Beauty on the Links (Open Thread)

I saw this shy gallinule (aka moorhen) hiding out on the edge of a pond at a golf course a while back:

And here’s a snowy egret, spotted at a separate golf course:

I hear the popularity of golf is plummeting, though the courses hereabouts seem to do a brisk business. Perhaps the shitgibbon’s fondness for the game and copious promotion of his branded courses will hasten its slide.

If golf does become passé, the courses should be converted into bird sanctuaries — at least the ones in Florida (until it is swallowed by the ocean). We always see a ton of birds on the links around here.

Open thread!

PS: In the Boston area? Cole is organizing a meetup on Friday.








Security Theater Open Thread: Wolverines! — Not the UM Kind

As ever, the brilliance of the Trump Administration: Getting a roomful of people with every reason to hate Islamic terrorists united in anger against… the Trump administration. Per the Detroit Free Press:

In a meeting today with Arab-Americans and Muslims in Dearborn, Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly stood up at one point and threatened to leave after a community advocate accused the department of targeting their communities, according to meeting participants.

The tense exchange took place during a hour-long meeting at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, where Kelly met with several Arab-American and Muslim advocates as part of a visit to metro Detroit. At a separate earlier meeting with immigrant, Latino, and Chaldean advocates, some also criticized the department for allegedly targeting minority groups…

At the meeting, Nabih Ayad, an active civil rights leader and attorney who is founder of the Dearborn-based Arab American Civil Rights League, said he pressed Kelly about executive orders from his department that target six Muslim-majority nations.

He also mentioned alleged profiling of Arabs and Muslims at ports of entry. Ayad said he asked Kelly to create a record of who gets stopped for questioning at ports of entry so there can be data to see if there is disproportionate targeting of Arabs and Muslims.

“He stood up and walked away almost,” Ayad said. “He said, I’m leaving unless you decide to stop your questions and have someone else ask a question. … He actually got out his seat.”

Ayad said he then stopped his comments and another Arab-American advocate started to speak. Ayad’s account was confirmed by two other Arab-Americans who attended the meeting. U.S. Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, who had invited Kelly to Michigan, were also at the meeting…



Wednesday Morning Open Thread: Stee-RIKE!


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Apart from booing the Coward-in-Chief, what’s on the agenda for the day?

A trip to the mound for Donald J. Trump in the near future would be anything but ceremonial. It would mark the first time our president, who ran on the platform of American Toughness, showed his face in public since his inauguration. Over the last three months, Trump has been safely chauffeured from the White House to one of his hotels to his campaign rallies to his private club and back again, insulated by a gauzy cocoon of yes-men who tell him that any polls that show him to be unpopular are fake, and any people protesting against his agenda are paid. In the early days of his own presidency, Barack Obama participated in town halls, appeared on The Tonight Show, and sat courtside at an NBA game between the Wizards and the Bulls. Trump on the other hand was forced to cancel his only public appearance yet, a friendly trip to a Harley-Davidson factory in Milwaukee, out of fear that protesters would steal his headlines and undercut his populist narrative.

Potential booing aside, Trump would surely welcome a chance to show off his athletic prowess and Adonis-like physical form. After all, according to his personal physician, the soon-to-be-71-year-old is the “healthiest individual ever elected president”—George W. Bush’s six-minute miles and Barack Obama’s visible abdominal muscles be damned.

Trump has actually already thrown out a ceremonial first pitch once, as a civilian back in 2006 in honor of the Jimmy Fund (see photographic evidence here), so I know it’s possible. And with the baseball season rapidly approaching, I decided to sleuth it out myself….

[NSFB Warning: Do *not* click on that link during breakfast or while consuming fluids]



On The Road

Good Morning All,

This weekday feature is for Balloon Juicers who are on the road, travelling, etc. and wish to share notes, links, pictures, stories, etc. from their escapades. As the US mainland begins the end of the Earth day as we measure it, many of us rise to read about our friends and their transient locales.

