Saturday Morning Open Thread: Same As It Ever Was


 
Democrats care about people; Republicans care about “winning”, which they mostly define as “money”. (Although if they’re feeling particularly GOP, they’ll throw away money just to keep that “winning” feeling… )



The Questions Are Not What Did The President Know And When Did He Know it? The Question Is What, If Anything, Would The President Be Doing Differently If We Knew For Certain That He Was A Russian Asset Or Agent?

Cheryl did us all a service with her post, and especially her tables, that compare and contrast the timelines in the two New York Times stories she wanted to juxtapose. I think there is, however, a bigger and more important issue, really a question, that has been lingering over the investigation into the Russian active measures and cyberwarfare campaign and what connections, if any, the President; his campaign; his business; his associates that existed around, but not in, his business and his campaign; and his surrogates had with the Russian government; Russian intelligence; and/or Russian organized crime in regard to the active measures and cyberwarfare campaign against the US. And this question is not groundbreaking or earth shattering. I’ve asked it here before. Others have asked it on twitter, other blogs, etc. The real question is what, if anything, would the President be doing differently if we knew for certain that he was a Russian asset or agent?

Vladimir Putin, despite being not the greatest strategic thinker in history, has a very specific set of goals. Some are US specific. Some are EU and NATO specific. Some are regional. And some are global. As we’ve covered here over and over since the late spring of 2016 is that Putin wants to roll back US power by weakening the US and by demonstrating that the liberal democracy and attendant values that the US promotes globally is no better, and may in fact be worse, than the managed democracy he’s created in Russia around his authoritarian rule. In regards to the US, Putin specifically wants to enflame political, social, religious, and ethnic grievances, which is why his cyber enabled information warfare targeted very specific groups over very specific issues. Often playing groups on both sides of an issue off against each other. He also wants to rollback US power projection. Specifically he wants the US military and defense posture to stop being expeditionary. Regionally in Europe he wants NATO weakened so he can reestablish the historic near abroad and sphere of influence that he believes are Russia’s due, including his claims on Crimea and Ukraine. And regionally in the Middle East and Central Asia (the Central Command Area of Responsibility) he wants the US out of Syria and, if possible, out of Iraq and Afghanistan – areas that he now perceives as part of Russia’s sphere of influence. Finally, he wants sanctions lifted so that he can leverage Russia’s petroleum wealth, as well as the wealth generated by the various oligarchs that he protects, to further stabilize his managed democracy and coup proof himself so he can remain in power.

And here’s where the key question – what, if anything, would the President be doing differently if we knew for certain that he was a Russian asset or agent? – comes in.

