Recent read; shop Amazon from the book link (or the search widget below) and support this site.
World News from:
The Sydney Morning Herald
Axis of Logic
Information Clearing House
Asia Times online
The Times of India,
The Hindustan Times
The Jerusalem Post
The Daily Star
New Zealand Herald
The Rocky Mountains:
Idaho Mtn Express
The Moscow Times
Or make my day
Amazon Wish List
Spring is too nice a time of year for death, so let's talk about taxes. Property taxes. Ada County taxpayers are opening their mail from the county Assessor and there are some eyes popping at the hot, hot, hot Treasure Valley real estate market translated into numbers at home.
Taxes are more certain (and steady) than assessments, generally, and I've heard "doubled in four (or five) years" a couple of times since yesterday. (Our total assessment has doubled in the last six years.)
But why stop at doubling? Our taxable value has almost tripled since the market bottom in the Great Recession, in 2012, and all we've done since then is removed three spruce and had it painted.
One friend's complaint motivated me to upate my history file, and consider the question of our tax bill versus inflation. In current dollars, the bill has been on a steep upslope (even before we see what 2019 will bring; the assessment notices haven't included an estimate of the coming tax bill for some years). Adjusting for inflation (looking back to 1991, and using what seemed like a good series from the BLS, the CPI-U), the only prominent feature in the skyline is the Real Estate Financial Engineering mountain of 2001-2006. In constant dollars, our 2018 property tax was exactly the same as it was in the early 1990s.
What's likely to smack us in the pocketbook is the Idaho legislature's buggery of the homeowner's exemption. The Idaho State Tax Commission's last paragraph in its Sept. 2015 presser gave a tight history of the exemption to that point:
"Idaho’s homeowner’s exemption began in 1980, with a maximum of $10,000. It remained at that level until 1983, when it was raised to $50,000 by voter initiative. The 2006 Idaho Legislature raised the exemption to $75,000 and tied future limits to the House Price Index."
That $50k was on only the residential improvement, not the value of the land. We hit that cap just before the 2006 relief, just before the bubbly market popped. For reasons kept rather murky at the time, but definitely "at the urging of the Idaho Association of Realtors and business and agriculture interests" (as Betsy Russell recounted it this March), the indexing to the HPI (then taking the cap down in the down market) was set aside in favor of a fixed $100,000 maximum.
Where we are now:
"Because exemptions don’t change the total amount of taxes collected ... homeowners in any particular county pay a little more, and other types of property taxpayers pay a little less to fund local services. That’s why other types of property taxpayers backed limiting the exemption."
I suspect that our and others' 2019 tax bills are going to come out more than "a little" disturbing, but we have to wait and see what the county, emergency medical, Ada Co. Highway District, Boise School District No. 1, Boise City, West Boise Sewer District, Mosquito Abatement, and College of Western Idaho come up with for levies, first.
Conservative HQ's editor and number one screeder, George Rasley opines on "Mueller's Bitter End" with a glass of lemonade, laced with chaff. His casual innuendo says more about what's in his head than anyone else's. The "angry Democrats" will be "infuriated," what? The punchline is supposedly that "buried" in Mueller's short statement (as opposed to the as-yet unredacted for the rest of us full report), there was "an important statement of fact that further exonerates President Trump."
No mean feat, given that there has been no actual exoneration from which further exoneration could launch, to date. But see there with his emphasis Mueller mentioned co-conspirators and we don't have any of those, right? (Not counting Mike The Fixer now living in the Crossbar Hotel for the campaign finance law felonies he and Individual 1 committed.)
"Somewhat like those of the ancient oracle of Delphi, Robert Mueller’s pronouncements will be interpreted to justify the desires of those hearing them," he winds up, after doing that very thing.
Rasley is the right's Wile E. Coyote, oblivious to irony right up to the moment the ACME anvil lands on his head.
At the end of the day, when it's time to turn off the computer, I almost always have a slew of browser tabs full of interesting stuff that I thought sounded interesting but haven't got around to reading. Maybe I read a paragraph or two to confirm the selection, and saved the rest for later. Then, at that "later" moment, I'll bookmark most or all of the pages, and turn it off.
On rare occasions, I go back and dig up one of those items. Today, I thought, "I should catch up on yesterday," and opened up the bookmark folder labeled WIP-201905b to find 33 items. (That's more than just yesterday, of course; if you export bookmarks from Firefox, there's an ADD_DATE parameter on each one... good old seconds since the epoch. Or, right-click the header and include the "Added" column of human readable dates to see that there were 11 yesterday, 3 the day before, 5 on May 24, etc.)
Coincidentally, WIP-201905 also had 33 items I haven't yet re-retrieved. Should I report... all 66? Just the best-of? Filter out the impeachment track? Let's do that (extending the exclusion to the broad expanse of Trump crime family corruption, "discussed below"), and have the metadata fraction for a bonus. (It's not derangement if it's the most important political topic, right?)
Suprisingly (to me), just over three fourths of the five dozen+ links are "other," in a swirling cloud of economics, environment, politics and technology, with a soupçon of biography. Organizing them here, they appeal to me yet again, and I took a few of my own jumps to add a bit more allure. For our extended reading pleasure, and my permanent record, in their semi-random as-bookmarked order, with comments added from my survey of my survey this morning:
He's made a public statement at the end of his work, mostly to say the report is his testimony, and speaks for itself, and he is done. Subtext: why haven't you all read the report and acted on what it says?
Not sure I'd call it "cryptic" for him to note that the Constitution "requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse the president of wrongdoing." The report was clear enough about the limitations of the Special Counsel's power. (The Attorney General did his damndest to mislead the public and Congress about that limitation, as noted, next item down here.)
