Excellent Read: “Inside Trump’s anger and impatience — and his sudden decision to fire Comey”

Kudos to the Washington Post, which of course has been down these twisty little paths before:

Every time FBI Director James B. Comey appeared in public, an ever-watchful President Trump grew increasingly agitated that the topic was the one that he was most desperate to avoid: Russia.

Trump had long questioned Comey’s loyalty and judgment, and was infuriated by what he viewed as the director’s lack of action in recent weeks on leaks from within the federal government. By last weekend, he had made up his mind: Comey had to go.

At his golf course in Bedminster, N.J., Trump groused over Comey’s latest congressional testimony, which he thought was “strange,” and grew impatient with what he viewed as his sanctimony, according to White House officials. Comey, Trump figured, was using the Russia probe to become a martyr.

Back at work Monday morning in Washington, Trump told Vice President Pence and several senior aides — Reince Priebus, Stephen K. Bannon and Donald McGahn, among others — that he was ready to move on Comey. First, though, he wanted to talk with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his trusted confidant, and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, to whom Comey reported directly. Trump summoned the two of them to the White House for a meeting, according to a person close to the White House.

The president already had decided to fire Comey, according to this person. But in the meeting, several White House officials said Trump gave Sessions and Rosenstein a directive: to explain in writing the case against Comey.

The pair quickly fulfilled the boss’s orders, and the next day Trump fired Comey — a breathtaking move that thrust a White House already accustomed to chaos into a new level of tumult, one that has legal as well as political consequences…

The known actions that led to Comey’s dismissal raise as many questions as answers. Why was Sessions involved in discussions about the fate of the man leading the FBI’s Russia investigation, after having recused himself from the probe because he had falsely denied under oath his own past communications with the Russian ambassador?
 
Why had Trump discussed the Russia probe with the FBI director three times, as he claimed in his letter dismissing Comey, which could have been a violation of Justice Department policies that ongoing investigations generally are not to be discussed with White House officials?

And how much was the timing of Trump’s decision shaped by events spiraling out of his control — such as Monday’s testimony about Russian interference by former acting attorney general Sally Yates, or the fact that Comey last week requested more resources from the Justice Department to expand the FBI’s Russia probe?…

Dating to the campaign, several men personally close to Trump deeply distrusted Comey and helped feed the candidate-turned-president’s suspicions of the FBI director, who declined to recommend charges against Clinton for what they all agreed was a criminal offense, according to several people familiar with the dynamic.

The men influencing Trump include Roger J. Stone, a self-proclaimed dirty trickster and longtime Trump confidant who himself has been linked to the FBI’s Russia investigation; former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a Comey critic who has been known to kibbitz about the ousted FBI director with like-minded law enforcement figures; and Keith Schiller, a former New York police officer who functioned as Trump’s chief bodyguard and works in the West Wing as director of Oval Office operations…

Well worth clicking over to read the whole thing; there’s video, graphics, surprise twists, ham-handed henchmen, and a capper with Sean Spicer trying to hide in the bushes.



Musical Interlude Open Thread: Growing Their Own Instrument

From the NYTimes, what the club-winged manakin does for love, or at least sex:

In a mossy forest in the western Andes of Ecuador, a small, cocoa-brown bird with a red crown sings from a slim perch. Bip-Bip-WANNGG! It sounds like feedback from an elfin electric guitar. Three rival birds call back in rapid response. These male club-winged manakins are showing off to attract female mates.

Their strange songs are associated with an even stranger movement. Instead of opening their beaks, they flick their wings open at their sides to make the Bips, and then snap their wings up over their backs to produce the extraordinary WANNGG. They are singing with their wings, and their potential mates seem to find the sound very alluring…

To make those songs, the male club-wing needs unusual wing feathers. Those closest to his body are thickened and twisted, giving the species its name. Two are also twisted into knobs, like the handles of tiny shillelaghs, while the adjacent feather ends in a bent, sharp blade.

It took 145 years after the first description of these feathers to discover how they make their sounds. In 2005, high-speed video of singing males captured by the biologist Kimberly Bostwick in the Ecuadorean forest revealed that the male’s wing feathers oscillate over the bird’s back. With each oscillation, the blade-shaped feather rubs against the feather next to it, as if bowing a violin, causing the thickened feathers to resonate. This mechanism, called stridulation, is also used by crickets, katydids and cicadas. These birds could appropriately be called cricket-winged manakins.

