Late Night Open Thread: Impotent Outrage All Over the Trump Compound

DougJ linked to this Washington Post article, but it’s too schadenfreudelicious not to share more:

Trump enters week seven of his presidency the same as the six before it: enmeshed in controversy while struggling to make good on his campaign promises. At a time when White House staffers had sought to ride the momentum from Trump’s speech to Congress and begin advancing its agenda on Capitol Hill, the administration finds itself beset yet again by disorder and suspicion.

At the center of the turmoil is an impatient president increasingly frustrated by his administration’s inability to erase the impression that his campaign was engaged with Russia, to stem leaks about both national security matters and internal discord and to implement any signature achievements…

Gnawing at Trump, according to one of his advisers, is the comparison between his early track record and that of Obama in 2009, when amid the Great Recession he enacted an economic stimulus bill and other big-ticket items…

Trump, meanwhile, has been feeling besieged, believing that his presidency is being tormented in ways known and unknown by a group of Obama-aligned critics, federal bureaucrats and intelligence figures — not to mention the media, which he has called “the enemy of the American people.”…

Trump was brighter Sunday morning as he read several newspapers, pleased that his allegations against Obama were the dominant story, the official said.

But he found reason to be mad again: Few Republicans were defending him on the Sunday political talk shows…

Gosh, Lord Smallgloves wonders why the GOP apparatchiks he tore up and climbed over to reach the Oval Office aren’t loyal? ‘Tis a puzzlement!

Much more chewy detail at the link. Betting line among the Media Village courtiers seems to be that Reince Preibus (speaking of party apparatchiks) is next off the sledge, but there’s so many weird characters in Trump’s train, there’s always another plot twist.

Not to mention the Rosencrantz & Guilderstern characters, such as a certain foundational Nixon-alumni ratfvcker, who (per Esquire) “Forgot Other People Can Read His Tweets[warning: possibly NSFW]:
Read more



Open Thread: Caveats on Trump’s “Tapping” Accusations

Because it’s never as easy as Now we’ve got him cornered, the vile miscreant!”… Two (IMO) important posts, one from Marcy Wheeler (EmptyWheel) and another from what I understand to be a respected security blog, on the limits and the dangers of what “we” know about Trump’s Waterbedgate so far.

If it were true that President Obama had ordered the intelligence community to “tapp” Trump’s phones for political reasons, that would of course be a serious scandal—and crime—of Nixonian proportions. Yet there’s nothing in the published reports—vague though they are—to support such a dramatic allegation…

…[C]ontrary to what many on social media—and even a few reporters for reputable outlets—have asserted, the issuance of a FISA order does not imply that the FBI established probable cause to believe that any Trump associate was acting as an “agent of a foreign power” or engaged in criminal wrongdoing. That would be necessary only if the court had authorized direct electronic surveillance of a United States person, which (if we credit the BBC report) the FISC apparently declined to do. Assuming the initial applications were indeed for full-blown electronic surveillance orders, then the fact that the FBI supposedly did name the Trump associates at first would suggest they may have thought they had such evidence, but one would expect the FISC to apply particularly exacting scrutiny to an application naming persons associated with an ongoing presidential campaign. An application targeting only foreign corporate entities—especially entities openly controlled or directed by the Russian government—would require no such showing, even if the FBI’s ultimate interest were in communications concerning those U.S. persons…

In short, both Breitbart and Trump have advanced claims far more dramatic than anything the public evidence can support. That said, intelligence monitoring—whether direct or indirect—of persons connected with a presidential campaign inherently carries a high risk of abuse, and as Congress moves to launch its own inquiries into the Trump campaign’s Russian ties, it would be entirely appropriate to further scrutinize both the FBI’s initial surveillance and applications and the surveillance that was ultimately conducted for any signs of impropriety. In the meantime, it might behoove the Commander in Chief to refrain from issuing serious and inflammatory accusations based wholly on “intelligence” gleaned from Breitbart News.

