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20.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mick on the loose Sunday talk Permalink to this item

Lots of people tweeting out part of the show... and Fox News itself fobs us off to Hulu for "full episodes," but they have the 15:40 of John Michael "Mick" Mulvaney and Chris Wallace, starting right after the set up. IN the first minute, this quick talking bit reminded me of Paul Manafort's famous utterance: "Again that's not what I said, that's what people said that I said, here's what I said, I'll say it again, and hopefully people will listen this time..."

Oh we all listened the first time, sir. And when you say "there were two reasons that we held up the aid," actually no, that's not what you said, what you said is there were THREE reasons. But let's move on.

We're so concerned about "the rampant corruption in Ukraine," right right right, we passed a law, in 2014, have a law, he said, "requiring us to make sure corruption is moving in the right direction."

Well, 2014 was a momentous year in Ukraine, and when the Washington Post's full Trump-Ukraine timeline begins. The Russian-backed president Yanukovych was ousted during a popular uprising, and fled to Russia. "Yanukovych came to power with the assistance of political consultant Paul Manafort, who worked for Yanukovych’s Party of Regions." And yeah, that's when the "wide-ranging investigation into corruption" really kicked off.

Whatever happened to that political consultant Paul Manafort, anyway?

Then talking about the president's obsession with "the DNC server," "everybody acknowledges that, at least I think most normal people do, it's completely legitimate to ask about that." Is that still a thing? Because the news 2 days ago said huh uh.

In the press conference three days ago, Mulvaney just said "WE DO THAT ALL THE TIME with foreign policy" (not just "that happens").

Mulvaney now claims people didn't listen right. How "rapid fire" "these briefings" are, as if he wasn't the fastest talker in the room? Is the problem that his mouth runs out ahead of his brain? That "the money flowed," how many months later was it, "with no connection to the DNC server." And no connection to... the week-earlier Washington Post editorial titled Trump tries to force Ukraine to meddle in the 2020 election, maybe just a little?

Mulvaney makes a big deal about "the aid" never being mentioned explicitly in the phone call (for which, let's remember, we have not seen the TRANSCRIPT, but only the MEMORANDUM), as if... Zelensky would not be ACUTELY AWARE of the aid being held up just because POUTS didn't mention it?

The aid was approved TWO MONTHS before the July phone call. DNI Coats announced his resignation right after the phone call. A few days later, there was another P2P phone call, this one with Putin, July 31, and Russia provides a more substantial readout than the US does.

Russia seems to be driving the agenda, don't they?

The three amigos are texting about "the deliverable" and helping draft a statement to Trump's satisfaction, from the president of Ukraine.

Then Ron Johnson spilled the beans in late August.

There is still a ton of explaining to do, and every time Trump or his minions try that seem to be slipping deeper in the swampy quicksand.

In less weighty, but equally impeachy matters, Mick tells us that the president was "honestly surprised at the level of pushback" at the idea of the G7 being directed to a Trump property. "At the end of the day, he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business," as opposed to the entertainment business ("he wanted to put on the absolute best show"), or what, serving as the leader of the executive branch and honoring an oath to uphold the Constitution?

Just more of that Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility, I know, but with the very occasional dollop of GOP Crazed and Irrational Hostility to boot.

Rehabilitation Permalink to this item

Yes, it seems to me that the former FBI director's actions in 2016 were among the reasons the Electoral College tipped to the loser of the popular vote. Given all that's happened since, the indignant outrage over the tarmac convo between Loretta Lynch and Bill Clinton only amplifies the Republican hypocrisy about what constitutes a "scandal." But her emails! That never really had anything risible. But some were missing!

Never mind that we've now had a multi-year State Department investigation that found no there there (or no “systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information,” as opposed to, say, coughing up top secret information in the Oval to make new friends), if Hillary Clinton could mastermind a human trafficking ring fom the basement of a pizza parlor that didn't have a basement, nothing is beneath her, right?

James Comey's "one honest man in Washington" role may be a bit schmaltzy at times, but I confess to being slightly charmed by it. As is the New York Times, it seems, running Matt Flegenheimer's rosy profile ("James Come Would Like to Help" online) on the front page a week ago, below the fold, under "'I Feel Stuck': Citizen Comey Frets Over Vote." That's the 2020 vote, the one in which he hopes the United States of America will stand up for decency, and for which he's "working to drive Donald Trump from power."

Excerpted from Ryan Christopher Jones' image for the NYT

There in his bookcase, just below the biographies of presidents behind the place card from his infamous one-on-one dinner with POUTS, Bryan Stevenson's book Just Mercy. ICYMI, its subtitle is A Story of Justice and Redemption. "The message of the book, hammered home by dramatic examples of one man's refusal to sit quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made," one reviewer wrote.

It seems slightly too perfect, just like the G-man who's embarrassed to be introduced as “the first F.B.I. director since J. Edgar Hoover to be a household name.” (He "affect[ed] a grimace," Flegenheimer wrote, from deep inside his subject's head.)

At any rate, he's a damn sight more sympathetic figure than Rod Rosenstein, for whom I have not seen any warm encomia. Neocon opinon writer Jennifer Rubin sent Rosenstein off as a diminished man and shamed lawyer. "He's no Mueller," she finished, a little while before we found out that Mueller was no Mueller either, and "The President" was on the phone to Ukraine the very next day, trying to track down Hillary Clinton's email server. No, seriously, he was. "They say Ukraine has it," the formerly SECRET/ORCON/NOFORN memo quotes our president saying to their president, one comedian asking another for "a favor."

The story on Comey doesn't say anything about his opinion on impeachment at this point. Previously, he worried that we Americans "would be left off the hook" if Congress, you know, did its job. Voters need to do their job. "We need an inflection point," Comey said in late September. "An impeachment would deprive us of that, and we need to show what we stand for." Then he said you know what, maybe "members of the House and Senate can't uphold their own oaths to support and defend the Constitution without acting."

18.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What if the news really is fake? Permalink to this item

This Monday's Frank Church Institute conference at BSU ("DEMOCRACY in an AGE of ANXIETY: Russian Intrusion, Chinese Confrontation, Populist Disruption") including an array of presentations, panels, and a keynote address from former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul (“From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia”). Jeanette and I went to the panel moderated by Dr. Greg Raymond, "Threats from Russia, Challenges from Populism," with Rob Berschinski, Senior VP for Policy at Human Rights First, and James Kirchick, Visiting Fellow, Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, and one of the afternoon breakout sessions. We split up for the evening, me to McFaul's keynote, her to an Indigenous People's Day celebration.

The afternoon breakouts "Reporting in the Era of Fake News," "Whose Data Is It Anyway?" and "Can Democracy Exist in a Post-Privacy World?" Given the time and opportunity, I would have liked to have attended all three, but life imposed a choice. We went to the one on Fake News, with Betsy Russell, Boise Bureau Chief of the Idaho Press, and the fellow from the morning's Russia panel, James Kirchick.

I fancy myself a savvy consumer of information, and if you're reading my blog, I imagine you are one, too. We could both be wrong, of course. ...

My account of the breakout session ran long, so I've posted the whole thing on my home page as "the current essay," pushing the prevous one, a year and ten days go today, down the stack. (What a year it's been! Last one was What goes around comes around, my reflections after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.)

What next in Syria? Permalink to this item

The chaos of civil war has never had an obvious way forward. The Bush II administration showed us the limits of regime change. The majority of people in the U.S. tired of our latest two decades of fighting in the middle east a long time ago. The new Trump Doctrine of "cut and run" will be sold to his ardent supporters while horrifying the majority here, and around the world. NYT interactive: Four big questions about Syria's future. But first, a satellite image of the land of sand, courtesy of Google Maps:

Google Maps sat

1. Who will control northeast Syria?
"At least 160,000 people have fled the Turkish assault." "[S]ome experts and observers on the ground believe Turkey and Russia have a deal to carve up the map."

"At stake is the fate of some four million Syrians living under S.D.F. rule who had found a respite from repression — both from ISIS and from the Syrian government, which has bombed its own cities and sent tens of thousands of people to torture prisons to stay in power."

2. How will this turn out for the Kurds?
"Damascus has a long history of repressing Kurds, and President Bashar al-Assad’s government is not known for making deals: In areas it has retaken, it has insisted on total surrender, with no concessions. And it has punished those who defied it, conscripting and even disappearing those who sought autonomy."

3. How are civilians being affected?
Some 160,000 "fleeing," with "no idea where to go" in "regions exhausted and destroyed after years of battling the Islamic State." "[T]he international relief group Mercy Corps is pulling out of northeastern Syria because it can no longer reach people in need. In a statement, it called that 'a nightmare scenario.'"