So, please, speak up and share some of your adventures, observations, and sights as you explore, no matter where you are. By concentrating travel updates here, it’s easier for all to keep up-to-date on the adventures of our fellow Commentariat. And it makes finding some travel tips or ideas from 6 months ago so much easier to find…

Have at ’em, and have a safe day of travels!

 

Should you have any pictures (tasteful, relevant, etc….) you can email them to picstopost@balloon-juice.com or just use this nifty link to start an email: Start an Email to send a Picture to Post on Balloon Juice

 

 



Late Night Open Thread: Trumpcare, Not Dead Yet! (*Thunk*)

The NYTimes:

House Republican leaders and the White House, under extreme pressure from conservative activists, have restarted negotiations on legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act, with House leaders declaring that Democrats were celebrating the law’s survival prematurely.

Just days after President Trump said he was moving on to other issues, senior White House officials are now saying they have hope that they can still score the kind of big legislative victory that has so far eluded Mr. Trump. Vice President Mike Pence was dispatched to Capitol Hill on Tuesday for lunchtime talks.

“We’re not going to retrench into our corners or put up dividing lines,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said after a meeting of House Republicans that was dominated by a discussion of how to restart the health negotiations. “There’s too much at stake to get bogged down in all of that.”…

Mr. Ryan declined to say what might be in the next version of the Republicans’ repeal bill, nor would he sketch any schedule for action. But he said Congress needed to act because insurers were developing the premiums and benefit packages for health plans they would offer in 2018, with review by federal and state officials beginning soon.

The new talks, which have been going on quietly this week, involve Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, and members of the two Republican factions that helped sink the bill last week, the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the more centrist Tuesday Group.

Any deal would require overcoming significant differences about how to rework a law that covers about one-fifth of the American economy, differences that were so sharp they led Mr. Trump and Mr. Ryan to pull the bill from consideration just as the House was scheduled to vote on Friday…

Meanwhile, per Politico:

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sent a letter to her caucus Tuesday, requesting members send their ideas to strengthen the law as soon as possible. Pelosi and ranking members of the committees with health care jurisdiction will discuss the proposals in a meeting Wednesday morning.

“After the collapse of TrumpCare, we must ensure that the Trump Administration does not sabotage the ACA out of spite,” Pelosi wrote. “Then, we can work to improve and update the Affordable Care Act and the health security it provides tens of millions of Americans.”

Pelosi ended the letter by calling last week’s repeal collapse, which stemmed from dwindling Republican support and unified Democratic opposition, a “thrilling success.” Democrats aren’t planning to introduce a full-scale alternative or even a comprehensive overhaul but are looking at specific areas within the 2010 health care law to target for improvement…

Read more



The Maskirovka Slips XIII: A Few Thoughts

In the comments to the Maskirovka Slips XI post, PJ wrote:

Even a Putin critic like Masha Gessen has claimed that Russophobia is behind the allegations connecting Trump with the Russians, and that there’s nothing to see here, folks.

This is a good point to raise and something to keep in mind as everything continues to play out. My guess is that PJ was referencing this article by Gessen at The NY Review of Books. Gessen’s essential thesis is that:

Russia has become the universal rhetorical weapon of American politics. Calls for the release of Trump’s tax returns—which the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) hopes to have subpoenaed as a result of its lawsuit alleging the violation of the Emoluments Clause—are now framed in terms of the need to reveal Trump’s financial ties to Russia. And the president himself is recapturing the campaign debate’s “No, you are the puppet” moment on Twitter, trying to smear Democratic politicians Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi with Russia.

The dream fueling the Russia frenzy is that it will eventually create a dark enough cloud of suspicion around Trump that Congress will find the will and the grounds to impeach him. If that happens, it will have resulted largely from a media campaign orchestrated by members of the intelligence community—setting a dangerous political precedent that will have corrupted the public sphere and promoted paranoia. And that is the best-case outcome.