And Marcy Wheeler, at Emptywheel, lays out “The Conspiratorial Game of Telephone in Bannon’s Rag that Made Left, Right, and POTUS Go Crazy“:

The story starts with this Louise Mensch story. For those who don’t know, Mensch is a former Tory Member of Parliament turned American rock promoter wife. Since quitting Parliament to spend more time with her family, she has become a pundit known for taking reasonable observations, injecting just a bit of whack, and turning them into fairly unhinged theories… At a time when Hillary’s team was furious that the FBI had been publicly discussing her emails rather than Trump’s Russian ties, Mensch reported that the FBI got a FISA order in October, after having been denied a more broadly drawn order earlier in the year.

The timing of the October FISA order has been backed in subsequent reporting. It is Mensch’s explanation for the basis of the order that is the problem, as it relied on the dodgy Alfa Bank story

Amid a treatment of the Mike Flynn resignation, the release of the dossier (Breitbart sort of tweaks the timeline of these two, though I get that capturing the timeline is tough), and the Sessions’ disclosures, Breitbart discusses the expansion of information sharing and preservation of evidence…
Read more



Speaking of Writing

NYT Bestselling author, friend of the blog, husband of the awesome Mallory, my former neighbor, and overall good guy Wiley Cash has a message on the facebook thing:

Here’s how you’re probably feeling if you voted for this president:

You leased a brand new American-made Cadillac on Nov. 8. So what if it’s a gaudy gold with gold rims, gold trim, gold leather interior with gold flakes in the wood grain. Who cares? It’s big and powerful and the engine is really loud.

In December a neighbor comes over and points out that your rims are made of plastic. You didn’t realize it until now, but so what? That guy’s just jealous. This is still a really nice car. You know a few Obama voters with plastic rims, so they’re no better than you. And then you discover that the leather is actually pleather, but you decide not to tell anyone.

On January 20 you detail the Cadillac and drive it through town, revving the engine and blaring the radio: Toby Keith, Three Doors Down. It’s the proudest day of your life. That night you lay in bed and hope you made the right decision. But this car speaks to the American experience, right? It’s the car of middle America. This car is all about the people.

By the middle of the following week you accidentally scratch the wood grain on the interior and discover that it’s made of plastic too. Those gold flakes are actually foil. You take it back to the dealership and rant and rave about how you paid too steep a price for your lease, but you’re stuck with it for four years. You can’t get your money back unless you take the dealership to court for selling you an inferior product, and there’s no way you’re going to court: Court is for liberal snowflakes.

You pull into the driveway, and there’s that nosy neighbor again. He says the engine doesn’t sound so good. There may be a loose belt or perhaps a screw is loose somewhere under the hood. You’re embarrassed. It’s all becoming clear to you, but you don’t want this guy to know you made the wrong decision. You tell him to get off your lawn. You know a few Clinton supporters who drive cars with loud mufflers. He needs to mind his own business and support your car. He’s not acting like an American.

The Cadillac slowly begins to fall apart over the next month. You’re six weeks into your lease when you open the glove compartment and pull out the owner’s manual. You’ve got questions about how to repair all the things that have gone wrong with it.

But you find that you can’t read the manual. It’s in Russian. “наслаждаться Кадиллак,” it says.

No sympathy. You were warned.








Long Read: “Death on Derby Day in N.H.”

We’re getting the coldest snap of the winter so far right now (just in time to frost the daffodil buds!), so it seemed like a good time to share this. From the Boston Globe, a cautionary tale about the dangers of even small-scale climate shifts and the unconscious assumption that humanity has turned the whole world into an adventure park:

LAKE WINNIPESAUKEE, N.H. — Temperatures were in the single digits and a light snow was blowing as the sun rose over Meredith Bay, but the carnival atmosphere was already well underway on the frozen waters of Lake Winnipesaukee. Bob houses dotted the ice, filled with fishermen dropping their first lines of the derby, as thousands of spectators streamed onto the lake, gawking at the scene, surveying the catches, and visiting the many food vendors selling out of trucks parked out there with them.