There are already 3.6 million Syrian refugees living in Turkey. "Turkey has also said that it wants to push many of [them] over the border and into the buffer zone it is trying to make in Syria, a move that would violate international law. The largely rural area has no capacity to absorb that many refugees, who come from all over Syria."

4. Will ISIS come back?

17.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bringing the news to life Permalink to this item

I dreamt I was reading news about witnesses to events in Turkey, some of whom had created a play, and there was a government-censored version of the play with a hyperlink to the video of that. Then I was seeing a play in person, and at the dramatic conclusion I was on stage as if an unrestrained audience member or supernumerary. Then a second performance, with a different, more dramatic ending, and I was more confidently part of that final scene when three of us come on and the other two jump from a balcony down to the thick of the action. I was playing the witness... desperate to remember the facts on waking, unable to sort out what all I'd seen, and which was the true version.

Talk about your deep fake.

Yesterday, a meeting between Democratic leaders and the President and his team blew up out of the cabinet room at the White House and the Speaker of the House, the Senate Minority Leader, and the House Majority Leader gave their version of events in a press conference out front. It wasn't pretty. Speaker Pelosi walked into the room with 129 Republicans having voted on her side in a 354-60 rebuke to Trump, H.J.Res.77 - Opposing the decision to end certain United States efforts to prevent Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces in Northeast Syria.

Needless to say, he didn't take it well. After the meeting, he had his say, I KNOW YOU ARE BUT WHAT AM I? in his favorite medium. (Paraphrased only slightly.)

And somewhere in this comedic mix, the White House released a letter, from Trump to Erdoğan, dated October 9 that left pretty much everyone reading it saying "this can't be true, can it?" It looked like it was right off The Onion front page.

Fox Business reporter Trish Regan tweeted it as an EXCLUSIVE, and a wave of incredulity swept around the globe. "Dear Mr. President," he begins.

Let's work out a good deal! You don't want to be responsible for slaughtering thousands of people, and I don't want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy—and I will. I've already given you a little sample with respect to Pastor Brunson.

I have worked hard to solve some of your problems. Don't let the world down. You can make a great deal. General Mazloum is willing to negotiate with you, and he is willing to make concessions that they would never have made in the past. I am confidentially enclosing a copy of his letter to me, just received.

History will look upon you favorably if you get this done the right and humane way. It will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don't happen. Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!

I will call you later.

Its authenticity was confirmed to various news outlets by the White House, leaving us all to wonder how in the world this could be happening, first of all, but also how in the world could Trump think that releasing this parody of a diplomatic letter could improve his standing.


Jeremy Bowen, BBC Middle East editor, provides analysis from outside the confusion in the US. Erdoğan's "staff told the BBC that he threw the letter into the bin and launched the Syrian operation the same day. That could be proof there was no Trumpian green light."

Better to be a hapless fool than a duplicitous one? Bowen also notes that "Obama partnered up with the Syrian Kurds of the Syrian Democratic Forces against the jihadists of IS," an arrangement bound to "lead to problems with the Turks," as well as all the reason our anti-Obama would need to turn it upside down.

The letter doesn't demonstrate there was "no greenlight" though; HJR 77's recitation of facts reminds us that it was three days earlier that the White House announced that "Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria" while the "United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces * * * will no longer be in the immediate area."

If you can't get enough of this, the Beeb's hyperlinked bullet list of reporting:

And of analysis:

Excerpt of Lithgow's illustration of King Dumpty

But if you prefer something on the dreamier side, here's John Lithgow, "actor and illustrator" and author of Dumpty: The Age of Trump in Verse, coming out next week. In print, the headline was A One-Star Review for Trump.

"Entertainment and politics have become bizarrely intertwined. Perhaps it’s time for a working entertainer to weigh in. ...

"Think of Mr. Trump preening at his beauty contests, body-slamming Vince McMahon at W.W.F. events or holding rallies that resemble the arena gigs of an insult comic. These are the antics of a showman, not a statesman.

"Mind you, a flair for entertainment is not a bad thing in a leader. We can quote verbatim from performances on the world stage by Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy. Eloquence and wit like theirs have helped rally nations, defeat poverty and win wars. It took Ronald Reagan, an actual actor president, to put the perfect timing and emphasis on the simple sentence, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”

"But Mr. Trump is something else again. Where Reagan was the product of the tight quality control of Hollywood’s old studio system, Mr. Trump emerged from the curated chaos of reality TV. He even impersonated his own press agent over the telephone."

15.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bungled personnel maneuver Permalink to this item

That pithy phrase from Inside Trump's Botched Attempt to Hire Trey Gowdy makes a convenient executive summary of the Trump administration, and brings to mind Michael Lewis' book about the transition to misrule, The Fifth Risk. (I see I haven't ever put that on my reading list, but have talked about it last November, December and this month.)

Half a dozen aides and other people close to Mr. Trump would talk to Maggie Haberman or Annie Karni not for attribution about the on again, off again, and maybe off till January, or off forever hiring of another lawyer to run interference for the president*. Oddly enough, lobbying regulations were part of the contention, questions about whether a so-recently ex-Congressman would be "curtailed in his role."

Pat Cipollone makes an appearance, the guy who wrote the "kangaroo court" letter for Trump, saying that Congress was being mean and unfair and talking points and even after the president "took the unprecedented step of providing the public transparency hy declassifying and releasing the record of his call with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine," in which "the record clearly established that the call was completely appropriate and that there is no basis for your inquiry."

Clearly. Therefore, ipso facto hocus pocus carborundum, "President Trump and his Administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances."

That Pat Cipollone. Who I read now is the White House counsel, as in, our employee, working to defend the office of the presidency. That is, not the president's personal lawyer. Like Michael Cohen used to be, and like Rudy Giuliani is, Trey Gowdy was apparently ready to join that illustrious lineage.

Cipollone was said to be "among those generally concerned" about bringing on the new guy, but also a spokesman for him "denied there was concern." Then there was the job interview with the big man, and his junior grifter, Jared Kushner, who "joined them for part of the meal." (Jared's always slipping in and out of things, maintaining a shield of plausible deniability.) It went well enough, apparently, and paperwork was drawn up, and oh, here's another lawyer with something to say:

“Trey’s command of the law is well known, and his service on Capitol Hill will be a great asset as a member of our team,” Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow said in the statement.

30 minutes after which, whoops, Houston, we have a problem. Gowdy's law firm said he was a no-go until January.

"Even Mr. Trump — who for the most part has been operating as a one-man war room, setting the tone of grievance from the top — appears confused about which of his staff members is in charge."

"Setting the tone of grievance from the top" is Trump's sub-head. But who can he count on to sort this out? Mulvaney? Jared? So much finger-pointing, so little competence.

13.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Gimme that old time religion Permalink to this item

Since it's Sunday, time to get some religion. I was piqued by Charles M. Blow's tweet-length personal summary of "my views on religion":

"Human beings needed something to explain the things they couldn’t understand or contemplate, so they created religion. It’s a way of relieving anxiety and enforcing man-made morality. Our brains are magical, so they invented magic."

Then what happened?

The personal struggle to understand our place in the world (and its limited term) can indeed create anxiety, and there are many paths for relief, some of which come in religious garb. Others include a good stretch, a deep breath, meditation, fresh air and exercise, service to others, and so on.

Some of the comments following Blow's tweet are interesting. Some aren't (to me). A quote from astrophysicist Hubert Reeves, with his flowing white hair and a beard in the sometimes image of You-Know-Who:

"Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and slaughters a visible Nature... without realizing that this Nature he slaughters is this invisible God he worships."

Some commenters sent thoughts. Some sent prayers. Some echoed mysterious evidence ("countless reports" and "chains of events but no mistakes"; those dinosaurs had it coming, apparently).

Humans are also that species willing to attempt serious and existential discussion on Twitter, so that's interesting. It's on a similar footing with our U.S. attorney general stopping in at the University of Notre Dame Law School to shoot some fire and brimstone at the demons of "militant secularism."

AG William Barr at Notre Dame

WNDU covered it, lightly, and a minute or so of Bill Barr's downbeat lecture from the well of the moot court is all over the innertubes. WNDU's 2:22 broadcast segment has chop suey soundbites of Bill Barr's speech, notes that he's "a devout Catholic," in case you needed something to give you pause. Here's the whole video of Barr's appearance on WNDU's Facebook page.

After the perfunctory bits of introduction, let's get to the nut of it, 5 minutes in. Tom Yannucici, litigation partner at Kirkland & Ellis (where Barr used to work, for more than a $million a year) doing the honors.