But manakin beauty is not only skin deep. In subsequent research, Dr. Bostwick and colleagues demonstrated that the birds’ songs involve more than just unusual feathers and movements. They require evolutionary changes in the shape of their bones…

Video & sound recording at the link. (Sounds more like a flute than an electric guitar to me, but I’m not musically sophisticated.)

Make your own jokes about musicians reducing their economic chances in favor of more attention from potential sexual partners…



Saturday Morning Open Thread: Sporting

The President-Asterisk’s Yuuuge Win was as hard on satirists as the rest of us sane people, but Owen Ellickson has found inspiration at his new gig. Believe me, it’s worth clicking over to read the rest!

(I’ve been collecting stories & snippets about Gorka’s tribulations all week, but is it really worth the bother of bricolaging them into a post here?)

Happy Kentucky Derby Day, from the NYTimes:

Today, even as the sports section real estate set aside for horse racing shrinks each year, the Derby still captures the attention of casual sports fans. To the rare few of us who consider the sport of kings to be the king of sports, it’s a hallowed date even if we have only an inkling of which horse is the best bet to win.

I, for one, have no idea. That is both a statement of fact and a comment on my typically desultory talent at handicapping the Derby, which even for the savviest horse-pickers is a feat astronomically more complicated than the already difficult skill of picking a winner in, say, a middle-of-the-week feature at your local racetrack. The Derby is the only race in America with 20 entries (most races have only seven or eight competitors), and the X-factor of such a large number of colts competing at the unusual distance of a mile and a quarter for the first (and often only) time in their young lives can tax the confidence of even the most cocksure handicapper.

This year is especially tricky. Unlike in most previous years, none of the starters established himself this spring as the horse to beat. There are an inordinately high number of genuine contenders in the field, mostly because none of the horses towers over his cohort in natural ability. Add in the prospect of heavy rain all week in Louisville, where the race is held, and so the likelihood of a muddy racing surface, and today’s Derby is a tricky race for the bettor and racing fan to get a bead on, much less to beat…

And finally, good news / bad news for Game of Thrones fans, from the Washington Post:

There’s big news for “Game of Thrones” fans. HBO has hired four writers to develop spinoffs of the show, which wraps next year. That doesn’t necessarily mean all will make it to the screen. But there will almost undoubtedly be more sinister scheming in Westeros and Essos in our future.

Showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have long said they won’t stick around for any sequels or prequels. But Entertainment Weekly reported Thursday that the pair will indeed be involved to a lesser extent than they have on whatever series comes out of this, as executive producers. And they’re not the only ones returning. George R.R. Martin, who wrote the series “Game of Thrones” is based on, will be fairly hands on. He’s helping develop two of the four spin-off ideas, collaborating with Jane Goldman (“Kick-Ass,” “Kingsman”) and Carly Wray (“Mad Men,” “The Bastard Executioner”).

This is good news — in a way. Of course we want the man who invented such a vivid world to help create any extensions of that universe. But there’s a downside, too: Is Martin ever going to get around to finishing his “Game of Thrones” books, which fans have been eagerly awaiting for years? It’s not looking good…

You can hardly blame the poor man — it’s gotta be more fun to be lionized by fans at glamorous venues than to sequester himself to further torture his unwieldy crew of hapless characters. It seems to me that Game of Thrones has reached the sort of stature “classical in their way” genre creations like Sherlock Holmes or Star Trek achieve; with or without their creator, the GoT universe will go on, handled well or badly by a myriad of volunteers…
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Apart from entertainment, what’s on the agenda for the weekend?



HRClinton — Can’t Win for Losing

Dan Drezner, in the Washington Post:

[W]henever this topic comes up, I feel like gouging my eyes out with a dull spoon there’s a key point that always goes unacknowledged: from the outset of the general election campaign, Clinton faced a more difficult challenge than is commonly understood.