The Constitution (Article II, Section 4) requires that "the President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors." That's our current status. In addition the substantial evidence for said high crimes and misdemeanors, there is the attack on the integrity of our institutions that the president continues to pretend didn't happen, based on his narcissism and facile fluffing from Vladimir Putin. This:
"As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military, launched a concerted attack on our political system. The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cybertechniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks.
"The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate. And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation, where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to influence an election. These indictments contain allegations, and we are not commenting on the guilt or the innocence of any specific defendant. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty."
In conclusion, that "central allegation of [their] indictments":
"[T]here were multiple, systemic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American."
Along with the impeachment for obstruction of justice.
There is not—yet—a rush to a GOP bandwagon behind this guy, but he's doing a pretty good job of boiling down our current status. The first entry in a 25-tweet thread has the précis:
Attorney General Barr has deliberately misrepresented key aspects of Mueller’s report and decisions in the investigation, which has helped further the president’s false narrative about the investigation.— Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 28, 2019
Or, you can read it rolled up on the Thread reader app. Amash details how Barr tiptoed through the tulips of truth as he misled Congress and the American people. Maybe his deception was not straight-up perjury, but it was definitely a violation of his oath of office, and of the public trust. If the Republican party had not been coopted by a corrupt president, we might have already kicked off impeachment hearings for the Attorney General.
It's definitely not too soon. There are a number of people who haven't quite tuned in to what's going on. For example:
"I was surprised to hear there was anything negative in the Mueller report about President Trump. I get most of my news from conservative outlets." -- Trump voter interviewed after the Amash town hall— Will Bunch (@Will_Bunch) May 29, 2019
We have never had a president more worthy of impeachment, conviction, and removal from office than Donald J. Trump. Kevin Kruse: Democrats need to get past impeachment jitters. It's not 1998 and Trump is no Clinton.
Clinton was popular. Trump isn't.
Ken Starr was a partisan hack. Robert Mueller is a diligent investigator and a man of integrity.
Trump's corruption is metastasizing, has already left the GOP in shambles, and threatens the integrity of our government.
"In the end, if House Democrats believe that the president has committed impeachable acts, then they have a duty to launch impeachment hearings, full stop. Worrying about the political costs is not only a dereliction of their duty, but also a misreading of our history."
Does it bear repeating, still, that all of our surreal president's braggadocio is about his weaknesses and fear, all his insults are the echoes of the voices in his head? He is "an extremely stable genius." Extremely. Stable. Genius. Some other guy is "low IQ," another leader "losing it" (especially with some crafty video editing).
We're all being sucked into the growing swamp of incivility, insult and fetid corruption. Trump is now riffing with the murderous dictator of North Korea to insult his competition in the 2020 election, even as he's taken to casually accusing people on his enemies list of "treason." It's "TREASONOUS" to refuse to fund his edifice complex at the Mexican border. And of course it must have been treason to investigate a candidate for president with an odd taste for Russian oligarchy and a history of congenital lying, still more treason to investigate a corrupt president for his obstruction of justice.
We laughed off Seb Gorka too, back in week 50 (October, 2017) when he told Fox News that Hillary Clinton should be tried for treason and executed, calling Uranium One the equivalent of the espionage of the Rosenbergs in 1951.
The Attorney General now authorized to accelerate the cover-up is not so laughable. The subhead decorously notes the "possibility" of selective declassification; Frum is more direct: "The declassification process will be selective, of course, in service to a predetermined narrative."
And the president will have no reason to limit what information from the intelligence agencies is exposed. Does it support his narrative? That's all that will matter.
"Who will trust or credit in any way the integrity of a Barr-led investigation?" Besides the quislings, the credulous, the useful idiots of the Senate standing between Trump and justice? A man who stood up before the world and next to Vladimir Putin to express his admiration for how "extremely strong and powerful" the Russian president was in his denial of having anything to do with the Russian interference in our elections. After a two hour, off-the-US-record tête à tête, the Russian president was happy to casually admit that he got the president he preferred out of the 2016 race. Coincidentally.
That was the day after a dozen Russian spies were indicted for crimes committed during the 2016 race. Not much lost in this translation of VVP's advice to the world community:
"Well, it's difficult to imagine a nonsense of a bigger scale than this. Well, please, just disregard the issues and don't think about this anymore again."
Our president prefers punching down; the metastasizing core of his supporters like him punching down, tapping that insatiable urge to have someone worse off than you.
This Memorial Day, Trump came up with a way to dishonor sacrifice by floating the idea of amnesty for accused war criminals, and pardons for convicted war criminals. Gabor Rona, on Just Security: Can a pardon itself be a war crime?
"Pardoning these men, especially the ones who have not yet been tried (amnesties), is an insult to the legal and moral standards the U.S. military is bound to uphold. It undermines the ability of the military to enforce discipline among its ranks and after the torture scandals of post-9/11, further damages the reputation of the United States for adherence to its international human rights obligations and the laws of war. ...
"There’s a possible consequence to issuing these pardons that the President and his close advisors might not have considered. That to do so would itself be a war crime, related to the president’s constitutional role as Commander in Chief of the armed forces."
Everything this man touches is soiled.
The president's latest tantrum involved walking out of a meeting supposed to be about infrastructure, because those darned Democrats had the temerity of accusing him of a cover up. A cover up! Then he sauntered out to meet the press with a lovely placard adorning the podium, a sort of Harper's Index of the enormity of the Mueller investigation. From his point of view. The fatuous talking points of "NO Collusion" and "NO Obstruction" are his lodestar. Not content to stand behind a handful of cherry-picked talking points, he also elicted the support of "you people," the members of the press they're still letting onto the grounds.
"I think most of you would agree to this, I'm the most transparent president probably in the history of this country. ... I don't do cover-ups. You people know that probably better than anybody."
He's always the most, isn't he? The most facile liar, the most transparently criminal president we've ever had, the most willing to grift in plain sight, with his family helping out behind the scenes. Those "you people" sitting in front him know that probably better than anybody outside the Special Counsel's team.