"This is who he is. He is a person of deep faith, and his faith is fully informed by reason and the teachings of the Church. He loves a debate, Augustine principles, Thomas, any of the early church leaders. He is an informed, committed, Catholic in the best sense of the word."

"A bit of a polymath," does that come in bits? "An expert on everything," you don't say, and for sure "he has a strong opinion about everything." "We're lucky to have someone like that serving our country," we're told. Oh my. We're assured "he's a person of great integrity," but recent events leave me a doubting Thomas on that. And I'm not saying guilty by association, but I do note that the Kirkland & Ellis alumni roster includes Brett Kavanaugh, Robert Bork, Ken Starr, Pat "kangaroo court" Cipollone, and the recently dispatched National Security Advisor, John Bolton. It's a bit of a good old boys club, I am saying.

Jump to 12:15 if you want to skip the phatic. He's hear to share thoughts "about religious liberty in America." He has a task force set up at the DOJ for it.

"We keep an eye out for cases and events around the country where states are misapplying the establishment clause that discriminates against people of faith."

Let us now read the mind of our Founders. ("A small group of colonial lawyers," he calls them.) Broad brush "strong consensus" in the preface to discount any dissenters. They were so convinced of the "centrality of religious liberty in the United States," that "religion was indispensible to sustaining our system of government," that they... prohibited the government from mucking around with it? No, that's not it. They were insistent that WE MUST HAVE RELIGION TO KEEP US IN CHECK!

Our magic Founders presciently foresaw "the supreme test of a free society" we're facing just now: whether we have sufficient "moral virtue and discipline" to maintain our freedom, to behave ourselves without needing a tyranny to impose order on us.

Edmund Burke told us, "men of intemperate minds can not be free," and I couldn't help but think of who Barr is currently working for, and enabling. We must have Authority independent of men's wills! We must have a "transcendent supreme being."

We must be theists! Are we projecting, much? I CANNOT BE TRUSTED, but more importantly to him, YOU CANNOT BE TRUSTED.

John Adams said "our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other." We must be religious! John Adams said so. And his punchline, a brutal beatdown of a straw man:

"Now, modern secularists dimiss this idea of morality as sort of other wordly superstition imposed by a killjoy clergy."

He insists that it is only his morality that provides "the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct," and those rules are only accessible through religion.

It's a hell of a thing for a lawyer to say, when you think about it, and even more of a hell of a thing for the Attorney General of the United States to go on about.

Near 24 min. in, he unwinds his condemnation. Social pathology is gaining ground, and it is all secularism's fault. Depression, suicide, senseless violence, drug epidemics. "I won't dwell on the bitter results of the new secular age," he said, you know, beyond blaming it for all the ills of society.

Secularists are militant, don't you know. Some call themselves progressive, "but where is the progress?" So all you progressives, you're under the bus.

What is it that can fill the void in this man's heart? The Catholic church sure as hell isn't getting the job done. All we have left is "mere sentimentality, still drawing on the vapor trails of Christianity." No seriously, he said that. Organized religion is under assault.

"This is not decay, this is organized destruction."

Organized destruction. And the ultimate condemnation, the secular project has now become a religion! Which is weird, because he's trying to make the argument that religion is good, go figure.

We've cast the state in the role of mitigating all the social costs of personal irresponsibility, he complains. "Dealing with this wreckage" is underwriting evil. (Whoops, there goes Social Security and Medicare). The law is being used as a "battering ram" to install moral relativism as the new orthodoxy. (He prefers to use the law as a battering ram to maintain moral absolutism. His moral absolutism, of course.)

Just 25 years ago, we had a broad consensus, he says, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act proves it, never mind the unintended consequences we're still sorting out from that pig in a poke.

"Ground zero" for the attack on religion is the schools, he says. (Ground zeroes? We have a lot of schools.) Should public schools be teaching religion, what? Curricula "incompatible with traditional Judeo-Christian principles" are being forced upon us. "An LGBT curriculum," what does that mean? Gender identity and gender expression are hot buttons for his cool delivery. Coerced instruction! No opt out!

"State policies designed to starve religious schools of funding" is a new angle, cleverly standing the prohibition of funding sectarian instruction on its head. Since when should state policies have anything to do with funding religious schools?

And finally, forcing religious schools to adhere to secular orthodoxy: religious organizations should have a pass for ignoring equal employment opportunity and other laws if only they insist on their beliefs.

Sneak preview Permalink to this item

"According to a person familiar with his testimony" that he is set to give in a deposition this week, Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, is going to go out on a high note. Unlike every official statement out of the Trump White House, the account in the Washington Post dated Oct. 12 sounds completely plausible, and is consistent with known facts. Also, the headline provides the (literal) executive summary: Trump’s envoy to testify that ‘no quid pro quo’ came from Trump.

Given that 4½ hour wind-up to the carefully worded text message between Sondland and the acting ambassador to Ukraine, and the later report that Sondland and Trump had words during that break, of course that's what happened. (There was a lawyer involved too, because the tongues our POUTS speaks don't include much Latin.)

The fateful call is said to have been less than five minutes, "Trump appeared to be in a foul mood, according to the person, who spoke to The Post with Sondland's permission, an intermediary said."

The two to five WaPo reporters putting this story together get a lot of mileage out of this person familiar, and an intermediary. It reads just like they were talking to Sondland himself, even though "Sondland declined to comment through his lawyers."

It's all nice to (imagine we) know, but hard to see quite what's served by putting a spoiler out 5 days ahead of the deposition. Given the mob style we've seen from the Trump crime family, the star witness will definitely want to be keeping a low profile between now and then. More time for the administration to burnish its talking points? The ones we saw two and a half weeks ago are still being worked. "Let's be clear, there was no quid pro quo," those said, just like POUTS himself said to Sondland (according to a person familiar).

Meanwhile, Tooty Fruity Rudy seems to keep getting in the way of the bus.

Sondland is expected to say that for months before the Sept. 9 message, he worked at the direction of Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, to secure what he would call in another text message the “deliverable” sought by Trump: a public statement from Ukraine that it would investigate corruption, including mentioning Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, by name. In exchange for the statement, the president would grant Ukraine’s new president a coveted White House audience.

“It was a quid pro quo, but not a corrupt one,” the person familiar with Sondland’s testimony said.

That's what you call grading on the curve.

To trust Sondland’s testimony, members of Congress will have to believe Sondland had not seen televised appearances by Giuliani over the spring and summer, or numerous newspaper and magazine articles questioning whether Hunter Biden’s role at Burisma could prove to be a drag on his father’s presidential campaign.

“If people find that incredulous [sic], it strikes me that the incredulity is hindsight bias,” said the person familiar with Sondland’s testimony. “The things that seem so clear to people now didn’t seem so clear in real time.”

They seemed clear enough to William B. Taylor in real time. “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor texted Sondland. Was that when the epiphany light bulb came on, after months of working with Giuliani?

That wake-up call was a whole month after Sondland himself texted "I think potus really wants the deliverable".

11.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Untouchables Permalink to this item

Dating myself (every day), but doesn't it feel like we're in the middle of a bad crime novel now, a black-and-white car chase shoot-em-up? Yesterday's news of Lev and Igor being nabbed in the jetway on their way to First Class seats to Austria (with Rudy Giuliani to follow the next day) was at least a ray of sunshine. The G-men at the SDNY and the FBI are the heroes in that episode, still resistant to the festering corruption oozing out of the office of the Attorney General these days. Somehow. Third-hand eyewitness account shared in the NYT Impeachment Briefing yesterday:

They were indulging themselves in the free drinks and food while talking on the phone and waiting for their overnight flight to Frankfurt. Around 5:45 p.m., the men and the other first class travelers were invited to board before all the other passengers. As they made their way down a corridor toward their plane, two plainclothes officers stepped out and stopped them.

“We need to see your passports,” one of the officers said.

The passengers took them out, and the officers determined who was standing in front of them. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman were told to turn around. As they made their way back into the terminal, they were greeted by a phalanx of uniformed and plainclothes officers who arrested them.

Alexandria Sheriff's office mugshots

Didn't get around to ProPublica's Trump, Inc. podcast briefing from Oct. 2 (like a million years ago now) until this morning: A Brief Guide to Giuliani’s Questionable Friends in Ukraine. Long-form, boots on the ground reporting that just happened to be perfectly timed for this long-running story climbing back up to top headlines. Our newsy (and now bagged) bagman are at the end of the stack, as Rudy's "Special Envoys." As of that writing, "Parnas and Fruman did not respond to our requests for comment."

I saw mention that Austria would put them out of reach of extradition, but not sure about the legal particulars of that. Searching for "austria extradition" just now turns up the July AP story about Ukrainian businessman Dymitro Firtash who prosecutors said had "business ties" to Paul Manafort, Trump's ex-campaign manager, now residing at the cross-bar hotel.