  • At the GOP convention in the summer of 2016, the President’s campaign changed the Republican platform regarding support to Ukraine by watering it down. This change supports Putin’s regional objectives in Crimea and in regard to Ukraine.
  • Prior to the vote on Brexit the President promoted Brexit from one of his golf properties in Scotland.
  • Two months before the convention the President gave his first major foreign policy address at a Washington think tank that is alleged to have curiously strange ties to Russia. In that address the President, as he’s done reliably since shortly after he returned from a Roger Stone organized, KGB coordinated visit to Soviet Russia, discounted the importance of all of America’s alliances, and placing special emphasis on his mistaken belief that our NATO allies, as well as Japan and South Korea, are ripping us off and taking advantage of the US.
  • Since being elected the President has routinely slammed NATO, Japan, and South Korea as ripping off and taking advantage of the US and has repeatedly demanded they pay up the arrears that he believes they owe the US.
  • The President kicked off his campaign in 2015 with a racist, xenophobic, and nativist screed against immigrants. Throughout his campaign and now his presidency, he has built on this to the delight of his base and is, essentially, promoting a white supremacist, if not an outright white Christian herrenvolk vision for America. This vileness has now bloomed into the separation of children from parents attempting to enter the US to seek asylum, the internment of children, the loss of interred children, and the deaths, in US custody, of children who came here with at least one parent to seek asylum.
  • The President has been trying for over a year to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan and Syria. Despite Secretary Pompeo’s address in Cairo this week, as well as Ambassador Bolton’s statements, the US has already begun withdrawing military personnel from Syria and the planning has begun for the drawn down in Afghanistan. In fact the Pentagon, when asked about Ambassador Bolton’s statements regarding US actions in Syria, responded with: “we don’t take orders from Bolton”.
  • Secretary Pompeo’s speech in Cairo was also notable for what he did not note: anything pertaining to the promotion of liberal democracy or human rights or civil liberties in Egypt, in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world. This follows on the US abandoning the UN Human Rights Council (probably because it abbreviates as HRC).
  • The President, supported by a trio of the kookiest economic advisors in Hassett, Kudlow, and Navarro, and in conjunction with congressional Republicans whose only consistent strategy is to always cut taxes regardless of what is actually happening in the economy, has managed to overheat the economy. He has started trade wars with both allies and competitors, which includes both imposing sanctions and having sanctions imposed on the US. As a result of this bizarre combination of mercantilism, protectionism, and supply side economics (itself a retread of a long discounted 19th century economic theory) , has spooked the markets causing a functioning economy to sputter.
  • The US government is now in shutdown. There is no indication that it will end any time soon as the Senate Major Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has abdicated his authority and ceded his power to the President in an attempt to avoid any blame or fallout for the ongoing shutdown. While this too will have significant economic effects because no one in the administration actually planned for a shutdown and what it meant even as they were threatening one, it further enflames the political, social, economic, and religious divisions within the US causing more political, social, and economic discord.

I could keep adding bullets to this list all night, but I think the point is made: the President’s positions during the campaign and the actions he’s taken, in regards to domestic, foreign, national security, and economic affairs, have given Putin almost everything he wanted. The only thing he hasn’t gotten yet is the lifting of sanctions, but there have been efforts within the administration to chip away at and/or redefine them in the favor of Putin and the oligarchs he protects.

And this brings us back to the question: what, if anything, would the President be doing differently if we knew for certain that he was a Russian asset or agent?

And the answer I keep coming back to, every time I ask it of myself or discuss it with those who I’ve been collaborating with on tracking the Russian active measures and cyberwarfare campaign through open sources, is nothing. There is nothing the President would be doing differently. And that conclusion is one of the most disturbing I’ve ever come to in my professional career.

Open thread!



Late Night Horrorshow Open Thread: There’s A ‘Trump & His Wall’ Metaphor Here Somewhere…

And that’s only the second weirdest twitter meme of the evening.

Warning: Do not go below the fold within three hours of eating…
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Tonight’s News Dump And Another Long Ago

Tonight’s New York Times news dump on two FBI investigations, for counterintelligence and criminal activity, is strangely parallel to that October 31, 2016, news dump that said the FBI was not investigating Donald Trump. Let’s look at a timeline for the material reported in the two. I’m taking dates from the articles rather than looking up the precise dates in order to get this out quickly.

DateOctober 2016 articleJanuary 2019 article
July 2016Trump calls on Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails
July 2016Trump campaign softens Republican platform plank on Ukraine
“mid-2016”Christopher Steele compiles memos
“months before 2016 election”Timing described as “much of the summer” Investigation into “some of Trump’s aides,” but “Mr. Trump himself has not become a target”FBI was investigating four Trump associates
timing unclearCommunications between Trump and Alfa Bank computers
October 2016Harry Reid letter: “It has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity,” Mr. Reid wrote. “The public has a right to know this information.”

Obviously, material after October 31, 2016, could not be included in the earlier article. But it’s informative to put it into a timeline.

DateEvent
January 2017Trump asks Comey for loyalty pledge
January 2017Trump asks Comey to end investigation into Michael Flynn
May 2017Trump fires Comey
May 2017Trump, in NBC interview, appears to say he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation
May 2017Trump tells Russians in Oval Office he fired Comey – “pressure taken off because of Russia”
“days after firing”Investigation begins

It’s worthwhile reading both articles. I find it clarifying to put things in timelines, though.

Update: Benjamin Wittes has also written a post, and he tweeted a baby cannon “BOOM!”

