not the memo itself, but Republicans’ shamelessness in using national security processes to deceive the people they’re supposed to serve."

1.Feb.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Do we need another hero? Permalink to this item

Bob Lokken says the big task force (36 people!) was "very unanimous" and so, ah, what's outgoing BSU President Bob Kustra's problem, anyway?

I can imagine something really big and complicated with 3 dozen people working on it coming to a consensus about important details, maybe even agreeing on some things unanimously, especially if most of the 3 dozen aren't too invested in the process and defer to the stronger actors.

But if they get all the way to "very unanimous" and then one of the important members has reservations, it makes you wonder about railroading and groupthink.

To say nothing of Lokken's apparent petulance. His guest opinion on the matter seems to feature as much complaining about anyone disagreeing with him as it does making a strong case for don't-call-it-a-chancellor CEO.

How it may end Permalink to this item

The Toronto Star makes a convincing presentation that's from outside the U.S.; our political news does not lead the day, imagine that. (It's not even top of the page in the World section at the moment, which leads with a guilty plea from the guy "who made a Taco Bell run after hitting, killing pedestrian," and the other guy "who stripped naked after robbing bank found not guilty by reason of insanity."

After those two, Rohingya and a deadly fire in Japan, the rest of their World does seem to revolve around the US and you-know-who. (One nod to their mother country: an Onion-esque item from our own Washington Post about Lord Michael Bates showing up 60 seconds tardy and resigning with an abject apology for his "discourtesy.")

I'm sifting through their World because I follow their Washington Bureau chief, Daniel Dale, on Twitter, and found his news analysis piece dated yesterday to be as succinct a gauge of our Zeitgeist as I've seen: Donald Trump is in an extraordinary showdown with his own FBI.

Two quoted comments stand out. The first, from Jack Goldsmith, an assistant attorney general in the George W. Bush administration (and author of The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration):

“When Trump finally gets tired of being ignored and follows through on something stupid, the executive branch meltdown will be severe, to his enormous detriment (and hopefully not the country’s).”

And from Matthew Miller, Justice spokesperson during the Obama administration:

“The first one they went after, starting decades ago, was the media. Now Republicans don’t believe what they hear on any channel other than Fox News. Then they moved to scientists ... and now you see in polls Republicans who just don’t believe in scientists. They’ve turned on universities, and you see this rising discontent among conservatives about university. They are now turning on federal law enforcement.

“And if a significant percentage of the population—35, 40 per cent—believes that federal law enforcement is biased, you’ll see those people less likely to co-operate with investigations, less likely to blow the whistle, and less likely to believe DOJ prosecutors when they sit on juries. It is extremely damaging to the long-term ability of those institutions to do their jobs.”

Woe betide the country that obtains the leadership it truly deserves. Dale is also keeping track of false claims, and if someone from the opposition had wanted to do more than wear black, kente cloth and purple ribbons, there were a dozen opportunities for a decorous retread of Addison Graves "Joe" Wilson Sr.'s 2009 outburst. That is a false statement, sir! they might have shouted, rather than just sitting on their hands and looking sour. As our Canadian correspondent helpfully instructs in the closing footnote Q and A,

"If Trump is a serial liar, why call this a list of “false claims,” not lies? The answer is that we can’t be sure that each and every one was intentional. In some cases, he may have been confused or ignorant. What we know, objectively, is that he was not telling the truth."

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007