Friday, May 19, 2017

No Wiretaps Necessary: Mouth Always Open

Comedy, Steve Allen once said (and more famously, Alan Alda's character in a Woody Allen movie) is Tragedy plus time.

But that was before the blizzard of all news all the time. Now the comedy is coterminous with the tragedy, and embedded in it.  (Could that be a definition of what used to be called "black humor" but isn't anymore because it's possibly a micro-aggression?)

Friday's news included two "bombshells" (in mediaese): A Washington Post story said that the FBI (now Special Counsel) investigation on Russia connections includes as a person of interest someone who is currently a highly placed White House advisor and close to Homemade Hitler.  I haven't seen speculation yet on who it might be, but Jared Kushner fills that description best, although Steve Bannon is another possibility. Kushner is already known to have met with Russians close to Putin.  Both are on the foreign trip now underway, which suggests they might run out of liquor on Air Force One.

The other big noise is summarized in the New York Times headline:Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation.
By Friday evening the other shoe dropped on that story: Nut Job Comey accepted a Senate committee invitation to testify in public session, something I thought was unlikely otherwise due to the ongoing federal investigation.

There's plenty more about our dictator apprentice, most of it self-inflicted, leading to this observation: the Daily Beast quotes a former FBI investigator: “On a big case like this, the ideal thing would be a wiretap on your number one subject,” Gomez added. “But in this case, you don’t need a wiretap. He just comes right out and says it.”

This article is also notable for extensive quotes from a current White House official who went off the record to go off on his boss.  He's one of the people left behind to answer the phones while our dictator apprentice and his likely co-conspirator are flying around on Air Force One, where his foreign hosts are telling reporters that their attitude is basically that the circus is coming to town.

A trip which inspired another gallows humor headline: Trump to Speak on Islam: What Could Go Wrong?

Maybe a better definition now would be: comedy is tragedy plus caffeine.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Good News for the Regime

Once their addled brains settle down, the White House regime should realize that today's surprise appointment of Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate the Russian connections may well the best thing to happen to them in weeks.

With the FBI investigation in question and Comey's reputation attacked, lots of people were talking pretty freely through the media about what they know.  That may well stop now.  FBI sources are likely to dry up, Comey won't say anything to Congress in public sessions, etc. and Mueller has a practice of not making public statements about ongoing investigations--which is what tripped Comey up in the first place, several times.

So the White House could experience something it hasn't in awhile: silence, or at least less noise on the Russia connection.  There may well be news stories because there are so many related investigations now, and reporters are dug in on it, but things are likely to get quieter.  For awhile.

Maybe a long while, because Mueller's brief as special counsel is extensive.  But what he's charged with investigating poses significant dangers for the regime.  According to the Atlantic's reporting on the appointment memo:

Mueller is authorized to take over the investigation that Comey confirmed to Congress in a March hearing. That includes “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and “any matters that arose or may arise from directly from the investigation.” It also gives Mueller authority to look into other crimes noted under a statute that establishes the special counsel, “such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses; and to conduct appeals arising out of the matter being investigated and/or prosecuted.”

If he believes it is necessary, Mueller “is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.”

Needless to say, matters affecting a White House incumbent are fraught, and speed would seem to be important.  And this isn't the only problem in the ongoing crisis that is this regime.  But it maybe won't be making so many relentless headlines for at least awhile.  This surprise appointment may have done the White House a favor.  But it may not be so good for the rest of us, if this matter drags on in relative silence.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017


click image to see complete version
Congratulations to Maximiliano Gambin of nearby Arcata High School for this digital art piece that just won the 2017 national Congressional Art Competition.

Says a press release from our Member of Congress Jared Huffman:

Max is a participant of the high school’s Arcata Arts Institute, an innovative pre-professional program for students dedicated to the arts. From the ninety entries received, Max’s artwork was selected among the county finalists by a panel of independent judges.

Bluff Called

Today's White House scandal is profound: the New York Times revealed that former FBI Director James Comey recorded in a memo made directly after a White House meeting and circulated among staff that our dictator apprentice suggested Comey drop the FBI investigation into the then recently fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

As Politico put it: "But the accusation, which suggests Trump tried to interfere in a federal investigation into one of his top associates, represents one of the most serious allegations against Trump to date."  

The White House denied it.  But here's the thing: our dictator apprentice tried to intimidate Comey last week by suggesting there are tapes of White House conversations that could discredit whatever he said.  Although Comey himself hasn't said anything publicly since, and even declined to testify before a congressional committee, it's very unlikely that his former FBI associates are talking to reporters--and reading them memos on the phone--without Comey's knowledge.

In other words, Comey and his associates are calling the incumbent's bluff (as was suggested they would.)  And in doing so, produced what could be only the first revelation of a high crime.

Meanwhile, CNN provides a very useful brief summary of what's known about the now notorious White House meeting with the Russians, including their ambassador known as a spy, the secrets revealed and the fallout today.