This on the day after he had the DOJ come up with a cockamamie excuse to get Don McGahn out of testifying to Congress.
Trump and his "fixer," Michael Cohen committed campaign finance felonies covering up Trump's affairs with Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal late in the 2016 campaign; Cohen's in jail, and Trump is cowardly lyin'. "We're going to do down one track at a time," he said, a little snitty.
The facts of the president's penchant for cover-up are right out in the open. His gaslighting is the most transparent of any president in the history of this country, no "probably" about it. If there's only one track we can down, let's cut to the impeachment hearings chase then.
No, not that Robert Johnson, this is the Institute for New Economic Thinking guy, who was interviewed with a lovely winter Davos backdrop 4 years ago, when puffy jackets were still cutting edge fashion. "Where truth is not said is where power exercizes its influence."
"Nations aren't working right, they're failing. ... Powerful people are telling us they're scared."
Says here in the New Yorker between that Davos interview and now that the latest thinking is not just guns, gold and ammo (no whiskey?), but also motorcycles. And it wouldn't hurt to have your helicopter kept gassed up all the time, just in case you need to go somewhere else in a hurry.
The cryptocurrency angle is interesting. A financial ecosystem that depends on an ever-expanding infrastructure of computer systems powered by electricity. What could go wrong with that eh? A Reddit cofounder and its CEO
"has calculated that, in the event of a disaster, he would seek out some form of community: 'Being around other people is a good thing. I also have this somewhat egotistical view that I'm a pretty good leader. I will probably be in charge, or at least not a slave, when push comes to shove.'"
Yeah, community is nice. Except for that part how "It's easier for people to panic when they're together."
After their smash hit "Doomsday Preppers" in the dark of the Great Recession, "a survey commissioned by National Geographic found that forty per cent of Americans believed that stocking up on supplies or building a bomb shelter was a wiser investment than a 401(k)."
Obama's reelection "was a boon for the prepping industry," which includes the NRA and the gun industry. Then when we accidentally elected the guy voted Most Likely to Blow Shit Up, those industries slacked off a bit. Who says irony is dead?
If you're (comparatively) young, and wealthy, it's sensible to make modest preparation for a low probability event "with a very severe downside," scope out the used ICBM silo market and NZ real estate. Call it a "vacation home" if you need a rationalization. It would also be sensible for our young species to make a similar calculation, and recognize that business-as-usual is almost certainly a really bad idea.
Keeping reading that New Yorker piece, and Johnson pops back up, followed by a visit to the Survival Condo Project, "a fifteen-story luxury apartment complex built in an underground Atlas missile silo" in Kansas. Bought in 2008 when underground silos were cheap, and fixed up for $20 million and with all but the owner-unit sold for more than that, it'll be a lifeboat bubble for 75 people, with "the feel of a ski condo without windows," a swimming pool, climbing wall, an Astro-Turf "pet park," gym, theatre, and a library. "Compact but not claustrophobic." Not counting the "bare-walled room with a toilet" available for giving members "an adult time-out" if need be. That sounds a little claustrophobic.
"In a crisis, his SWAT-team-style trucks (“the Pit-Bull VX, armored up to fifty-calibre”) will pick up any owner within four hundred miles. Residents with private planes can land in Salina, about thirty miles away."
Just about the time you're thinking, you know what, this sounds pretty smart, there's this:
"I emerged around eight the next morning to find Hall and Menosky in the common area, drinking coffee and watching a campaign-news brief on “Fox & Friends.” It was five days before the election, and Hall, who is a Republican, described himself as a cautious Trump supporter. “Of the two running, I’m hoping that his business acumen will override some of his knee-jerk stuff.”"
What could possibly go wrong?
The unwritten subhead for today's blockbuster in the NYT is "OFF COURSE THEY DID." Deutsche Bank Staff Saw Suspicious Activity in Trump and Kushner Accounts.
"Anti-money laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank recommended in 2016 and 2017 that multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Donald J. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a federal financial-crimes watchdog."
DB execs said "never mind." And had a spokesperson respond indignantly.
“At no time was an investigator prevented from escalating activity identified as potentially suspicious,” she added. “Furthermore, the suggestion that anyone was reassigned or fired in an effort to quash concerns relating to any client is categorically false.”
So escalating is fine, and the c-suite will bury the bodies. Got it. There are those Congressional subpoenas to DB... which Trump is trying to have quashed, because of his great transparency. And the convenient complaint of "political motivation" against him.
I'm sure that a bank willing to lend $2.5 billion to a guy who's already lost a $billion has nothing to do with it. Nothing to see here, people.
Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan's 3rd Congressional District, chair of the House Liberty Caucus, and a "libertarian Republican," flies a quote from F.A. Hayek on his Twitter account: "Laws must be general, equal, and certain." Speaking of the rule of law, he's put his own principal conclusions at the top of a Twitter thread:
Here are my principal conclusions:— Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 18, 2019
1. Attorney General Barr has deliberately misrepresented Mueller’s report.
2. President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.
3. Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances.
4. Few members of Congress have read the report.
Unlike many of his fellow members (who couldn't be bothered?), he says he has "read Mueller's redacted report carefully and completely, ... read or watched pertinent statements and testimony, and ... discussed this matter with my staff, who thoroughly reviewed materials and provided me with further analysis." And, if you've been following along, it won't come as a surprise to see his conclusion that Attorney General William Barr clearly "intended to mislead the public about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s analysis and findings."