It was Saturday, Feb. 11, opening day of the 38th annual Great Meredith Rotary Fishing Derby, a giant ice fishing competition that draws upward of 10,000 people to the state’s largest lake.

Everything looked postcard-perfect. But looks can be deceiving.

Down in Concord, where the state’s Fish and Game Department is headquartered, Colonel Kevin Jordan was worried. He’s the chief of law enforcement for a department whose mission includes search and rescue work, and he already had teams in place all around the lake, patrolling on snowmobiles and ATVs and trucks, doing their usual job of checking fishing licenses and making sure everyone was behaving.

But that wasn’t what had him uneasy that morning. It was the weather. He always worries about derby weekend, with so many people on the ice, but this year was different. It was, he knew, the “perfect storm of conditions for a disaster.”

It had been warm that Wednesday, a high of 47 degrees, and stretches of the lake had been open water. Then it got cold for a few days, enough to form a light layer of ice in those spots. And then came the real kicker — it had snowed just enough to cover those thin areas.

The ice in Meredith Bay, where the derby is headquartered, was plenty thick. It was the rest of the 28-mile-long lake he was worried about. The usual advisories had gone out, from his department and the derby organizers, warning people to use caution on the ice and never assume it is safe.

People would go through the ice. He knew that. It happens every year. Trucks. Snowmobiles. ATVs. Typically, people can get themselves out or rescuers can get to them in time.

What he did not know, what no one knew, was that Saturday morning was the beginning of the worst day in the history of Lake Winnipesaukee…

When the human body is plunged into icy water, it reacts quickly and severely. “For lack of a better term, the body freaks out,” said Dr. Stuart Harris, chief of Massachusetts General Hospital’s Division of Wilderness Medicine. “You get this dumping of adrenaline that causes your heart rate to go up, your blood pressure to go up, and most importantly, it triggers an involuntary gasping where you’re taking deep breaths involuntarily. If the head goes underwater, you can drown almost immediately.”

If you can survive the initial gasping and get breathing under control while keeping your head above water, then you have about 10 minutes of meaningful movement — to swim, to grasp things, to try to pull yourself up on the ice. After that, the ability to self-rescue diminishes rapidly. If you can’t get onto the ice in those 10 minutes, or at least secure yourself to some means of flotation, you have about an hour before multisystem organ failure and death.

“If you don’t have someone coming to rescue you right away,” Harris said, “or you
haven’t made preparations beforehand to keep from getting into trouble, it is unlikely that you’re going to get out alive.”…



Saturday Morning Open Thread: The Mastodon in the Room

For a best-possible-faith counterpart, here’s Josh Marshall’s “The Innocent Explanation, Part #1”:

The simplest explanation isn’t necessarily the right one. But in the spirit of Occam’s Razor, we should prefer it because it usually will be. To state the key point for clarity and emphasis, it is not the simplest explanation. It it is the simplest explanation which accounts for all the known facts. That distinction makes all the difference in the world.

With this prologue and with the above in mind, here is what I would call the innocent explanation of the Trump/Russia story. I don’t think it is necessarily the true story. Or, to put it more precisely, I don’t think it is necessarily the whole story. But I think it accounts for most of the what we know so far…

1. In the late 90s and early aughts, Donald Trump ran out of lenders. A string of bankruptcies on top of numerous ventures where he walked away unscathed and lenders lost their shirts convinced every major US bank to stop lending to him… This put Trump’s whole family business under great strain. In response he increasingly took capital from abroad, especially from Russia and other post-Soviet successor states… What we don’t know is quite the degree of his dependence on money from the former Soviet Union, both for investment capital and for the purchase the numerous apartment units which make up his ubiquitous high-rises. None of this is illegal or wrong. Foreign capital is pervasive in the New York City area real estate market.