"Last month, Austria’s Supreme Court of Justice ruled that Firtash ... can be extradited to face a U.S. indictment accusing him of a conspiracy to pay bribes in India to mine titanium, which is used in jet engines."

An Austrian judge was considering “extremely extensive material” and the defense arguments “that the U.S. does have a far-reaching political motivation.” He was arrested there in Austria in 2014.

Anyhoo, the higher-profile players ProPublica listed were Viktor Shokin, deposed from Ukraine’s general prosecutor position; his also-deposed successor (the guy Trump suggested Zelensky should bring back, in that July 25 call); Yuriy Lutsenko, who was featured on the NYT front page last Sunday; and Nazar Kholodnytsky, now "Ukraine’s top anti-corruption prosecutor." Such as they have. The informant in the podcast says the position is more of a "protection racket" than "attorney general," so yeah, a lot like our Attorney General. Here's the NYT lede on Lutsenko:

KIEV, Ukraine — As soon as he got the invitation from Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, it was abundantly clear to him what Mr. Trump’s allies were after.

“I understood very well what would interest them,” Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s recently fired prosecutor general, said in an extensive interview in London. “I have 23 years in politics. I knew.”

“I’m a political animal,” he added.

Back to that podcast, and its preface:

"Before we begin, a note: Donald Trump, Rudy Giuliani, and Ukrainian politicians and prosecutors can hollow out the meaning of the words they use. 'Corruption.' 'Prosecutor.' 'Cover-up.' 'Facts.' Politicians in Ukraine routinely use prosecutions not as fact-finding missions but as bludgeons, to destroy opponents."

Our Ukraine ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, got fired for calling for Kholodnytsky's ouster, in early March:

"Nobody who has been recorded coaching suspects on how to avoid corruption charges can be trusted to prosecute those very same cases," she said, referring to recent wiretaps that allegedly caught on tape Kholodnytsky giving advice to corruption suspects.

Sidebar on that story points to another VOA report, datelined Minsk, Feb. 27 of this year, under Petro Poroshenko's presidency, Ukrainian Court Strikes Down Anti-Corruption Law "against officials enriching themselves." Further back to the root of the matter, after the audio replay of Manafort's inimitable on-camera deer in the headlights moment on CBS News, summer of 2016:

"Manafort was the go-to for campaign interviews. Then, in August of 2016, a story broke in the New York Times. It said Manafort was paid $12.7 million in off-the-books payments from Yanukovych's political party. Accounts of these payments turned up in a so-called 'black ledger.'"

And winding it all up to where we were 9 days ago:

Q: "What's it like living in a place where nobody knows what's true?"
A: "Well, it's like living in the United States..."

9.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Deepening distrust, exploiting and widening divisions Permalink to this item

The Senate Intelligence committee released the redacted version of volume 2 of their reporting on RUSSIAN ACTIVE MEASURES CAMPAIGNS AND INTERFERENCE IN THE 2016 U.S. ELECTION, specifically RUSSIA'S USE OF SOCIAL MEDIA WITH ADDITIONAL VIEWS. (ICYMI, volume 1 was Russian Efforts Against Election Infrastructure, published in redacted form this July. "A deliberate, sustained and sophisticated campaign to undermine American democracy" and stuff.)

Volume 2 has a cover sheet, one-page TOC, and 83 pages following. Skimming... after introduction, findings, and "the reach of social media" sections, the headings are:


V.2 p.69 redacted

In section VIII, between "Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU)" and "Other Russian Government Activities," the table of contents entry for VIII.B. is redacted. The whole section on pages 69 and 70 is redacted, save for 6 of its 11 footnotes. Footnotes 263, 264, 266, 267, 270, and 272 are all "Ibid.," referring to the same sources as redacted footnotes 262, 265, 270, 272.

The recommendations section seems like weak, bureaucratic tea at first glance. "Industry measures" suggested include "facilitate greater information sharing between the public and private sector," what? More cooperation, greater transparency, notifying users after the fact of their exposure to malign information ops, use more outside research. Congressional measures also include "consider[ing] ways to facilitate productive coordination and cooperation between U.S. social media companies and the pertinent government agencies and departments."

It's like reading a fire extinguisher operating manual translated from a foreign language while your house is burning down.

And for Executive Branch measures? That starts with "reinforc[ing] with the public the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election." That would be great, except for the fact that the first step in problem solving is IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM, and our executive has adamantly denied the facts in evidence, starting with finding #1:

"The Committee found that the IRA sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton's chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin."

"The Committee found that the IRA's information warfare campaign was broad in scope and entailed objectives beyond the result of the 2016 presidential election. Further, the Committee's analysis of the IRA's activities on social media supports the key judgments of the January 6, 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment, 'Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,' that 'Russia's, goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.' However, where the Intelligence Community assessed that the Russian government 'aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him,' the Committee found that IRA social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump, and to the detriment of Secretary Clinton's campaign."

Citation to Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), "Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections," Intelligence Community Assessment (Unclassified Version), January 6, 2017. It's old news, published in the waning days of the Obama administration, but there has been no credible challenge to its key judgments. The main conclusion wasn't an epiphany back then, even if the explicated details were not fully known (or disclosed in the declassified version of the Intelligence Community Assessment). The Senate Intelligence Committee's report now reinforces them.

"Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump."

Covert intelligence operations, overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.”

"We assess Moscow will apply lessons learned from its Putin-ordered campaign aimed at the US presidential election to future influence efforts worldwide, including against US allies and their election processes."

Senator Richard Burr, (the Republican) chairman of the Senate Intel committee has a Twitter thread advertising the report this morning, with a link to the press release version, and his statement on his Senate website. Shorter, unredacted key findings and recommendations in a bullet list.

“Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election. Their goal is broader: to sow societal discord and erode public confidence in the machinery of government. By flooding social media with false reports, conspiracy theories, and trolls, and by exploiting existing divisions, Russia is trying to breed distrust of our democratic institutions and our fellow Americans. While Russia may have been the first to hone the modern disinformation tactics outlined in this report, other adversaries, including China, North Korea, and Iran, are following suit.”

Our increasingly demented Narcissist-in-Thief can not tolerate this finding. He has personally checked with Vladimir Putin and publicly accepted Putin's denials. A year ago July, the debacle in Helsinki, "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory," John McCain called it. Even Paul Ryan pushed back, a little, before quitting the field in the fall. The senate majority leader, too. "As I've said repeatedly, the Russians are not our friends and I entirely agree with the assessment of our intelligence community," Mitch McConnell said.

"My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me, and some others," Trump said. "They said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."

The Washington Post reported yesterday evening that former national security officials fight back as Trump attacks impeachment as ‘deep state’ conspiracy, adding to the case "that he is putting U.S. security at risk."

“What is happening currently is not normal,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, who served as a U.S. intelligence officer on Russia and Eurasia before stepping down in 2018. “This represents a deviation from the way that these institutions regularly function. And when the institutions don’t work, that is a national security threat.”

8.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

And now the fuller-blown Constitutional crisis Permalink to this item

The president's latest lawyer, Pat A. Cipollone, has sent a letter that is larded with errors of fact and law, starting with its first sentence. By the second paragraph, he's raving about the president's supposed "right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses, to receive transcripts of testimony , to have access to evidence, and to have counsel present"... during an inquiry? Established by the Constitution? And precedent? Nope, nope, and nope.

He'll have all that when his impeachment comes to trial in the Senate. As Cipollone well knows.

"For his part, President Trump took the unprecedented step of providing the public transparency by declassifying and releasing the record of his call with President Zelenskyy of Ukraine. The record clearly established that the call was completely appropriate and that there is no basis for your inquiry."

It is true that Trump declassified and released *a* record of his call with Zelensky; but said record was short of an actual transcript or recording of said call.

The record did not "clearly [establish] that the call was completely appropriate"; it provided the basis that pushed the Speaker of the House to move forward with the present inquiry. Cipollone's letter goes downhill from there. This is obstruction of justice, pure and simple.

Impeachy-keen Permalink to this item

Three minutes into this 28 minute video, MSNBC talking heads get around to the lede: SONDLAND SPOKE TO THE PRESIDENT BY PHONE IN THE 4½ HOUR DELAY BEFORE HIS TEXTED REPLY TO TAYLOR ON SEPTEMBER 9th.

Then Sondland sent his very careful "no quid pro quo's and let's stop texting about this subject" message.

This came after Trump had personally halted the security assistance to Ukraine,and a month and a half after after Trump had personally said to Ukraine's president I WOULD LIKE YOU TO DO US A FAVOR, THOUGH.