Update: And an end of the day Politico story on the self-described worst day (yet) of the White House regime, and another on the day that may have broken away congressional Rs.  We seem to have moved from cartoon to grand opera.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Another Russia Connection?

Another day, another bombshell involving our dictator apprentice and Russia.  The Washington Post: "President Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, according to current and former U.S. officials, who said Trump’s disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State."

“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies.”

The Washington Post broke the story but the New York Times verified it independently in this way: "President Trump boasted about highly classified intelligence in a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador last week, providing details that could expose the source of the information and the manner in which it was collected, a current and a former American government official said Monday."

Many other media outlets repeated the story, either not believing White House denials (since the regime lies so often) or seeing through more credible non-denial denials that dispute what the story did not assert.

How did these officials know, if they weren't necessarily in the room?  The Times story notes: "It was only after the meeting, when notes on the discussion were circulated among National Security Council officials, that it was flagged as too sensitive to be shared, even among many American officials, the former official said."

As these stories indicate, it's not an actual crime for our dictator apprentice to instantly de-classify something, but it compromises both the allied government that provided the information and their sources within the Islamic State.  And as another story says bluntly, it may get people killed.

And of course, he gave it to Russia--to a couple of Russian officials already implicated in the whole Russia Connection series of investigations.  He gave it in a meeting in which American media was kept out completely but Russian media got in to snap the pictures--of the incumbent grinning and shaking hands with the Russians, after he conspicuously refused to shake hands with the prime minister of Germany, officially a close ally.

If you're looking for a mega-conspiracy, try this one: a near-certain outcome of this violation of intelligence-sharing among nations is that fewer nations will share what they know about, for instance, terrorist plots underway.  Such intelligence led to the US foiling an unknown number of plots on America during the Obama administration, for instance.  So this makes a successful terrorist plot more likely. And what is the one thing that is all but guaranteed to galvanize the country behind the perhaps no longer-apprentice dictator?

Anyway, this story is just beginning to create a firestorm in Washington, though these things do tend to burn themselves out pretty quickly in the news cycle.  Repercussions currently rumbling through the intelligence agencies and military, as well as within allied governments and maybe even (who knows?) the US Congress, can only be imagined.  But they are likely to be longer lived.

Yet once again the actual political impact will depend on public reaction, particularly from Republican voters.  Today I came across another story that may help explain why the spectre of a US leader cozying up to and perhaps colluding with America's most persistent adversary for the past 70 years--the dreaded enemy and pervasive bogeyman of the Cold War--has not yet impressed Rs very much, let alone revolted them.

In what would seem to be a completely unrelated story, several news outlets including People reported:  "Torch-wielding protesters, including a prominent white nationalist, rallied around a statue of Confederacy leader Robert E. Lee slated for removal and chanted racist slogans in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday night."

As reported by People, the Washington Post and others, those slogans included the Nazi slogan "Blood and soil" and--strikingly--"Russia is our friend."

The controversy is ostensibly over the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.  The Mayor of Charlottesville condemned this brief but vivid protest, noted the KKK implication of the torches as meant to intimidate black citizens, and said "such intolerance is not welcome here."  To prove his point, an even larger counter-demonstration was held the next night.

But why "Russia is our friend?"  Another story, in the Intercept, suggests this:"The pro-Russia chanting reflects the high regard many American white supremacists have for blond, blue-eyed Slavs."

Multiple intelligence agencies in the US and in other countries agree that the Russian government attempted to interfere and did interfere in the 2016 US elections, against Hillary Clinton and in favor of the electoral victor.  The connections and perhaps cooperation and collusion between Russia and R campaign officials are being investigated, though no one knows how thoroughly or for how long.  But when all is said and done, it seems likely that the connection began with business deals, likely in violation of a number of US laws.

So the origins of the connections on this level are likely to be financial and political opportunism.  But beyond a general identification with the incumbent, could his support, particularly his repeated embracing of Putin and Russia from the campaign forward, be resonating on another level with a substantial number of his voters?

Although there is clearly at least one white supremacist working in this White House, declared white supremacists may be a small part of the Republican party leadership.  Many Republican voters would likely dislike the designation.  Yet it seems that various versions of white supremacy loom large in the Republican shadow--that dark and powerful area in the unconscious.  Denying it to themselves, and of course denying the unconscious itself, simply adds to its power.
At this point, this particular Russian connection is a hypothesis suggested by this one event.  But if it is true, our dictator apprentice's praise for Russia could be yet another dog whistle heard within the twisted and ultimately racist subcultures that together have become the Republican Party, officially running the US government.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Happy Mothers Day

A Happy Mothers Day to my family's new moms, nieces Sarah and Megan; their mother and new grandmother, sister Debbie; sister Kathy and niece Chris; my partner Margaret and her daughter Amanda, celebrating together in Menlo Park.