2. Trump gets into this world. He associates with these people. He starts thinking like they do. Perhaps along the way, people in this murky Russian world where oligarchs and mafiosos and legitimate businesspeople are hard to differentiate and perhaps not really different at all, find out about his dirty laundry. Nothing extravagant like sex tapes. Just the more garden variety stuff business associates find out about each other from long association. We know Trump is highly secretive. His myriad partners and investors likely know a lot of those secrets…

4: Now the 2014 Russian seizure of Crimea comes along, to be followed by the low intensity intervention in eastern Ukraine and, critically, the imposition of western sanctions. If Trump is significantly dependent on capital out of Russia, those sanctions are going to put a crimp on all his ventures. It won’t be fatal. But it will hurt – potentially a lot…

5: So by 2015, this gets you to a pretty clear storyline: Sanctions wrong; Russia good; Putin good; Putin strong. To me this provides a fairly satisfying explanation for most of what we’ve seen over the last year and a half: Trump’s weirdly fawning attitude toward Putin, hostility toward Russia sanctions, insistence on the obviousness of ‘getting along’ and ‘making a deal’ with Putin. It also gets us most of the way to explaining why he has so many people in his orbit with conspicuous on-going communications and relationships with suspicious figures in the Russian intelligence world or the criminal underworld….

You should read the whole thing, but Marshall’s theory does seem to explain some of the weird cluelessness that the people in Trump’s orbit are showing about this whole ugly mess: You hang around with bad people, you gradually get inured to bad behavior — even very bad behavior. The nuns in my parochial school warned us about the importance of avoiding the near occasion of sin; my old man taught us the joke about the innocent young lady who took a day job scrubbing floors at the local whorehouse.



Terrifying Read: “Department of Justification”

In case anybody’s still wondering whether it’s worth the trouble of evicting Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III from his current position, here’s Emily Bazelon in the NYTimes — “Stephen Bannon and Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, have long shared a vision for remaking America. Now the nation’s top law-enforcement agency can serve as a tool for enacting it“:

One night in September 2014, when he was chief executive of Breitbart News, Stephen Bannon hosted cocktails and dinner at the Washington townhouse where he lived, a mansion near the Supreme Court that he liked to call the Breitbart Embassy. Beneath elaborate chandeliers and flanked by gold drapes and stately oil paintings, Jeff Sessions, then a senator from Alabama, sat next to the guest of honor: Nigel Farage, the insurgent British politician, who first met Sessions two years earlier when Bannon introduced them. Farage was building support for his right-wing party by complaining in the British press about “uncontrolled mass immigration.” Sessions, like other attendees, was celebrating the recent collapse in Congress of bipartisan immigration reform, which would have provided a path to citizenship for some undocumented people. At the dinner, Sessions told a writer for Vice, Reid Cherlin, that Bannon’s site was instrumental in defeating the measure. Sessions read Breitbart almost every day, he explained, because it was “putting out cutting-edge information.”

Bannon’s role in blocking the reform had gone beyond sympathetic coverage on his site. Over the previous year, he, Sessions and one of Sessions’s top aides, Stephen Miller, spent “an enormous amount of time” meeting in person, “developing plans and messaging and strategy,” as Miller later explained to Rosie Gray in The Atlantic. Breitbart writers also reportedly met with Sessions’s staff for a weekly happy hour at the Union Pub. For most Republicans in Washington, immigration was an issue they wished would go away, a persistent source of conflict between the party’s elites, who saw it as a straightforward economic good, and its middle-class voting base, who mistrusted the effects of immigration on employment. But for Bannon, Sessions and Miller, immigration was a galvanizing issue, lying at the center of their apparent vision for reshaping the United States by tethering it to its European and Christian origins. (None of them would comment for this article.) That September evening, as they celebrated the collapse of the reform effort — and the rise of Farage, whose own anti-immigration party in Britain represented the new brand of nativism — it felt like the beginning of something new. “I was privileged enough to be at it,” Miller said about the gathering last June, while a guest on Breitbart’s SiriusXM radio show. “It’s going to sound like a motivational speech, but it’s true. To all the voters out there: The only limits to what we can achieve is what we believe we can achieve.”