The Wall Street Journal reported the Sondland-to-Trump call, in the middle of a report presently outside their paywall: House Lawyers to Ask Sondland About Efforts to Sway Ukrainians. That headline was before the Trump White House told Sondland he didn't have their permission to testify in reponse to an invitation to give a deposition.

"Mr. Sondland called Mr. Trump before texting back [about four and a half hours] later, according to the person familiar with his activities."

So, fine, we'll subpoena him. He's obviously an essential witness at the root of this particular tree of Rumpian corruption.

7.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Feedback Permalink to this item

A member of the Nobel Prize committee comparing a molecular feedback system for oxygen regulation, "one of life’s most essential adaptive processes," to a "rheostat or thermostat" caught my eye. The latter will be well understood by most readers, whereas the former maybe not so much.

The rewarked work revealed "the cascade of molecular events that allow cells to detect and respond to different levels of oxygen," providing for adaptation to high altitude, and improved athletic performance, with implications for treating heart and respiratory diseases, and even cancer.

No surprise that a sentient, homeothermic species would come up with a feedback system for temperature control device even before they'd figured out how to harness and control electricity. The magic is in the "stat." The 17th century Dutchman who first harnessed thermal feedback didn't come up with the catchy name. (He was interested in incubating eggs, and keeping a steady oven.)

Excerpt of front page of US Patent #281,884

A couple hundred years later, James Clerk Maxell wrote "On governors" for the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, considering the "dynamical theory" of mechanical devices for controlling the speed of machines, and by writing differential equations for them, established the beginnings of feedback control theory.

Fifteen years after that, Warren S. Johnson patented what he called an "electric tele-thermoscope." It was a bimetallic thermostat. He and his associates went on to invent steam valves, steam traps, pressure reduction valves, water heaters, hydraulic air compressors, electric meters, and the first automatic zone temperature control system.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers called that multizone automatic temperature control “the grandfather of all control systems.” (It's #244 on the ASME landmark list.)

Fun fact: Charles Wheatstone coined the term 'rheostat' in 1843. (He also had a bridge for sale.)

Infinite ignorance Permalink to this item

Fareed Zakaria talked to Michael Lewis last December, when The Fifth Risk, was fresh out. Lewis' research and writing was focused on the transition, end of 2016 and into 2017, which was bad enough.

Now, it's worse than anyone could have imagined. (And yeah, that was a headline here just a couple days ago.) "We don't even know what price we're going to pay for this." We're taking "existential risks."

After the Fourth National Climate Assessment was published last November, the president dismissed it, saying "a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we're not necessarily such believers."

How many of the 1,524 pages of the report do you suppose he applied his very high level of intelligence to reading? The 12 summary findings, at least, consolidating the messages and supporting evidence from 16 underlying national-level topic chapters, 10 regional chapters, and 2 response chapters into just over seven pages of text? Did he even make it all the way through the overview infographic on page 38?

Datagraphics from NCA4 summary

Lewis has seen the spectrum of competence from world-class to epic grifting first-hand, and written books about it. The "radical ignorance" of the Trump administration is the new, new thing, with "preposterous people" put in charge. A right-wing talk show host with no background in science put in charge of the USDA. The grifting CEO of Accuweather put in charge of the National Weather Service. Rick "Oops" Perry in charge of the department he couldn't name. "So far as we know, he's never actually bothered to understand the department he's running."

The premise of the Trump administration is that "you actually don't need to know anything to do any of these jobs." It's next-level Dunning-Kruger, a hurricane fueled by narcissistic psychopathy.

This morning, following last night's announcement about the completion of our abandonment of the Kurds, the president made a declaration (on Twitter, naturally) prefaced with "I, in my great and unmatched wisdom."

5.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Week 150 retrospective Permalink to this item

While my blog might be feeling a little obsessive just now, these are some interesting and abnormal times we're going through. Inspired by the observation that "experts in authoritarianism advise to keep a list of things subtly changing around you, so you’ll remember," Amy Siskind took it to heart, and created The Weekly List. Three years ago, there were "fewer than a dozen items." It grew to more than a hundred abnormalities at a throw.

Last Saturday's compilation, Week 150 - The Beginning of the End?, had 225 items, elegantly rounded off with that same number of members of the House supporting the impeachment inquiry.

9. Trump also told reporters the call was “absolutely perfect,” adding, “It was a beautiful, warm, nice conversation,” but added the Bidens “were involved in a lot of different things that took place in our country.”

It was "warm" and "beautiful," "nice" and "absolutely perfect."

66. Trump also tweeted: “Pelosi, Nadler, Schiff and, of course, Maxine Waters! Can you believe this?” adding, “They never even saw the transcript of the call. A total Witch Hunt!” and “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!”

112. On Wednesday, at a pre-trial conference for Roger Stone, the defense revealed they may call Steve Bannon as a witness, and the judge deferred ruling on whether a clip from “The Godfather” can be used by prosecutors.

173. On Friday, Trump attacked Schiff in a series of tweets, saying, “To show you how dishonest the LameStream Media is, I used the word Liddle’, not Liddle, in discribing [sic] Corrupt Congressman Liddle’ Adam Schiff.”

I'm not sure when her cutoff for an issue is, but week 151 or week 152 will certainly include a link to news (leak) that the president has ordered a substantial reduction in the staff of the National Security Council.

Update: Week #151 has twenty dozen items, including this, near the end, with the same link to Bloomberg as I posted above:

236. On Friday, Bloomberg reported Trump ordered a cut to national security staff as the White House confronts an impeachment inquiry. The stated reason was to make the council leaner under the new National Security Adviser.

In a follow-up tweet, she's got a histogram of her "changes" counts, with the big spike in the last two weeks.

It's worse than we could have imagined Permalink to this item

Gauging public opinion is a tricky business, and what do I know, but the numbers for "should be impeached" and "should be convicted and removed from office" are close together these days, and after the needle barely moved when the Mueller report was made public, and after he testified, it has ticked up as "news about the Ukraine scandal snowballed." Survey says "yes," but still just barely.

There has not yet been time to absorb this latest compendium: Trump’s calls with foreign leaders have long worried aides, leaving some ‘genuinely horrified.’ Is that enough? Those who know best, who are closest to the action genuinely horrified? We don't know. There has been so much that's horrifying, we are almost numb.

"Fawned over Russian President Vladimir Putin." (Which, yeah, he did that in public, too. That debacle in Helsinki, surely. "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory" must be the end of it.) Said he'd help the Saudis join the G-7. Promised the president of Peru a C-130. Asked Putin for "guidance in forging a friendship with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un." Praised the murderous Philippine president Duterte for his "unbelievable job on the drug problem.” Pestered Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe for help in recommending him for a Nobel Prize.

“Phone calls that were embarrassing, huge mistakes he made, months and months of work that were upended by one impulsive tweet.” ... “People who could do things for him — he was nice to,” said one former security official. “Leaders with trade deficits, strong female leaders, members of NATO — those tended to go badly.”

Think about who he thought could do things for him. Vladimir Putin. Kim Jong Un. Rodrigo Duterte.

But then this was never left up to our imaginations, was it? Even without every detail made obvious in real time, there were always plenty. On the campaign trail: "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing." They were listening, and they stepped right up to the job.

At the Republican National Convention, in his acceptance speech: "I alone can fix it." There's something wrong in the head about him, unable to recognize the outrageous, preposterous, ludicrous, deranged notions in his mind and filter them in any way. Why should he? It has always worked for him, one way or another. That is not to say it's always worked out for those around him, the undocumented laborers, the enablers, footmen, bootlickers and fellow grifters. They are inevitably soiled, and some come to a disastrous end. For him, it is all performance, and the measure of success is by crowd reaction. When he doesn't get the reaction he wants, he'll try a new direction, or blame the audience. James Comey was a bad audience, for example. "He was crazy, a real nut job." Sergeys Lavrov and Kislyak, they were a good audience.

From the Russian Foreign Ministry-supplied photo

In performance mode, asked if he'd be willing to testify under oath as to his claims that James Comey made false statements, he said, "One hundred percent." (Weirdly, or tellingly enough, crosstalking, he then said "I didn't say under oath," before playing Oracle about whether there were recordings "I'm not hinting anything, I'll tell you about it over a very short period of time." Next, on Trump Sells Out America.)

There's something wrong in the head of the party that enabled him to rise to the highest office, cognitive dissonance serving nihilism, the post modern apotheosis of our experiment in democracy come to unfocused deconstruction and looting. The 2015-2016 Republican primary campaign ended up with a bad joke, and the party said sure, what the hell, why not? Their chosen candidate said "what have you got to lose?" and they said "hold our beer."