You should read the whole thing. A baker's dozen tweets is not that heavy a lift. (I haven't personally got around to reading the whole [redacted] report from the Special Counsel, but I feel like I should do that, too.) Two more things bear repeating here:
While impeachment should be undertaken only in extraordinary circumstances, the risk we face in an environment of extreme partisanship is not that Congress will employ it as a remedy too often but rather that Congress will employ it so rarely that it cannot deter misconduct.— Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 18, 2019
And the conclusion of Amash's thread:
America’s institutions depend on officials to uphold both the rules and spirit of our constitutional system even when to do so is personally inconvenient or yields a politically unfavorable outcome. Our Constitution is brilliant and awesome; it deserves a government to match it.— Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 18, 2019
Update: A previous AG (the one before the one that was fired for being too recusey) weighs in with his his assessment of Barr's job performance. "He is not fit to lead DOJ."
Haven't been following the NRA all that closely, but this story in the gray lady about "a Cash Machine Sputtering" caught my eye. Wayne LaPierre billed more than a quarter $million at a freaking "luxury men's wear boutique in Bevely Hills," whaaat? The "largely ceremonial president" and Iran-Contra felon Oliver North "had a contract worth millions of dollars a year"?! And this mouthpiece of the gun industry is supposedly a non-profit?
That is the $64 million question the state of New York is now asking. The NRA has been ordered to "preserve pertinent records."
Ok, keep reading, there's another more than a quarter $million for LaPierre's flights and limousine service for trips to the Bahamas, Florida, Nevada, Budapest and an Italian lake resort," and all that crap and the luxury wear were billed through a contractor, hmm?
A lawyer for the NRA assures us "there is no suggestion that any of Mr. LaPierre's expenses were improper in any way." That lawyer is named William A. Brewer III, and he's not just an extra, he's part of the main plot.
"Mr. Brewer’s role has also been a flash point; he is the brother-in-law of Ackerman’s chief executive, and the ad firm’s allies saw a family feud as the backdrop when the N.R.A. recently sued Ackerman McQueen. Before Mr. North left the N.R.A., he called for an internal review of billings by Mr. Brewer’s firm. In a recently leaked letter, Mr. North said that for the last year, the firm had been paid nearly $100,000 a day, 'draining N.R.A. cash at mind-boggling speed.' (An N.R.A. official said that characterization 'reflects a misinformed view.')"
It goes on. In detail, Just one more teaser:
"Senior N.R.A. executives are well compensated; eight of them make more than the head of the American Red Cross, a tax-exempt organization with 10 times the revenue of the N.R.A. Mr. LaPierre’s total pay spiked in 2015 to more than $5 million because of an early retirement payout."
Early retirement, you say? Pass the popcorn.
This week's Sunday Review in the NYT gave 3 pages to Chris Hughes, "a co-founder of Facebook, and a co-chairman of the Economic Security Project and a senior adviser at the Roosevelt Institute," to make the case for why it's time to break up Facebook, and a less than half a page to Nick Clegg, Facebook's VP for global affairs and communication for rebuttal that breaking up Facebook is not the answer. (The online version of Hughes' piece has more/better pictures and a 5 min. video.)
Spoiler alert: Hughes thinks the FTC should never have approved the acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp, back in 2012. How could we have known, given that neither "had any meaningful revenue"? But it's not too late to undo that failing, Hughes says. If the FTC did find its hind legs, it might be the most dramatic antitrust action of my lifetime, never mind the notion that we have "a tradition of reining in monopolies." I'm not holding my breath.
For their part, Mr. Z. and VP Clegg are asking that they please be regulated more than they are (but not so much antitrust-regulated, thanks).
Before reading the opinion section, I'd read the front page news about hackers sowing discord ahead of the European parliament election this month, and stopped short on the incredible factoid that Facebook "has removed roughly 2.8 billion fake accounts" in the process of battling misinformation.
That's one fake account for every three people on the planet, and then some.
The somewhat incomprehensibly large number was also cited in a story back in January, answering its headline question, Does Facebook Really Know How Many Fake Accounts It Has? That story said by its own report, Facebook took down that many fake accounts in the 12 months ending last September, which would be "about 7.7 million a day."
As a regular Facebook user (maybe too regular; aren't we all?), I was sort of itching to check my phone, but held off. For a while. I do, mostly stay out of politics on that platform, sticking with the flower pictures, plant ID, family and friends adventures, celebrity obits and so on. (And the rewards are incomparable. Have you heard Sly and the Family Stone's cover of Que Sera, Sera? R.I.P. Doris.) And ignore the advertising. As for the average user's one hour per day... that sounds low. Hughes:
"The choice is mine, but it doesn’t feel like a choice. Facebook seeps into every corner of our lives to capture as much of our attention and data as possible and, without any alternative, we make the trade."
Snopes publishes Alex Kasprak's report, Disguising Hate: How Radical Evangelicals Spread Anti-Islamic Vitriol on Facebook.
"A coordinated network of evangelical Christian Facebook pages publishing overtly Islamophobic, conspiratorial content paints extreme, divisive right-wing rhetoric as having broad American support but is actually tied to one individual," Kelly Monroe Kullberg, who has been "supported financially and/or exploited by a PAC funded largely by a wealthy GOP activist named William Millis."
Kasprak notes that "coordinated inauthentic behavior" is a violation of Facebook's terms of service.
Trump's legal team successfully kept him out of a live deposition with the Special Counsel and turned in an incomplete set of answers flavored with "I Do Not Remember" weaseling. So much for the one of the great memories of all time. Along the way, Rudy Giuliani tortured himself into the bad meme, "Truth isn't truth," outdoing Admiral Akbar: It's a perjury trap! for the president to testify under oath. There's just no way he could have kept from lying, and then Everyone Would Know.
That's plain enough. "My client can't possibly be put under oath, your honor; we know he's a stone-cold liar."
But the GOP is grading on a curve these days. This all counts as "transparency" in their book! Unless... is Richard Burr the missing chink in Trump's great wall of deception? Is all we needed one Senator who wasn't planning on running for reelection? The Intelligence Committee chairman has lit up a veritable "firefight" in Mitch McConnell's do-nothing/case-closed Senate, by calling up Junior from some more testimony about his June 2018 dalliance with Russians and political dirt.