As I pointed out last year and as the April 2017 issue of PS: Political Science & Politics notes, the fundamentals of the 2016 campaign had the race as pretty close to a toss-up. Economic growth in the first half of 2016 was pretty weak. The incumbent party was trying to win a third consecutive presidential campaign. Both of these facts meant that, despite Obama’s personal popularity, the fundamentals of the campaign were far from a Democratic cake-walk…

To be fair, the tightness of the fundamental race heightens the magnitude of each mistake made by Clinton and her campaign. But I think the general election polling numbers mistakenly gave the impression that Clinton’s victory was inexorable when the reality was more murky. Despite Obama’s personal popularity, the simple fact is that the same party has won three consecutive presidential elections only once since 1952. In 2000, Al Gore was running on a stronger economy and still barely eked out a victory in the popular vote. Clinton faced a more difficult path…



Late Night Mockery Open Thread: Faux-Fyre Festival

Seems like nobody can resist the chance to mock a bunch of mostly-young Rich Snowflakes suffering — for once — some penalties for being over-privileged and under-smart…

Fyre Festival was supposed to be an elite and luxurious musical festival. Hosted on a private island in the Bahamas — which was once owned by Pablo Escobar — tickets ranged into the thousands, and the promo videos for the event, which was co-organized by Ja Rule, featured Bella Hadid and other professionally hot people frolicking on sandy beaches and diving into pristine waters. Except, when the people who actually ponied up those dollars showed up to the event this week, Fyre did not deliver. The site was unfinished, headliner Blink-182 had canceled, and the luxurious villas festivalgoers were promised turned out to be nothing more than disaster-relief shelters…

NYMag also had the single best summary of why things went so wrong…

In early March, a friend of mine texted me to ask if I wanted to be a talent producer for the Fyre Festival. I’d never heard of it, but the gig involved going to the Bahamas and being paid extremely well. So I said yes and packed my bags. The festival was supposed to be a luxury music retreat where elite millennials could mingle with “influencers” and models. Tickets cost between $1K and $125K, gourmet food and accommodations were promised. I was planning to spend the next two months working on the festival, but a mere four days after I arrived I was back on a plane to New York…

On March 14, I flew from Miami to the island of Great Exuma to get the planning started. I was excited, at least at first. Flying in, the water looked beautiful — but I was almost immediately warned not to go near it because of a rampant shark problem. That was an omen I regrettably missed…

My job as a talent producer was to coordinate travel and on-site logistics with the artists who would be performing: Blink 182, Major Lazer, Disclosure, among others, had already signed on. I would be working with an 11-person team and a few of the festival executives. The production team was all new hires and, before we arrived, we were led to believe things had been in motion for a while. But nothing had been done. Festival vendors weren’t in place, no stage had been rented, transportation had not been arranged. Frankly, we were standing on an empty gravel pit and no one had any idea how we were going to build a festival village from scratch.

Pending disaster aside, I started working from an island rental house. I contacted the booked artists’ tour managers to start to coordinate. Almost all of them had the same question for me, which was along the lines of, “Hey … Where’s our money??” I tried to email the business manager to get an answer, who said something like “stand by” for three days in a row. By the end of the week it became clear they would not pay the people they owed…

Didn’t take the media long to track down the bro responsible. Per the Washington Post:

Long before he was forced to apologize for his now notorious Fyre Festival, entrepreneur Billy McFarland founded another company in 2013 called Magnises that made some familiar-sounding promises targeting status-seeking millennials.

For an annual membership fee of about $250, Magnises members could “unlock their cities and take their lives to the next level.” They were assured exclusive tickets to “private members-only concerts, tastings with notable chefs, and exclusive art previews at top galleries,” as well as access to hard-to-book Broadway shows (including “Hamilton”) and events such as New York Fashion Week.

But some of those benefits never materialized or were far from what was advertised, according to a report earlier this year by Business Insider

… McFarland… despite describing Friday as “definitely the toughest day of my life,” was already vowing to forge ahead and hold the event in the future. Perhaps it was his history of moving on from failure. (In 2011, McFarland co-founded a social networking site called Spling, which attracted $400,000 in funding but now appears defunct.) Or his habit of overpromising.

What was clear was that, at least in McFarland’s mind, the Fyre Festival was not dead…

So the Trump Administration has not yet cornered the market in ‘Eminently Punchable Faces’…



Interesting Read: “The calculus behind Jason Chaffetz’s sudden decision to walk away”

Two reporters from the Deseret News craft an amazing example of what I suppose must be “Mormon nice”, turning never-less-than-postive words and carefully-buffed stories into a portrait of a vicious little self-promoter attempting to slide out of the unexpected spotlight exposing every wart of Grifter King Trump’s nasty court…

Something had flipped after the election, Chaffetz had noticed, an ugly impulse unfurling across America. He had seen anger directed at him before, but nothing like this. He’d been getting death threats, on his voicemail and in his inbox, and in the ensuing weeks it would only get worse.