And that this almost unrelenting focus is obscuring equally, if not more important matters:

Imagine if the same kind of attention could be trained and sustained on other issues—like it has been on the Muslim travel ban. It would not get rid of Trump, but it might mitigate the damage he is causing. Trump is doing nothing less than destroying American democratic institutions and principles by turning the presidency into a profit-making machine for his family, by poisoning political culture with hateful, mendacious, and subliterate rhetoric, by undermining the public sphere with attacks on the press and protesters, and by beginning the real work of dismantling every part of the federal government that exists for any purpose other than waging war. Russiagate is helping him—both by distracting from real, documentable, and documented issues, and by promoting a xenophobic conspiracy theory in the cause of removing a xenophobic conspiracy theorist from office.

Gessen has likely forgotten more about Putin and how he operates than most people will ever know, and I doubt she’s forgotten much if anything. And her concerns and caveats are important to keep in mind going forward. However, I think her concerns, as rooted in her excellent column on autocracy from November 2016, are also missing something: the overwhelming, open source reporting and documentation about the connection between the President, his business the Trump Organization, his children, and both senior and peripheral members of his campaign, his transition, and now his Administration with Russian government officials, Russians connected to Russian Intelligence – formally and informally, Russian oligarchs tied to Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian Oligarchs tied to Vladimir Putin, and people – Russian and non-Russian tied to Russian organized crime.

As I’ve been stating here, and Malcolm Nance has been tweeting and stating on a variety of news platforms:

And, to quote Ian Fleming, as many have:

Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time is enemy action.

As Evan McMullin tweeted:

While I think it is important to keep Gessen’s concerns in mind, we have significant amounts of circumstantial evidence as a result of open source reporting and documentation. What we don’t have, what we don’t really know, is what the material that the Interagency Counterintelligence (CI) Task Force investigating all of this has. And here, I think, is where some of Gessen’s concerns begin to break down: a lot of the leaking hasn’t been anything that wasn’t either already known in the open source reporting and documentation for those that knew where to look or were looking and/or were intended as warning shots across various people’s bows. For instance, the leaks about Attorney General Sessions were the latter. They were intended to put him on notice that if he tried to muck about with the CI investigation the next shot wouldn’t be for range, it would be for effect. And to his credit, AG Sessions was smart enough to recognize this and recused himself.

As I’ve written here before, several times:

As a national security professional, what I would like to see is the President-elect address the now long standing and ongoing allegations regarding his connection to Russia. If the allegations are spurious, as he and his team have claimed every time they’ve come up, or if there is a straightforward and simple explanation that can be made, he needs to make it. I think a lot of the foreign, defense, and national security policy concerns that many across the political spectrum have with the President-elect’s longstanding policy preferences dating back to 1987 arise from all of the smoke around the claims of Russian connections and interference for Russia’s, not the US’s, not the President-elect’s, interests.

The sooner the President-elect and his team can either provide evidence for why the allegations and rumors are spurious or provide a simple and straightforward explanation for the seeming preference for Russia and the abandonment of the post WW II and post Cold War international order the better.

Unfortunately we’ve reached a point where I’m not sure a straightforward and simple explanation can be made. The circumstantial evidence we’re all able to review from the open source reporting and documentation seems to have obliterated that possibility. Yesterday several of the surviving members of the investigative reporting team that included the late Wayne Barrett provided even greater details and granularity into the Trump Organizations connections to Russian organized crime via Felix Sater and Sater’s ties to the Department of Justice and the FBI, specifically the New York Field Office. Today WNYC reported on some of Paul Manafort’s real estate transactions that appear to follow the same patterns as those done to launder money. These stories broke almost at the same time as Richard Engel’s reporting on Manafort’s financial dealings in Cyprus, USA Today‘s reporting on the Trump Organizations alleged ties to Russian and other state’s organized crime,* The New Yorker‘s multiple reports, and Michael Issikoff’s reporting on the ongoing mess that Congressman Nunes’ actions and statements have made of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. This includes functionally shutting the committee down so that the House of Representatives no longer conducts oversight of the US Intelligence Community given that all future business of the committee has now been postponed indefinitely.