None other than the second worst Senator from Kentucky weighed in on the subject of "Republican complicity," if you can believe that.
“This would not go forward without Republican complicity,” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an ally of President Trump’s, told reporters on Capitol Hill. “So I think it’s a mistake for Republicans to keep putting the Trump family through this, and I really think they ought to drop it.”
Putting the Trump crime family through what now? The indignity of testifying to Congress (again) about foreign interference in our elections, and what all they've done in that regard to date? Doesn't seem too big a lift in exchange for all the free airplane rides, Secret Service protection, and opportunities for international grifting they're helping themselves to.
Wednesday's news about the Burr under Trump's saddle included the observation that the "[Senate] Intelligence Committee, which is under Mr. McConnell’s jurisdiction, is proceeding with its vigorous investigation that — for the most part — has not degenerated into a partisan morass like a parallel investigation by the House." So that's nice. They just want to talk about, you know, Natalie Veselnitskaya and that Moscow hotel deal that was top of team Trump's (shh, it's secret) list back in the day. It seems Michael Cohen spilled some beans, and we'd just like to tie up some loose ends.
And provide "an important validation of the special counsel," in the face of Bill Barr's Roy Cohn Fractured Cliff Notes®. It's like Junior said:
“Put it all out there,” he said. “Don’t redact anything.”
In Mother Jones, David Corn opines on How Bill Barr Is Helping Trump Escape the Russia Scandal, because "the White House would rather have a fight over contempt than betrayal." The slightly precious Republican talking point heard on the news last night was the Democrats are demanding the AG break the law which of course he will not do. A couple grafs down, after the list of ways Barr has misled the public about the Special Counsel's report so far, Corn summarizes our current status:
"The Mueller report reaffirms the core elements of what is probably the most consequential political scandal in American history. Russia, it notes, waged a “sweeping and systematic” attack on a US presidential election. And, Mueller notes, Trump and his campaign, while publicly denying this attack was underway, sought to benefit from it. As the report states, during the campaign, Trump called “this whole thing with Russia” a “total deflection” and said that the notion Moscow was intervening in the election was “farfetched” and “ridiculous”—which is precisely what Russia was claiming at the time. Trump’s embrace and promotion of Moscow disinformation was not a crime—but Mueller included it in his narrative.
"Mueller’s report lays out the curious series of interactions between Trump associates and Russia throughout the 2016 contest—showing that the campaign even attempted to establish a back-channel connection to Putin’s office after public reports that Moscow was behind the hack-and dump attacks mounted against the Democrats and the Hillary Clinton campaign. Additionally, the report details how Trump lied to the public about his secret efforts during the campaign to develop a Trump tower project in Moscow. (After ten months of negotiations, the project fizzled out once Trump essentially secured the Republican presidential nomination in June 2016.) The report points out that Trump continued to lie about this deal after he won the election...."
That subset of the whole affair "ought to be a huge scandal of its own," Corn writes. Instead, with the Attorney General acting as Trump's newest fixer, there's nothing to see here, let's move on. (As Lindsey Graham puts it, "it's over for me." The perfidious Majority Leader says "case closed. Case closed." Daughter of Dick, Liz "do you smell gas[lighting]?" Cheney takes it up a notch: Democrats are UNDERMINING OUR DEMOCRACY.)
Almost no one on the red side of the aisle admits to being troubled by Trump's continuing acceptance of Putin's facile denials, or that our president is not at all concered about continuing interference with our elections. So, yippee skippee here we go again.
The Erin Schaff image of the attorney general atop today's lead story (Trump Asserts Executive Privilege Over Full Mueller Report) evokes a blend of Humpty Dumpty and Jabba the Hut, both of which seem relevant at the moment. The Special Counsel's report is so totally exonerating that the redacted material needs to stay secret forever. Did someone in the White House actually get around to reading it?
More likely, it's the classic trumpian delay, confuse, and abuse the court system to try to run out the clock. As a strategy to counter the smell of Contempt of Congress hanging over foggy bottom this morning, it seems just a little snitty. Like Sarah Huckabee Sanders' "blistering" statment calling the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee's demands as "unlawful and reckless." Oh, and a "blatant abuse of power," that is rich.
Unlike, you know, our Biggest Loser, the Faillionaire, who, "year after year," "appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer" back in the day. Yet another Times investigation to accompany that one about Trump engaged in suspect tax schemes as he reaped riches from his father from October.
Is there anyone left credulous enough to take Humbug or one of his lawyers at their word about how this latest report is "demonstrably false" without evidence?
I mean, go ahead and demonstrate it then, kids. The ever-lame "I'm under audit" excuse has progressed to the point of criminality, with fence-turtle and SecTreas Steve Mnuchin spluttering that a House Ways and Means subpoena "lacks a legitimate legislative purpose," as if it were in his ambit to say so. "The department may not lawfully fulfill the committee's request," Mr. Secretary wrote, inviting the House to consider whether a contempt citation, or some federal rehabilitation time might be the best response.
At this rate, court costs are going to run up higher than our expenses for sending Trump to golf at Mar-a-Lago every other weekend.
Giving some advice about patents today, I thought I'd look up one of mine (and a coworker's) to use its claim text as an example. Good old 5,901,916 is top of mind, given the work I've been doing as an expert witness for a year and a half (a dispute in which it was the seminal prior art). It was granted on May 11, 1999, 20 years ago this coming Saturday. In the Google Patents "events" stack, I see a new one showed up today:
2019-05-06 Application status is Expired - Lifetime
The term of US patents has wandered around a bit over the years, most recently modified by the Uruguay Round Agreements Act, to 20 years from filing, which was up a year ago March 2nd. (Google shows the last-year event as "Anticipated expiration.") Now our (or, ahem, Hewlett Packard Enterprise Development LP's) tape cartridge reel lock belongs to the ages.