Further Update: The Wittes article gives a very careful explanation of the interplay between the criminal and counterintelligence sides of the investigation. I can also read between the lines why the FBI may have said in October 2016 that the investigation was not into Donald Trump. The investigation was about Russia’s role in the election. So it could be that the reporters on the October 2016 article didn’t ask the right questions of their informants or wink-wink nudge-nudge let them get away with giving a particular impression.



My Brother From Another Mother

Apparently I have a long lost brother out there somewhere:

Spent the day putting my life back together- tidying up, doing laundry, grocery shopping, etc.

I also took a nap that was just amazing. It was one of those naps that you wake up and it is dark out, and you slept so hard that you don’t know whether it is 5 pm, 2 am, or 4 am, and you are disoriented and have no idea what day it is.








Open Thread: How Cold *Is* It?…

Objectively, here north of Boston at least, not really so bad for mid-January. But it’s been so AGW-induced not-cold so far this winter that the dogs aren’t lingering when they go out in the back yard… and when I carry the 17-year-old down the steps, neither do I.

Mostly it’s the dreaded wind chill:

Meanwhile, in Tallahasee:



Friday Afternoon Open Thread

Here’s the exact moment yesterday when Badger realized we were at the vet’s office instead of Grandma’s house:

Poor guy. It was a “well puppy” visit to establish him with a new vet (due to our recent move) and to get a new supply of heart worm / flea / tick meds calibrated to his weight. He got a thermometer up the poop-chute, but that was the worst of it.

Open thread!



The Only Kind of Record Trump is Going to Break

As Trump tries to figure out if he can divert disaster aid to build a wall, the House is about to go out of session which means that this will be the longest shutdown in the grand history of stupidity.








Let Them Eat Shit

How many ways has the Trump administration crapped on the public servants they don’t want to pay?  Here’s a couple, maybe you’ve heard more:

  • Coast Guard families are encouraged to have garage sales instead of a paycheck.
  • Hey, those federal workers were going to take vacation over Christmas anyway, so this is like double pay (since they’ll get paid for their vacation).

Today’s Post reports that Craigslist and Facebook are full of ads from unpaid workers selling stuff to make ends meet. Air traffic controllers are getting $0.00 paystubs (because, in Stupidland, printing paystubs is mission critical, but paying mission critical employees is not).

Trump’s team is finding high-visibility federal programs and pushing funding to them, which is a blatant power grab from Congress that is politically difficult to oppose loudly. I still don’t see how this ends without a lot more pain, especially if Trump gets away with selectively funding parts of government.








Where did the on-exchange user fees go?

Healthcare.gov collects user fees from insurers. Insurers in states that delegate all authority to the federal market place pay 3.5% of premium to Healthcare.gov. Insurers in states that use Healthcare.gov as a front-end but perform significant backend functions pay 3.0% of premium to Healthcare.gov in 2019 and they paid 2% of premium in 2018.

Healthcare.gov is supposed to use these fees to fund operations. It pays for the server racks. It pays for the Help Desk. It pays for file loads. It pays for advertising. It pays for outreach. The fees are designed to make the system work well.

However over the past two years, advertising has been slashed. Navigator funding is a figment of the imagination now. Open Enrollment is half the time it used to be. On-Exchange enrollment has barely moved down since 2017 even as average premiums have increased significantly due to the termination of Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) payments which is then looped into silver premiums and general medical trend. The total premium going through Healthcare.gov has increased significantly without a concurrent increase in opeational expenses or outreach.

So where is that money going?

House Democrats want to find out:

We know that more revenue should be hitting the federal accounts for Healthcare.gov user fees. We know that outreach expenses have been slashed. So where is the money that is not being visibly spent compared to 2017? Is it just sitting in an account? Or did someone get a no bid PR contract to talk down the ACA? Where is the moola?