Through so many moments thinking "this, surely, must be the end of it," they kept going, plowing through the blizzard. Not even four weeks after inauguration day, his first National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, resigned in disgrace for jumping the gun in working with the Russians, and for his failure to have registered as a foreign agent.

It's been nothing but downhill since.

Idaho's junior senator, Jim Risch, is the quintessence of a lackey, blind to all evil under the Republican brand. "I have seen nothing that is impeachment-worthy to this point," the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committeee said, just last week.

He's not a stupid man. He's a willful accomplice, as are so many others of his party in Congress. It's hard to imagine what he thinks he'll get out of it. Another six years of on-the-job retirement? It disgusts me.

4.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The meltdown continues Permalink to this item

Here's today's one minute fourteen seconds of chopper talk outside the White House. (Is it time to go golfing yet?)

Still from CNN vid


Yes, he was investigated, not just by the Obama administration, but also by the Trump administration. He surely lied in statements given to the Special Counsel, successfully avoided actual live testimony under oath, because you know how that would have blown up. Under suspicion of obstruction of justice, the president was found to have almost certainly obstructed justice. (Or "totally exonerated!" as he likes to call it.)

Let's investigate something that has a lot to do with corruption: Donald Trump's and the Trump Organization's myriad tax returns. Or Ivanka's Trademarks in China. Or Jared of Arabia's 666 money pit and the Qatar connection. Or Mike "Four Pinocchios" Pompeo's recent performance. If we're all about ANYTHING HAVING TO DO WITH CORRUPTION now.

Crackpot Dome Permalink to this item

A whistle-blower's job is to BLOW THE WHISTLE, somewhat obviously, but in the face of purposeful obfuscation, disinformation, and brazen lying, it becomes necessary to state the obvious.

Bill Barr, the nominal Attorney General of the United States, acting as Donald Trump's latest fixer, and his organization did what they could to silence said whistle, much the same as he did his best to quash the Mueller report, in process, and after its release. But thanks to the legal process we established for this very purpose, and the means for Congressional oversight of the Executive branch, the complaint did find the light of day, and called attention to SUSPECTED ILLEGAL ACTIVITY ON THE PART OF THE PRESIDENT. Josh Marshall tweeted our story succinctly:

The President used extortion to force another country to intervene in the 2020 presidential election. All else is commentary.

— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) October 4, 2019

Alright then, on with the commentary.

We don't need to concern ourselves with who the whistle-blower is, which agency he worked for, what his political leanings might be, any of that. He blew the whistle, and now we're examining the—considerable, remarkable—evidence that is being unearthed as a result. Such as... a remarkable compendium of text messages out from under a rock, and in the light of day, laid out in this NYT interactive.

July 19: Ukraine Ambassador Volker getting Mr. Mayor hooked up with President Zelensky's advisor, and noting "Most impt is for Zelensky to say that he will help investigation."

Rudy gets hooked up, plans to meet Yermak in Madrid, and the P2P telephone call is set up. Volker: "assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / “get to the bottom of what happened” in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington". Not to get all Quid Pro Quo or anything.

July 25. The infamous P2P "I NEED YOU TO DO US A FAVOR THOUGH." The day after Mueller testified to Congress.

[8/9/19, 5:47:34 PM] Gordon Sondland: Not sure i did. I think potus really wants the deliverable

This while the US diplomatic team is working up a statement they'll feed to Zelensky. Yermak is on board, and the next day texts about "the reboot of US- UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations."

By the end of August, news of the holdup in the security assistance is out, and Yermak (and Zelensky) are wondering what the hell.

[8/29/19, 2:28:13 AM] Andrey Yermak: Need to talk with you
[8/29/19, 3:06:14 AM] Andrey Yermak:

That Politico headline was "Trump holds up Ukraine military aid meant to confront Russia." Trump cancels his trip to Warsaw, sends Mike "Patsy" Pence instead, who relays the ask, while insisting he had no idea what he was doing.

[9/1/19, 12:08:57 PM] Bill Taylor: Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?
[9/1/19, 12:42:29 PM) Gordon Sondland: Call me

A week later:

[9/8/19, 12:37:28 PM] Bill Taylor: The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get the security assistance. The Russians love it. (And I quit.)

The next day, reiteration.

[9/9/19, 12:31:06 AM] Bill Taylor: The message to the Ukrainians (and Russians) we send with the decision on security assistance is key. With the hold, we have already shaken their faith in us. Thus my nightmare scenario.
[9/9/19, 12:34:44 AM] Bill Taylor: Counting on you to be right about this interview, Gordon.

[9/9/19, 12:37:16 AM] Gordon Sondland: Bill, I never said I was “right”. I said we are where we are and believe we have identified the best pathway forward. Lets hope it works.

[9/9/19, 12:47:11 AM] Bill Taylor: As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.

Four and a half hours later, Sondland comes back with the carefully worded talking points:

[9/9/19, 5:19:35 AM] Gordon Sondland: Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign I suggest we stop the back and forth by text If you still have concerns I recommend you give Lisa Kenna or S a call to discuss them directly. Thanks.

NO QUID PRO QUO, CAPICHE? Except... for that security assistance that was approved is still hung up and here it is just weeks away from the end of the US fiscal year. More than a 9/11's worth of civilians have been killed in the war in Donbass, Ukraine, more than 10,000 total deaths, in a country with a population a fraction of ours.

Update: Oh, I see Wonkette covered this story pretty well, and with a big helping of (totally appropriate) profanity to boot. One liddle' tidbit I did not notice in my own news survey was that while ex-Ambassador Volker was testifying yesterday,

"someone we're going to call Probably Devin Nunes leaked some text messages to Fox News that Volker shared during the hearing, of Volker conversing with State Department figures involved in negotiations on Ukraine."

Two, of the many, including the one PDN thought was exclupatory. No Quid Pro Quo! And so the the three House chairman released a more complete selection of the messages to provide "more fulsome" context as my lawyer friends like to say (and this time, it works).

3.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bring on more smart women Permalink to this item

Highlights from Rachel Maddow's appearance on The Late Show this week, which you can see on YouTube, and I recommend you do, in three segments, one, two, three. In regard to the administration throwing "chaff" up to confuse the issues:

"There's a lot that they're doing that is not designed to convey factual information."

On how the president's men might worry about their own fates:

"When it comes to Secretary of State Pompeo and Attorney General Barr, they are people who do not have the kind of immunity from prosecution that the president does. We have put an attorney general in prison in the past in this country, for participating in presidential schemes for which the president himself was not going to be put in prison."

My readers won't be surprised to hear her say that "there's another whistle-blower," having to do with Trump's tax returns. On why she doesn't pay much attention to what Trump says:

"I do think that there is something new about this president. All presidents have told a lie here or there, all presidents hate the press, all presidents try to spin you, that's always happened, but with this president, he very rarely says anything that is an accurate, factual conveyence of information. And so, you can't ever responsibly play his statements without, you know, putting an asterisk on them, explaining it, and rebutting him, and that's just exhausting. I'd rather talk about the news than talking about him."

In the final segment, about her new book about the oil and gas industry, she reminds us that

"Russia helped Trump get elected right after they did a half trillion dollar oil deal with Rex Tillerson, and then Rex Tillerson became the person in charge of US foreign policy, under Donald Trump, who Russia just helped install in power. And that itself is frickin' weird."

Described more fully, I'm sure, in Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth, hot off the press, the paradox of "the resource curse":

"In countries where you have a bunch of natural resources that are going to get extracted and sold internationally, even though that produces a whole bunch of revenue, it tends to go to the elites and the government, who then have as their life mission staying in power so they can keep getting those revenues for themselves, and it means that governments in counties like that stop serving the all the other needs of their people. You get a lot of oil money and then all of a sudden your infant mortality rate goes up and you get poorer as a country."

(Lisa Margonelli covered that curse graphically in her 2007 book, Oil on the Brain: Petroleum’s Long, Strange Trip to Your Tank, which I talked about back in April. Perhaps you've heard of Venezuela, Iran, Nigeria, Chad?)

Suspicious minds are talking Permalink to this item

Aaron Blake: Why the White House’s rough transcript of the Ukraine call is suspicious. First of all, because it's from this White House. Second of all, and right from the get-go, people saw that the dialogue in the memorandum didn't add up to 30 minutes. (As in, the ghost of Rose Mary Woods, noted here, Sept. 26.) Third of all, look who's talking.

"So the political storm, I've lived with it, from the day I got elected. I've done more and this administration has done more than any administration in the history of this country in the first two and a half years... I'm used to it."

That "more than any" line killed at the United Nations. For a man more ignorant of history than any previous president has been, it's funny for so many reasons.