The answer to what they could achieve, of course, is now obvious: everything. Bannon and Miller are ensconced in the West Wing, as arguably the two most influential policy advisers to Donald J. Trump. And Jeff Sessions is now the attorney general of the United States. The genesis of their working relationship is crucial to understanding the far-reaching domestic goals of the Trump presidency and how the law may be used to attain them over the next four years. Bannon and Sessions have effectively presented the country’s changing demographics — the rising number of minority and foreign-born residents — as America’s chief internal threat. Sessions has long been an outlier in his party on this subject; in 2013, when his Republican colleagues were talking primarily about curbing illegal immigration, he offered a proposal to curb legal immigration. (It failed in committee, 17 to one.)…

At a time when other, more libertarian conservatives had begun to embrace critiques of the criminal-justice system, each man saw crime as yet another way that the fabric of society was deteriorating. Read more



Inside the State Department, As the Trump Kleptocracy Takes Control

This week began with reports that President Donald Trump’s budget proposal will drastically slash the State Department’s funding, and last week ended with White House adviser and former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon telling the attendees of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that what he and the new president were after was a “deconstruction of the administrative state.” At the State Department, which employs nearly 70,000 people around the world, that deconstruction is already well underway.

In the last week, I’ve spoken with a dozen current and recently departed State Department employees, all of whom asked for anonymity either because they were not authorized to speak to the press and feared retribution by an administration on the prowl for leakers, or did not want to burn their former colleagues. None of these sources were political appointees. Rather, they were career foreign service officers or career civil servants, most of whom have served both Republican and Democratic administrations—and many of whom do not know each other. They painted a picture of a State Department adrift and listless.

Sometimes, the deconstruction of the administrative state is quite literal. After about two dozen career staff on the seventh floor—the State Department’s equivalent of a C suite—were told to find other jobs, some with just 12 hours’ notice, construction teams came in over President’s Day weekend and began rebuilding the office space for a new team and a new concept of how State’s nerve center would function. (This concept hasn’t been shared with most of the people who are still there.) The space on Mahogany Row, the line of wood-paneled offices including that of the secretary of state, is now a mysterious construction zone behind blue tarp…

A lot of this, the employee said, is because there is now a “much smaller decision circle.” And many State staffers are surprised to find themselves on the outside. “They really want to blow this place up,” said the mid-level State Department officer. “I don’t think this administration thinks the State Department needs to exist. They think Jared [Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law] can do everything. It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.”…

But while senior State appointees have yet to be appointed, other staff has been showing up. The Office of Policy Planning, created by George Kennan after World War II, is now filled not just with Ph.D.s, as it once was, but with fresh college graduates and a malpractice attorney from New Jersey whose sole foreign-policy credential seems to be that she was born in Hungary. Tillerson’s chief of staff is not his own, but is, according to the Washington Post, a Trump transition alum named Margaret Peterlin. “Tillerson is surrounded by a bunch of rather mysterious Trumpistas,” said the senior State official who recently left. “How the hell is he supposed to do his job when even his right hand is not his own person?” One State Department employee told me that Peterlin has instructed staff that all communications with Tillerson have to go through her, and even scolded someone for answering a question Tillerson asked directly, in a meeting…

So the fate of the free world is in the hands of a real-estate developer’s Fortunate Son, and an oil-business CEO who stands to make billions if Russian sanctions are relaxed, as filtered through the grip of a Trump apparatchik whose prior political experience involved working for Dick Armey and Denny Hastert. What could possibly go wrong?