The coverage of the Boeing 737 Max debacle has pretty well satisfied my curiosity from a technical standpoint about what went wrong that led to two plane crashes. The legal wrangling still has some way to go, as it will. I never had to make life-or-death decisions in my engineering work; mistakes were made, I'm sure, but no one's life is on my conscience, and I'm grateful for that.
The errors in judgment and the failure to mitigate those errors as they came to light are chilling. One more thing, now: Boeing thought a warning light was standard equipment, but it wasn't.
In the two crashes, a "disagree alert" light, warning pilots that the two angle of attack sensors were not showing the same thing, might have averted disaster, but they weren't enabled by the bloody software. Boeing discovered that this warning had been made "optional" back in 2017, and that only 1 in 5 customers had purchased it.
"...Boeing performed an internal review and determined that the lack of a working warning light “did not adversely impact airplane safety or operation,” it said in its statement.
"As a result, Boeing said it did not inform airlines or the Federal Aviation Administration about the mistake for a year.
"Only after the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 last October did Boeing discuss the matter with the F.A.A. The company then conducted another review and again found the missing alert did not pose a safety threat, and told the F.A.A. as much."
So, they were dead wrong to begin with, and they didn't update their error in judgment after a plane crashed and killed everyone on board.
"In the months after the Lion Air crash, Boeing quietly worked to appease some customers, according to a person briefed on the matter. In several instances, it activated the angle of attack indicator for free, which then turned on the disagree alert."
That part blows my mind. They quietly worked to appease some customers. Reluctant to make what I'm guessing was a simple change because it might admit error?
Admitting an error that resulted in a plane crash would be a hard thing to do. Not admitting the error was another deadly mistake.
Fresh off the 60 Minutes segment about ransomware last night, still thinking about the civic choice between paying a crook $55,000 versus spending $20 million (and months) to recover one's computer systems and data, this big postcard from the AARP that I hadn't tossed into the recycling bin caught my eye again. A "free fraud prevention conference" sounds kind of interesting, even if "FREE lunch and refreshments" isn't a huge lure for giving up 9:00am to 3:15pm on a day in late May. (The Tuesday after Memorial Day, no less, May 28.)
"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Protect yourself from scams!"
Present company excepted, right? The fine print says "This event is overbooked. Due to no-shows, it is not likely we will have more guests than seats, but it is a possibility. Be sure to arrive early. Registration does not guarantee admission." Sort of like buying a ticket for an airplane ride.
There's a phone number (877 926-8300) and a web address (aarp.cvent.com/scamjammeridian2019) ; never heard of cvent.com, but ok, it's badged as AARP Fraud Watch Network, with less allure than the postcard. I was hoping to see the logo-lineup writ large, but that isn't there. Ah, here it is, under the Idaho Scam Jam Alliance, a little something they whipped up on Wix. It's got the Better Business Bureau, AARP, the State of Idaho, the state's Department of Finance, Department of Insurance (and its SHIBA), Commission on Aging, and State Tax Commission, the Idaho Crime Prevention Association, Senior Medicare Patrol, Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc., and finally, JAVA. Not the coffee, not the programming language, but the Justice Alliance for Vulnerable Adults.
It's kind of the Avengers lineup of beneficial protectorates. That alone makes me slightly more curious. But six hours, IDK.
In the meantime, for that one branch on the tree of miscreants, you can check out 60 Minutes Overtime's advice on how to prevent your computer from being infected with ransomware. Especially BEWARE THE PHISHING EMAIL. (I wouldn't assume the "misspelled words," "strange word choices," and "odd links" are going to jump out at you, either. How hard could it be to tidy up those quirks?)
There's a one minute video collage atop the NYT story about Trump's phone call with Putin yesterday, the president's unsatisfactory and unreliable personal readout. Like so much about the man, it's strange. Maybe seeing the whole thing would make it less strange, but probably not. Asked whether he'd brought up the election meddling, Trump said Putin "actually... sort of smiled when he said uh, something to the effect that it started out as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse. But he knew that because he knew there was no collusion whatsoever. Uh, so uh, pretty much, that's what it was..."
Was it... a video call? Or can Trump hear a smile as well as he can smell a rat? [NYT: "A White House official later clarified that it was not a video call; Mr. Trump meant to say that Mr. Putin had 'laughed, chuckled' rather than smiled."]
Next question, sounded like the same person asking, "Did you tell him not to meddle in the next election?" Someone we couldn't hear said... something that caught the president's ear, oddly, given the way the gaggle all tries to talk at once.
"Excuse me, I'm talking," he says, "I'm answering this question," which is a bloody strange thing to say while you're not answering a question. He's looking down at the floor as he says that, and then throws a side-eye at whoever it was, points his stubby finger in that other direction and says "You are very rude."
Then returns to providing the non-answer that suited him. "So, we had a good conversation about many different things. Thanks. Ok." The unanswered question is asked again. This time he answers, shaking his head. "Ah we didn't discuss that, really we didn't discuss that."
CBS News has a longer, more continuous vid, 6:43, leading with how Trump was told that Russia "is not looking to get involved with Venezuela" which came as news to the Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, but ok. Putin would just "like to see something positive happen for Venezuela," because he's a big-hearted guy. Like Trump. The prime minister of Slovakia was there in the room, a prop for Trump to mansplain the dire situation to.
Trump and Putin talked about "a nuclear agreement," I wonder what could wrong with that. "Numbers like we've never spent before." Maybe there will be a 3-way with China!
Or how about a 3-way with Kim Jong-un and the Norks? It seems Vlad is interested in gettting in on that, having just me with Kim in Valdivostok. This is jolly:
"Just hours after the call, North Korea launched several short-range projectiles, which followed the mid-April test of what Pyongyang called a “tactical guided weapon.”