He had become a target, the face of Republican fecklessness. At his D.C. office, his young staffers fielded calls from all over the country, hundreds a day, demanding he investigate Trump. As chairman of the House Oversight Committee and Government Reform Committee, Chaffetz had risen to national prominence for his aggressive inquiries into missteps by the Obama administration, making him a hero to the “Fox and Friends” crowd.

He’d hammered the Secret Service, demanded documents on the Fast and Furious gun running scandal, and most notably, grilled Hillary Clinton for hours on the deaths of four Americans at a compound in Benghazi, Libya. So why wasn’t he investigating Donald Trump? People asked him this wherever he went, at the airport, at Five Guys when he was standing in line for a burger. Tonight they wanted answers.

He stepped out from behind the curtain.

The crowd erupted in deafening boos, rising to their feet. Chaffetz smiled. He’d seen worse. As a placekicker at BYU in the mid-1980s he’d played before hostile football crowds with Ty Detmer and Jason Buck. “You think this is bad,” he thought to himself. “You’ve never been to Laramie, Wyoming.”

Besides, plainclothes police officers were standing behind the curtain, and others were scattered throughout the crowd. No one here could rattle him, not really. And even if they did, he wouldn’t let them see it. He would keep smiling, no matter what he felt inside.

Clips of the town hall were starting to go viral. For the part of the electorate who felt the Trump administration was a threat to the republic, this was a moment, #Resistance. Here was one of the few people who could bring Trump to heel, who could subpoena his tax records, force him to testify under oath, really anything he wanted, and his constituents were demanding he do it.

“Do your job! Do your job!” they chanted. Chaffetz smiled through his teeth, pleading for the crowd to calm down, but no one was listening.

In the ensuing weeks, Chaffetz insisted the protesters didn’t bother him, but those closest to him began to worry if all the unhinged Facebook posts and death threats were taking a toll. Trey Gowdy, the Republican congressman from South Carolina who Chaffetz considers his best friend, openly wondered if Chaffetz’s ever-ready smile was masking pain.

“Some of the stuff left on his voicemail,” Gowdy said, pausing. “He plays it for me and I’m trying to evaluate, do you take it seriously? What do you do about it?”…
Read more



Friday Morning Open Thread: March for Science

Question from commentor MarcoPolo:

Have my lab coat & will be at the St Louis march w/ friends. Hoping the weather winds up being more cooperative than is currently forecast (rain & about 50). 50/50 on whether I wind up down @ Howards afterwards to witness the actual physical existence of fellow BJers.

More importantly will folks post their bestest/favoritest Science March sign ideas? I really haven’t seen all that many good ones.

Nice piece from the Washington Post’s science reporters:

The March for Science is not a partisan event. But it’s political. That’s the recurring message of the organizers, who insist that this is a line the scientific community and its supporters will be able to walk. It may prove too delicate a distinction, though, when people show up in droves on Saturday with their signs and their passions.

“We’ve been asked not to make personal attacks or partisan attacks,” said honorary national co-chair Lydia Villa-Komaroff, in a teleconference this week with reporters. But Villa-Komaroff, who will be among those given two-minute speaking slots, quickly added: “This is a group of people who don’t take well being told what to do.”

The Science March, held on Earth Day, is expected to draw tens of thousands of people to the Mall, and satellite marches have been planned in more than 400 cities on six continents…

Rush Holt, head of AAAS, said there was initial hesitation about whether this was the kind of event a scientist ought to be joining but that members of his association overwhelmingly support the decision to participate.

This is not simply a reaction to President Trump’s election, Holt said. Scientists have been worried for years that “evidence has been crowded out by ideology and opinion in public debate and policymaking.” Long before Trump’s election, people in the scientific and academic community raised concerns about the erosion of the value of expertise and the rise of pseudoscientific and anti-scientific notions. Science also found itself swept up into cultural and political battles; views on climate science, for example, increasingly reflect political ideology…

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Apart from protest planning, what’s on the agenda as we wrap up another week?