Friday Morning Open Thread: Good Reads

(Signe Wilkinson via GoComics.com)
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Since there’s not much point in talking about yesterday’s MAH WALL I WAAAAHNNIT!!!(tm) Trumpstunting — even Chris ‘Mad Bitcher’ Cillizza panned the performance — figured I’d share a couple of my favorite online political essayists, while we’re waiting for the Friday news dump.

Tom Scocca is currently the editor of Hmm Daily, and producer of a series of brilliant rants under the subtitle “The Worst Thing We Read Yesterday™”. Sample from January 9th, “The Fact-Checkers Are Tools”:

Apparently, the Washington bureau of the New York Times doesn’t know many people who use federal government assistance in their daily lives. Less fraught with class conflict, but still fundamental to its understanding of the entire subject it covers, the Times bureau also seems not to know how much federal spending goes to outside contractors, who use that money to pay their own employees…

If the Times needs more information on the many things the federal government does, and on the millions of people who depend on the government doing them, CBS put together a nice brief roundup of shutdown effects in advance of the speech. It’s never too late to learn!

But it is too late to redeem the whole fact-checking project. The Associated Press made its own contribution, with a tweet fact-checking the notion that the shutdown is Trump’s fault:

AP FACT CHECK: Democrats put the blame for the shutdown on Trump. But it takes two to tango. Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion for his border wall is one reason for the budget impasse. The Democrats refusal to approve the money is another.

It was a tremendously stupid argument—the president’s extraordinary demand for a wall and the Democrats’ response to the demand aren’t two opposing reasons, they’re the same reason, which originated with the president—but it was also not a fact-check at all. It was what conventional politics reporting would call a piece of news analysis: Who is to blame for the shutdown? Only it had been reduced to a true-false question, or a true/some-might-say-not-necessarily-true question…

 
Also a reliable source of solace, for us cynics, is Bess Levin’s daily business report for Vanity Fair. Thursday, “Become a Dog Walker, Sell Your Stuff: Helpful Government Offers Furloughed Workers Shutdown Advice”:

At midnight on Thursday, the government shutdown will reach its 20th day; if it continues through Saturday, it’ll be the longest in history. At present, the White House and Congress are not even close to cutting a deal, with Donald Trump rejecting every offer proposed to him, including one from Republican Lindsey Graham who told reporters Thursday, “I have never been more depressed about moving forward than I am right now. I just don’t see a pathway forward.” Happily for Graham, he’s still being paid during the shutdown, while some 800,000 federal employees have either been furloughed or forced to work without pay. For many who live paycheck to paycheck, the prospect of not being able to put food on the table, access crucial medicine, or pay their mortgage or rent, is a very real concern. Luckily, the government has advice!…

… Just knock on doors and ask if anyone has spare dogs or kids lying around, or churn out some scarves for Etsy, and you’ll be back in the black in no time! While we would never suggest that the above is largely unhelpful, tone-deaf advice, a furloughed Forest Service crew member told The New Yorker, “No one wants to hire me because they know once the shutdown is over I’ll have to quit,” adding that temp agencies are “overflowed” with people in the same position. Meanwhile, and apparently this may come as a shock to the government, the employees who are being forced to work without pay—2,100 at the Coast Guard—don’t have time for second jobs… Elsewhere, workers are told that “yes, your credit score may suffer during this time” if you miss payments, but to “keep things in perspective.”…

Also, on the “saddening news” that Lord Smallgloves is “respectfully cancelling [his] very important trip to Davos”

Presumably, this announcement came after the report that the administration was still planning to send a large delegation to the annual billionaire confab at a cost of millions of dollars to taxpayers—money that will still be spent even if the president stays home, owing to “Davos’s tight cancellation policies around the conference.”…



This Crap Again Open Thread: Rep. Steve ‘Pigmuck’ King Will *Not* Be Out-Na… tionalist’d


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Glass-half-full take: Iowa’s reached a point of political maturity where King coasting to an easy tenth win in 2020 is no longer a sure bet, so he’s updating his portfolio for the ‘How come white people can’t use the n-word?’ Wingnut Welfare Wurlitzer market. Hey, if the Democrats keep winning social media, Lou Dobbs is definitly gonna stroke out before then…


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Home Crap Home

2,570 miles later, the family truckster is parked outside home crap home. Thurston was so excited to see me he peed himself, although in fairness, he does that sometimes when I am only gone for four hours. Rosie came to see what Thurston was all riled up about, gave me a cursory glare, and fucked off somewhere. Still have not seen Steve.