Asked about how he might improve communication with the media, Trump said "I think I have a very good relation with some of the press" (you know, those Fox News friends of his), but the inaccurate coverage annoys him. He did like the NYT story about "spying" on his campaign, THAT he thinks is "a bigger story than Watergate as far as I'm concerned."
True dat. We are in a story that's far bigger than Watergate.
As David Graham summarizes for The Atlantic, "once more, the president has failed to press the Russian president on electoral interference."
Here's an imaginative leap from the president's impeachment defender, signing off as "Special Counsel to the President," Emmet T. Flood:
"Not so long ago, the idea that a law enforcement official might provide the press with confidential governmentaal information fo rthe proclaimed purpose of prompting a criminal investigation of an identified individual would have troubled Americans of all political persuasions."
Shades of Tricky Dick and Watergate, much? He goes on for 5 pages, to write of his client's frustrations, and how all that transparency and cooperation we've had so far is not a waiver for all the privilege Trump is now prepared to assert. Flood wants this letter to go on the president's SCO investigation permanent record.
"In the partisan commotion surrounding the released Report, it would be well to remember that what can be done to a President can be done to any of us."
Except of course that unlike the President, when any of us out here in the cheap seats get investigated, we can be indicted directly. The Special Counsel accepted the Office of Legal Counsel's opinion that its jurisdiction did not extend to delivering an indictment.
Flood winds up by quoting from Stephen Breyer's concurrence in Clinton v. Jones, "Interference with a President's ability to carry out his public responsibilities is constitutionally equivalent to interference with the ability of the entirety of Congress, or the Judicial Branch, to carry out its public obligations."
IANAL, but ah... that case does not mean what you pretend to think it means, sir. We're (mostly) not talking about a civil suit over conduct before Trump was in office, and Justice Breyer sure as hell was not talking about Congressional oversight of the Executive. We know Mr. Flood hasn't lost the plot, this is shell game shenanigans. Greg Sargent reads between the lines for us:
"The argument is ludicrous but revealing. It shows in a roundabout way that Trump’s real position is that he should be beyond the reach of accountability entirely. ...
"This construction effectively places Trump beyond accountability. If Trump can’t be indicted, the only mechanism for accountability is Congress — yet according to Flood, Congress should not have been informed as to what Mueller learned about Trump’s misconduct. ...
"Mark Rozell, a professor of government who has written on presidential secrecy and accountability ... tells me that while presidents can legitimately claim executive privilege to protect the secrecy of deliberations, this is “not an absolute or unconstrained power.” Rozell adds: “The privilege weakens substantially when there are allegations of wrongdoing.”
In addition to the Democrats skewering Bill Barr yesterday, there was one guy on the other side, Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who did not get the GOP memo. He actually tried to dig into the report. For example, pages 129 to 144, largely about a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska, "can you tell us who he is and what his objectives are?"
Barr said "Ah, I'd rather not get, get into that in, in this open setting."
Not that the overview is Top Secret or anything. Sasse quoted a public document from the Department of the Treasury about this "designated individual" with a Russian diplomatic passport, who "regularly claims to represent the Russian government," a billionaire, who has
"been investigated by the US government and by other of our allies for money laundering, he's been accused of threatening the lives of his business rivals, he's been charged with illegal wiretapping, taking part in extortion and racketeering schemes. He's bribed government officials, he's ordered the murder of a businessman, he has many links to Russian organized crime. So I think we can in an open setting at least agree that he is a bad dude, right? This is a bottom-feeding scum-sucker, and he has absolutely no—I'll take your laugh as agreement—aah, he has absolutely no alignment with the interests of the US people and our public."
In that section of the report that was "nominally" about Trump's felonious campaign manager, Paul Manafort, but "really about Deripaska," Sasse invited the AG to instruct the American public with a primer "about what is and isn't allowed" when it comes to working with the likes of bottom-feeding, scum-sucking Russian oligarchs such as Deripaska, a man with
"interests completely misaligned with the American government, the American people, and with the interests of NATO and [Manafort's] on his payroll, is it permissible for someone to be paid by someone who's basically an enemy of the United States and then could that individual volunteer and donate time and talent and expertise to a campaign in the US?"
Because, as he interrupted himself to say, "I think these 448 pages say a bunch of really important things about intelligence operations against the United States people, our public, and our government and our public trust," and that "it isn't just about 2016," but that we need to understand that
"we're going to be under attack again in 2020, and it isn't just going to be Russia, who's pretty dang clunky at this stuff, but it's also over time likely going to be China, who's going to be much more sophisticated about this stuff, can you help us understand what is legal and illegal about foreign intelligence services being involved in US elections and what should the American public, and especially American campaign operatives know about what is appropriate and not appropriate to take in the form of help from foreign intelligence agencies? "
Whew. First of all, don't sell Russia short as "pretty dang clunky." Their preferred candidate won the election, which hardly anyone thought he could, or would do.
Second of all, Mr. Attorney General, do you have a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g to say on that subject?
"I mean, that's a very broad topic, what is legal and illegal... Could you refine it a little bit?"
Well there's that "spy recruitment database" with 20 million people in it that China created. Could someone from that list just waltz into, IDK, Mar-a-Lago, and just kind of fish around? Or if some US citizens, campaign operatives, were being paid by "Russia-China," could they "just volunteer" to work on a campaign, "is that legal?"
Barr's lower lip quivered just a bit when Sasse than went on to talk about "how sleazy so much of this city is," all those people living on 5-figure-a-month retainers.
"It all depends" on the particulars, Barr said. "It's a slippery area."