"For me, it's like putting on a suit in the morning. People have said to me, 'how does he handle it?'"

Can you imagine someone saying to Donald, about Donald, "How does he handle it?" It's hard to imagine.

"Rush Limbaugh said, "I don't know of any man in America that could handle it. Sean Hannity said the same thing, others have said the same thing. 'I don't know any man in America...' Because it's all a fraud."

Never mind the quality of those two character witnesses, I focus on how his recitation inevitably contains the nuggets of self-indictment. "Because it's all a fraud." Note how intelligible his speech pattern is when he's leaning into the "I am a winner, everyone else is a loser" trope. None of the half-crazed word salad here. Listen to the emphasis and power behind the word "fraud."

"And, because of that, and because I know that I'm right, and because I'm doing a great job for the American people, I'm very, very happy living the way I'm living.

"I thought I wwould finish off the first term without the threat of people making false claims, but this one turned out to be incredible. All because they didn't know that I had a transcript, done by very, very talented people, word for word, comma for comma, done by people that do it for a living, we had an exact transcript and when we produced that transcript, they died. Because you look at the whistle-blower statement, and it's vicious. Vicious."

He says vicious like it's his favorite hate-word, the wall-to-wall carpeting between his ears.

"And that whistle-blower... there's no question in my mind that some bad things have gone on and I think we'll get to the bottom of it. I think it's going to be a total reversal."

Ten bucks to a donut there's nothing in the actually complete transcript that would exonerate Trump, because if there had been, it would have been released already. Pocheato's Razor. I use ellipsis to represent verbal pauses (three places above; did you notice?), as well as to show something elided. It might be confusing, or even misleading, but I don't have any reason to be confusing or misleading, so give me the benefit of the doubt. Whereas, Donald Trump has abused every benefit of the doubt any one has had the misfortune to extend to him. Blake:

"There are four ellipses in the document, and all come at some of the most problematic junctures of the conversation."

Crazy for you Permalink to this item

Yet another smocking gun falls out of the White House ceiling, as former US Special Envoy to Ukraine provides a closed-door deposition to House committees, there's this precious gem scrolling through the news feed just now: the top US diplomat to Ukraine at the time wrote to other American diplomats that "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

My favorite part is when Gordon Sondland, the United States Ambassador to the European Union, pushes back to insist it was "crystal clear [there was] no quid pro quo of any kind." Ambassador to the EU, that should be a trustworthy position, right? What else do we know about Sondland? He used to be a hotelier and (I'm guessing he still is a) "Republican megadonor, contributed over $1 million to the president's inaugural committee before eventually being nominated and confirmed" for that nice job he now has. Totally reliable.

Susan Hennessey, Executive Editor of Lawfare, a Brookings Senior Fellow, CNN National Security and Legal Analyst, and a former intelligence community attorney, has a wonderfully direct antitode to the "bothsidesism" coming from the defenders of Trump crime family corruption. Her twitter thread starts here, and you can read the thread unrolled, here.

"All presidents and vice presidents and cabinet members have family and friends whose jobs might be impacted by policy. That's why we ask them to observe transparent ethics processes and norms. That is what Biden did. That is what Trump doesn't do."

Trump did not divest from personal business holdings, did not disclose his tax and financial records, did not refrain from hiring family members. He ordered his chief of staff to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year, overruling concerns flagged by intelligence officials and the White House's top lawyer.

And on and on and on.

Meauring the fog of disinformation Permalink to this item

From the Ipsos/USA Today poll (next item), (my) visualization of the effectiveness of the Trump campaign to distract from his "PERFECT" abuse of power. Stacked bars are "Strongly agree," "somewhat agree" on left, "somewhat disagree" and "strongly disagree" on right, with the "neither agree nor disagree" and "don't know" lumped together in the middle.

My datagraphic of Ipsos/USA Today poll data

The pollsters were drawn into the fake news and false equivalence by Trump relentlessly banging his campaign drum, lumping Vice President Biden and his son Hunter together in the second item shown. (ICYMI: credible fact checkers gave Trump's lies about Biden three Pinocchios back in May, when Trump was whipping up his campaign rally crowds with them, and while his idea to extort the Ukraine goverment was taking shape in his mind. Biden's case has grown stronger with time, while Trump is on the verge of being impeached.)

The "children of senior American officials" question that followed these two has been well-poisoned by the genuinely egregious public misbehavior of the Trump clan, so why wouldn't POUTS leverage the family brand into projected suspicion? Hunter Biden is apparently less than wholly on the level, and it's a tiny, tiny step from that to "stone-cold crooked," a subject on which our president* and his children, his son-in-law, his former campaign managers, his fixers, and his lawyers are very, very well-versed.

The good news is, there is one question with broad, bipartisan agreement. Apart from a solid third who couldn't take a stand (or "don't know"), Self-described "independents" were four-to-one against nepotism, and partisans well over six-to-one against. Barely one in ten expressed disagreement with the principle that children of senior American officials should be prohibited from benefiting from their family relationships.

My datagraphic of Ipsos/USA Today poll data

The tipping point Permalink to this item

Headline for the latest Ipsos/USA Today poll: Nearly Half of Americans Support Trump Impeachment. Given what follows, that seems curiously understated. Yes, they found that 45% of Americans believe the House should vote to impeach Trump (versus 38% who do not), but this:


Plus or minus something or other (you can read the "About the Study" there at the end, or download the press release with full results), "a credibility interval adjusted for design effect" of ±5.0%, and wider for the subgroups. There is of course an enormous partisan divide (Democrats are more than 5-to-1 for impeaching, and conviction; Republicans not quite 4-to-1 against).

And public opinion is not immune to the onslaught of disinformation and gaslighting emanating from the White House. The agree-o-meter for "There are valid reasons to look into Hunter and Joe Biden's behavior in Ukraine" has been bent slightly past neutral by the fake news machine.

But while we're talking about whether children of senior American officials should be prohibited from benefiting from their family relationships, hmm? Republicans' net agreement (61 to 9%) is nearly as strong as Democrats' (65 to 9%). There ought to be a law then, oughtn't there?

The poll also asked some questions to gauge respondents' familiarity with, and factual knowledge about the subject. (It includes the trick question, how familiar are you with the transcript of the conversation between Trump and Zelensky? "Heard of it, know little" because, you know, we've seen the memorandum covering part of the conversation.) Here are resources to boost your knowledge:

News about something else Permalink to this item

Checked my blogroll's ancient list of newspapers around the world, expecting to find Finland there, but no! So let's leave yesterday's presidential meltdown to the catchy phrase I saw on Twitter this morning, Circus Trump, and have a look at... Spiegel Online, in English. Headlines feature One Hundred Days of Protest in Hong Kong; the Greta Thunberg story that's fallen off our front pages, The Climate Activist vs. World Leaders; One Year After Khashoggi Murder, Hatice Cengiz's Fight for Justice; Health Problems Mount in Turkish Industrial Zone; Can Boris Johnson Secure a Last-Minute Brexit Deal?; a story about the Prime Minister I never heard of and A Socialist Success Story in Portugal; and the disaster awaiting Zambia: "The Most Horrible Drought in Memory."

Next to last on the front page, a link to a Der Spiegel editorial, under Thank You, Nancy!, Why Congress is Right to Push for Impeachment. And then, no pun intended? Under Scorched Earth, Cities Seek to Protect Themselves from Climate Change.

That piece starts along a tributary to the Tigris, the Great Zab, the cradle of human civilizations, inspiration for the story of the Garden of Eden, and once upon a time the actual Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

"Today, Saleh sees only a drought-stricken landscape, burned brown by the sun. A dust devil spins soil into the air as the farmer looks on. ...

"In Brazil, the Amazon rain forest is burning as landowners incinerate huge expanses for agriculture. They have been helped by the fact that the dry season came much earlier this year, making the forest more flammable. In the Indian region of Rajasthan, in Basra, Iraq, and in Dubai, temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) were measured, a threshold being reached in more and more places -- and above which human life becomes impossible."

And in the story about Thunberg:

"The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's SR 1.5 report] report is a devastating read. And what it actually says is this: People, it's too late. The measures that would have to be taken to stop climate change are more extreme than we are prepared to handle."

What's left to us is to figure out how we'll mitigate catastrophe.

2.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

We're all in this together Permalink to this item

If you're Mike Pence's lawyer this lede from Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Ashley Parker in the Washington Post should make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

"President Trump repeatedly involved Vice President Pence in efforts to exert pressure on the leader of Ukraine at a time when the president was using other channels to solicit information that he hoped would be damaging to a Democratic rival, current and former U.S. officials said."