This was the first major trip I have ever taken with Lily, and of course, she was a perfect angel. This should not really be a surprise because the sum total of her existence on most days is sleeping a dog bed five feet from me. So basically she did the same thing on the trip, just at 75-80 mph. She was do sedate at the my parents’ that my dad asked “Does she ever do anything she looks like she has flatlined.”

Some pics of the fat loots from the trip:

First, Tammy’s kicks, which she tried on and loves:

Second, some cigars for Brian, Tammy’s husband:

Third, for the three sisters (Devon, Annie, and adopted sister Tammy), somewhat matching necklaces:

And then finally, for me:

The former is a large picture of the Angel Oak of St. John’s Island, a live oak that is perhaps 600 years old and just massive. As you all know, I have a thing for trees, so I had to have it and am going to see it next time I am down there.

The latter is a print of some artwork by an artist in Charleston named Sam Long. The original piece is something she makes from polymer clay and bakes in a kiln, but this is just a print. I liked all the colors and the Warholesque feel of it. You should definitely check out her website- she seems super neat and she has nine cats.

Final playlist:

Miami to Charleston, SC:

Coldplay- A rush of blood
Donovan Frankenreiter- Move By Yourself
Lorde- Melodrama
The Smiths- Hatful of Hollow
Talking Heads- Stop Making Sense
RATM- the Battle of Los Angeles
Parliament of Funk- Millenium Collection
Les Claypool and the Holy Mackerels- Highball with yhe Devil
Guru- Jazzamatazz
Dire Straits- Brothers in Arms

Charleston, SC, to Bethany:

Donovan Frankenreiter- Move By Yourself
Led Zeppelin II
Lynyrd Skynyrd- All time greatest hits
Beatles- Abbey Road
Beatles- Sgt. Peppers
Zappa- Overnite Sensation
Beyonce- Lemonade
Alice in Chains- Dirt
Black Panther Sountrack
Kendrick Lamar EP
Beastie Boys- Hello Nasty
The Cars- Heartbeat City
Notorious BIG- Ready to Die

I should probably take my road trip playlists to therapy and let them analyze them because I’m sure it says something about me.

I’ll be back later. I need to unpack, shower, put my life back together, and although I am dreading it, check in and see what the orange fuckboy has been up to the last two weeks since I have paid only superficial attention to the news.

It’s fucking cold and that is bullshit.

Oh, and boy is travel cheap when you don’t drink (and you are staying in someone else’s place. I budgeted the money I got back from the insurance from my cancelled Outer Banks vacation and spent 500 less. And that was with eating out a bunch and buying a few things.



“Alexa, order ALL the popcorn!”

Via The Times:

Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer who implicated him in a scheme to pay hush money to two women claiming to have had affairs with him, has agreed to testify before the House Oversight Committee next month and give “a full and credible account” of his work for Mr. Trump.

Mr. Cohen’s decision to appear before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Feb. 7 sets the stage for a blockbuster public hearing that threatens to further damage the president’s image and could clarify the depth of his legal woes. Mr. Cohen, a consigliere to Mr. Trump when he was a real estate developer and presidential candidate as well as informally as president, was privy to the machinations of Mr. Trump’s inner circle and key moments under scrutiny by both the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and federal prosecutors in New York.

He could soon share them on national television under oath.

“In furtherance of my commitment to cooperate and provide the American people with answers, I have accepted the invitation by Chairman Elijah Cummings to appear publicly on February 7,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement. “I look forward to having the privilege of being afforded a platform with which to give a full and credible account of the events which have transpired.”

I’m taking that day off.

Open thread!



Early Warning Open Thread

I’ll be on a BBC Radio show on Saturday. It will be available on the internet afterwards. I will tell you about this again.

Open Thread!