Can we at least have "clarity from the Department of Justice" about whether it's ok for campaigns to say "we're interested in this hacked material going forward"? Sasse didn't wait for an answer to the narrow "Don Junior" question, rolled on to ask whether the leading parties' nominees should get more/better counter/intelligence briefings during the campaign. (For extra credit, in terms that Junior could understand?) Finally, the softball the AG had been waiting for all this time!
"Absolutely. I think the danger from countries like China, Russia and so forth, is far more insidious than it has been in the past because of nontraditional collectors that they have operating in the United States. I think most people are unaware of how pervasive it is and what the risk level is and I think it should actually go far beyond even campaigns. More people involved in government have to be educated on this."
Since the Attorney General RSVP'd "no" to the House Judiciary Committee hearing today (he was unhappy with the prospect of being questioned by staff lawyers, oddly), we have a bit more time to consider the bombshell craters from yesterday. I noticed a couple tiny displays of emotion penetrate the outer surface of his jowly stoneface. The one where he deemed the just-unearthed-for-rest-of-us letter from Mueller on March 27 as "a little snitty," and the other when Ben Sasse's colorful description of one of the Russian oligarchs (one who Paul Manafort worked for) elicited a brief smile. More on that in a moment. News analysis from Katie Benner and Nicholas Fandos for the NYT featured the main takeaways:
Castro's CNN interviewer described yesterday's Senate Judiciary committee hearing as "grueling and long," and I think about that time Hillary Clinton took 11 hours of the House Select Committee on Benghazi in stride. And last year, when I had the opportunity to give a 7-hour deposition and found that yeah, it is grueling, and long.
Bill Barr went just a hair over 4 hours yesterday, not quite as long, but I imagine it would be grueling to tiptoe through the tulips of truth and falsity with a guilty conscience for even that long. Castro asked:
"The question is: are we going to hold this president accountable to the rule of law?"
The GOP answer, so far, is "nope." Certainly not the Judiciary chair, Lindsey "BleachBitch" Graham, happy to parrot Trumpian talking points and having seen evidence he needs to, thankyouverymuch. Idaho's Senator Mike Crapo used his limited time yesterday to try to go after whoever it was who leaked Robert Mueller's March 27 letter complaining about the Attorney General's misleading not-a-summary. We need to find the leaker! Never mind the comprehensive documentation of corruption in this administration, and now an Attorney General apparently working as the president's latest Roy Cohn.
Senator Ted Cruz took an opposite tack, pointing out that now we have the whole [redacted] report [except for the elite Congressional leaders who can visit the SCIF and peek under the covers], who gives a fig about Barr's cover-up and fixing, lying to Congress about not knowing whether or not Mueller agreed with his conclusions? It's laughable! Fatuous! Of course, Cruz had no questions for the AG about the substance of the report. Or Barr's errant conclusions, which are (a) nowhere supported by the actual report, and (b) not informed by the AG's actual review of evidence. (Thanks to Kamala Harris for eliciting that shiny gem in her time yesterday.)
Bill Barr is a bright? guy, but his memory seems to be playing tricks on him. First, he provided a thing that was a "summary," but not, "not a summary," and then the Special Counsel wrote him a letter to point out that (ahem), what Barr put out on March 24 "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office's work and conclusions."
And that that "threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel," which, by every indication of his behavior and utterances is e x a c t l y what Bill Barr had in mind.
In his short letter, Mueller proposed the means to "alleviate the misunderstandings that have arisen," thanks to Barr's deliberately misleading not-a-summary: "enclosed materials" that were release-ready, never mind the need to review and possibly redact the rest of the report.
We rather wonder just what were those enclosures?
The Attorney General was asked about that this morning, in the Senate Judiciary Committee. He couldn't recall what they were, exactly, but yes, sure, the DOJ would now cough them up. Just as they now coughed up this letter Mueller wrote on March 27, after the media had learned of the substance of it (at least), and made that public.
He was asked when he made the decision to release that March 27 letter, knowing that the media either had a copy, or knew what was in it?
Yesterday he thought it was. Wasn't quite sure. About yesterday. Everything's a bit of a blur.
Whatever those enclosures were, they would have been a subset of the redacted report, eh, and so our Attorney General just didn't bother.
Barr says he talked to Mueller about this March 27 letter, maybe the next day, and would have had a chance to learn more about the SC's thinking, and concerns. What came out to the public? Not quite two weeks later, after rumblings from the SC's office made their way to the media, there was his testimony to Congress, including this:
Senator VAN HOLLEN: Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?
Attorney General BARR: I don’t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.
There may be some perverted little pettifogging corner of his mind where he imagines this statement to be literally true. Now that we can see Mueller's letter for ourselves, and even before we get those enclosures not previously made public as Mueller asked them to be, we can see that the Attorney General was being deliberately, and knowingly misleading.
That's what in less polite circles we call "lying." Under oath. Which in legal circles we call "perjury."
Senator Van Hollen is calling for Barr to resign. If he doesn't resign he should be impeached, convicted and removed from office.
Today's debacle is unfolding in the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Lindsey Graham, who gave an opening statement of BUT HER EMAILS, I kid you not.
The GOP-run Senate committee is a slightly friendly venue for Trump's AG. He's still hedging on whether or not he'll sit before the not-so-friendly House Judiciary Committee, given their intention to have him questioned by staff lawyers, you know, the way the GOP did with Christine Blasey Ford.
That is not going to stop other lawyers from weighing in, however. Barr was pre-torched yesterday, by Harry Litman ("wow. wo-ooooooow. wow"), Neal Katyal ("indefensible"), Maya Wiley, Susan Hennessey ("In a normal administration we'd be talking about whether the AG would be forced to step down. In this one, who knows?"), Marty Lederman, Rick Hasen, Jennifer Rubin, Renato Mariotti, Laurence Tribe ("Barr must be impeached if he doesn’t resign first."), Ryan Goodman, and Noah Bookbinder.
Tom von Alten