For those of us that have been following these things for a while, a lot of this wasn’t new, surprising, or both. And that’s really why I think Gessen’s caveats and concerns are important to keep in mind, but that she is also missing the forest for the trees. There is just too much coincidence here. The US Intelligence Community does not form Interagency Counterintelligence investigations willy nilly. Nor do judges approve FISA warrants for spurious or frivolous reasons. I honestly have no idea where all this will lead. And I do agree with Gessen and others that even if these investigations ultimately demonstrate actual connections and collusions between the President’s campaign and the Russians which given how things have been intertwined under Putin basically includes the Russian government, Russian intelligence, Russian oligarchs, and Russian organized crime, we may not see the resolution that many are hoping for. These connections are all linked together, which also makes unravelling this ball of yarn difficult. Part of the problem going forward is exactly why we have been in a Constitutional crisis for months. It is unclear which, if any, of the institutional protections and remedies that the Constitution delineates actually could be used to resolve what we have been watching slowly unfold since last Summer when the leaks of hacked DNC, DSCC, DCC, and John Podesta emails began to trickle out. If there is nothing to see here, as Gessen attests, then there certainly is a whole lot of a very specific type of nothing** all around the President, his family, his business, his campaign, his transition, and his Administration.

* The Who, What, Why?USA Today, and WYNC reporting are not actually breaking news. They do provide substantially more details about things that have been previously reported, documented, and/or known.

** And this nothing doesn’t even get into financial ties between the President and PRC state owned banks, which are facially violations of the emoluments clause as a result of the President’s failure to properly and fully divest from his business.



Why the ACA Matters

Remember faithful reader cope, who occasionally shares lovely nature photos? Here’s a photo he took of some distressed flowers:

And also a story to go along with them, shared with cope’s permission (and with just a few alterations to protect his privacy):

Four weeks ago tonight, at about 9:15 (past bedtime here in copeville), we received a phone call from the Mayo Clinic that a donor liver had been found for my wife. She had been on Mayo’s liver donor list since December. Needless to say, within 30 minutes we were on our way. At about 7:45 the next morning, she was wheeled away for prep and transplant surgery and by 3:00 in the afternoon, she was back in her room.

After about 10 days at Mayo, she was transferred to [another hospital] for physical and occupational therapy and for treatment of fluid on her lungs. Throughout this time, my sister-in-law and I made a tag-team effort of being with her at all time, sleeping in her hospital room during the rare times when sleep was to be had. I am still working as a high school science teacher (but only 45 days away from retirement!) so I had weekend duty while SIL had the week days. Happily, spring break intervened… You can appreciate our utter and total joy at being told just 3 weeks and one day after surgery that we could come back to our house and our dogs. My wife is doing extremely well (we hit the local Michael’s for some retail therapy this afternoon) and this is the closest to “normal” our lives have been for months.

The fact that my wife even has health insurance, much less a sufficiently robust policy to absorb almost all of the costs of such a major procedure is entirely due to the Affordable Care Act. To be sure, since November’s election, we had not been particularly confident that she would still have coverage at the time a donor might be found (we expected to wait for months and months). Happily for us, we need not sweat the big stuff any more.

My wife worked for almost 35 years as an RN doing geriatrics, AIDS, cancer, burns, labor and delivery and finally, in her last chapter as a nurse, home health care. She has been universally loved by her patients and co-workers as she is one of those giving and loving and compassionate and empathetic people who fortunately walk this earth. She is even now loved by the nurses and techs who have been tending her for the last few weeks, many of whom she brings small gifts to when we make our frequent returns to Mayo. To have had to watch her waste away as her deteriorating liver tried (and failed) to kill her was a miserable, debilitating, depressing experience for all of us who love her. Our relief at having broken on through to the other side of these emotions cannot be expressed in words.

I chose this picture of a disheveled, sunlit flower against a background of dark, looming clouds as a pretty good visual metaphor for what our family experienced these past few months: the struggle to maintain a positive, sunny disposition in a dire and ominous situation.

See, sometimes, good things do happen.

Best jackal wishes to cope’s wife as she recovers. Her story is a great reminder about the stakes in Trump’s war on the ACA. The shitgibbon was dealt a defeat last week, but he and the other ghouls in the GOP will be back. For all its faults, the ACA does represent a huge top-down transfer of wealth, and Republicans will fight an insult like that to the last breath. We need to remain vigilant.

Open thread!