Officials also said that "one of Pence’s top advisers was on the July 25 call and the vice president should have had access to the transcript within hours," which means he should have known what the hell was going on, but he's saying What? What happened?!

Then he had a plane ride from DC to Warsaw, going to meet with Zelensky, and might have, I don't know, done some preparation? "It’s also not clear whether Pence failed to read the White House account of the call in his briefing book or read it and found it unremarkable." And... a Pence aide "disputed the notion that the vice president was poorly prepared for his meeting," as if he could have it every which way. Seems unlikely.

Update: Jonathan Chait's piece for NY Mag shortened it up to a headline. Pence: I Participated in the Ukraine Plot But Only As a Patsy.

Are you talking to me? Permalink to this item

Getty Images, via Esquire

Today's big news is The Meltdown in the East Room. Esquire has a photo gallery, with this caption:

"The President of the United States had an extended meltdown throughout his summit with the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö, on Wednesday. He ranted and raved in the Oval Office. He yelled and menaced reporters at a press conference. At seemingly no point did he complete a sentence—fragments only. It was another in a long line of national embarrassments for our fine country, but it was also a bona fide event for photography. The watching press pool captured our fearless leader in all his wild gesticulations and frenzied mouth movements, and even caught a couple glimpses of poor Mr. Niinistö revealing how he really felt. Behold, some of the very best photos of this world-historical encounter."

On the lighter side, @PopeHat (aka Ken White) drops in on Josh Barro's podcast, ALL THE PRESIDENT'S LAWYERS, the Hearsay edition.

Everything but the shoes Permalink to this item

The Oct. 1, 2019 episode of Frontline is chilling. On the anniversary of the bloody murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a team of 15 henchman, a stark look at The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. Incredibly detailed and courageous reporting by Martin Smith, and the Frontline team.

Going from that to late night jokes about our own D.C. clown show was a bit of a whipsaw. I guess we can be grateful that Trump is (mostly) incompetently transparent, even if the sabotage to our federal government proceeds day by day, while we are distracted by the Tweeter in Chief. The weakness and depravity and conspiratorial obsessions of our leader reflects on the entire country, however. Like it or not, we are made complicit.

Soon after the murder last year, when official Saudi sources' attempt to deny everything were falling apart, we saw the video of the body double, brought into the consulate, and then leaving in Khashoggi's clothes. Except for the shoes. Those didn't fit.

"Then, Turkish intelligence revealed they had audio tapes."

The details—"even though it's just an audio recording"—were gruesome; too gruesome to share with the public. The Turkish media identified all fifteen of the perpetrators.

Our Secretary of State traveled to Riyadh for some tête à tête. So did "senior advisor" and family member who couldn't get a top security clearance without a father-in-law waiver, Jared Kushner.

"Of course it's a rogue operation," the unctuous Adel Al-Jubeir, Ministry of State for Foreign Affairs told Smith face-to-face. That's what he's been told to say, and that's the story. Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Director of Saudi Intelligence from 1977-2001 (!), asked how he could know it was a "rogue operation," summarized the royal position simply:

"Because our leadership says it was a rogue operation, and our leadership has not lied to us before."

All those false denials and all that misdirection was from the rogues, and they're all going to be punished, we're told. By mid-November, it was reported in this country that our Central Intelligence Agency concluded that Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi's assassination. Pompeo denied it. "No direct reporting connecting the Crown Prince" to the murder, he said.

Which is not what the summary of the CIA report leaked to a Wall Street Journal reporter said. Pompeo flat-out lied. The president, of course, as he always does, flat-out lied. "There's nothing definitive," Trump said in one of his helicopter talks.

"We are with Saudia Arabia. We're staying with Saudia Arabia. Have a good time everybody. Thank you."

UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions Agnès Callamard reported this summer that “Mr. Khashoggi’s killing constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”

The details reported include the team planning how they would dismember the body to get it to fit in a car's trunk. And the "credible evidence pointing to the crime scenes having been thoroughly, even forensically, cleaned. These indicate that the Saudi investigation was not conducted in good faith, and that it may amount to obstructing justice."

That's quoted from the Executive Summary of the careful, 99-page document. Callamard also provided a more directly readable version that ran in the Washington Post opinion section on July 9: Saudi Arabia is making the world complicit in a miscarriage of justice.

"Khashoggi’s murder is not a Saudi domestic matter. He was a journalist and U.S. resident who was extrajudicially killed in Turkish territory. Saudi Arabia committed an unlawful extraterritorial act aimed at violating freedom of expression, threatened the sanctity of consular relations and interfered with the interests of the international community as a whole.

"It is extremely troubling that, thus far, there has been little effective international response — legal, political or diplomatic. ...

"Khashoggi’s murder is emblematic of a global trend of violence against journalists, human rights defenders and political activists. There are clear signs of increasingly aggressive tactics by states and nonstate actors to permanently silence their critics. The international community must take stock of this hostile environment. Silence, inaction or, worse, tacit or explicit complicity will only cause further injustice and global instability. The time to act is now."

1.Oct.2019 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Look what crawled out from under a rock Permalink to this item

Stephen Miller makes my blood boil. There are candidates for more privately vile members of the Trump administration (Bill Barr springs to mind), and Kellyanne Conway has a uniquely vile presence in front of a camera, but that pales in comparison to Miller.

Stephen Miller on Fox News Sunday, with Chris Wallace

Fortunately, I do not see a lot of his act, but in this Vox piece about intramural cable sports, there was 1:38 from Fox News Sunday, embedded in an Aaron Rupar tweet. Miller's job is to hammer the wholly fabricated Biden-corruption-in-Ukraine story, to deflect attention from Trump's recently exposed extortion/bribery attempt, withholding $391 million in taxpayer funds for Ukraine's defense, after the funds had been greenlighted by the Pentagon and the State Department, and appropriated by Congress, because I WOULD LIKE YOU TO DO US A FAVOR THOUGH first.

Jumping to the transcript first, for a little projectile vomiting of Miller's take on the whistleblower who has risked pretty much everything to report the president's criminal behavior. (Miller's storyline was—not making this up—that "that's no whistleblower, the president is the whistleblower.")

MILLER: First of all, if you read the seven-page, little Nancy Drew novel that the whistleblower put together, it drips with condescension, righteous indignation and contempt for the president. It's also ludicrous on its face. It describes an elaborate cover-up that also, by the way, the president discussed on Sean Hannity, April 25th.

The real magic though, is in the CROSSTALK. (My hearing varies slightly from the Fox News transcript, but you'll get the picture either way.) After Wallace detailed that the Pentagon had formally certified that Ukraine had made progress fighting corruption and that the aid should be released:

WALLACE: Why did the president, if the argument is corruption, why did the president go against his own Pentagon and his own State Department?

Miller was tasked by this direct line. "Chris," he said, deliberately, and as if Wallace's first name were a sentence by itself, both hands giving the "whoa" signal.

MILLER: I don't understand... how you can ask that question while at the same time admonishing the president for wanting to get to the bottom of perhaps one of the biggest corruption scandals concerning Ukraine in the last few years, which is Burisma...

WALLACE: I -- I'm not admonishing anybody, I'm simply asking, why did he go --

MILLER: [crosstalk] there is no -- Chris, Chris, Chris -- I you like a lot but there's a tone-- [crosstalk]

WALLACE: With all due respect, this is an exercise in obfuscation. Why did the president go against his own Pentagon and State Department?

Miller did not make any attempt to answer the question. His response was to demand "how you can ask that question." The answer is all too obvious, and it's why the impeachment inquiry has begun in earnest. And so... he attacked his questioner. In the crosstalk while Wallace is pressing the appropriate and relevant question, Miller starts comlaining that "there's a tone of judgment in all of your," and then repeats it in the clear:

MILLER: There's a tone of judgment in all of questions, so yes, you are admonishing. And I can't speak to every --

WALLACE: No, that's -- that's judgment on your part, sir.

MILLER: and I can't speak to every single, mid-level and low level bureaucrat in the U.S. government --

As if it were the mid- or low-level "bureaucrats" Miller sneers at that were the issue. At that point, Wallace gets distracted by the government-wide, gratuitous insult and the mission is accomplished. Miller knows the answer to Wallace's question (as do we all, at this point), but must not speak the answer aloud. The conversation is deflected to the Biden smokescreen, and the important question is lost in the gaslighting. And worse: Wallace proceeds to provide a platform for Miller to expand on the made-up corruption scandal and waste the rest of the airtime on that.

Chris Wallace has been working as a journalist for 10 more years than Stephen Miller has been alive. To be charitable, Wallace gave Miller a lot more respect than was due, or that Miller has earned in his sorry career to date.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007