Saturday, May 27, 2017

What the Actual F-CKSH-T IS THIS?

(Updated below)
This isn't much from me, this is pretty much what I read last night on Balloon-Juice:

(link to Washington Post) Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin.
Ambassador Sergei Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, then President-elect Trump’s son-in-law and confidant, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.
The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.
Neither the meeting nor the communications of Americans involved were under U.S. surveillance, officials said.
The Post bolded that last. So the information came from…?

Reportedly the Post got an anonymous letter from inside the trump campaign. They've held onto it while verifying it, and apparently got confirmation from other Intel people who were able to dig up related info.

So here's the deal: Kushner went to Kislyak - alongside Flynn, who is already in a world of trouble with his ties to foreign nations - and wanted to set up a super-secret backchannel to Russia (Putin) in a way that our own government agencies wouldn't know about it. Subverting the Hotline that already exists with Russia, avoiding our own State Department, sneaking past the FBI and CIA and Congress. Kushner wanted to use resources at the Russian Embassy to do this, a request even the Russians viewed as crazy.

As a side note, Kushner did not report this meeting with Kislyak on his SF-86 form. He's had several contacts with Russians he failed to report.

The trump people are claiming they were doing this "to work out a peace deal over Syria," but why do it this way? There's a perfectly good STATE DEPARTMENT sitting right there they can use that's DESIGNED FOR DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS.

What this looks like to me, and I admit there's a bit of bias and rage here, is that Kushner wanted to keep himself and trump in contact with the Russian business and political allies they've had since the 1990s.

The same Russian allies they had during their 2016 campaign currently under investigation for Russian efforts to sabotage/subvert our election.

This is, to me, Kushner allying himself with a foreign power, trying to circumvent our own government's rules and organizations to serve his own interests against everyone else's.

HOW THE HELL IS THIS NOT TREASON?

Update: David Atkins over at Washington Monthly tries to think out the reasons:

So what monumental idiocy, urgent imperative and guilty necessity would drive Jared Kushner to reach out to Kislyak to request a secret back channel to the Kremlin during the transition period? Any aboveboard diplomatic explanation defies belief. Even a theoretically legitimate policy disagreement with the Obama White House would have been a non-starter, as there is only one president at a time, and therefore only one foreign policy at a time...
The motive has to be personal, then.
There are really only two possible explanations: that Kushner needed to arrange personal matters with Russian business partners and/or creditors without anyone but the Kremlin knowing (very bad and likely criminal) or that Kushner needed to arrange some sort of political deal with the Russians without the knowledge of the American intelligence services (potentially treasonous.) Or it could be both.
There simply isn’t any other reasonable explanation.
Which means the White House has a whole lot of explaining to do. Not just the White House, but the entire Trump family, including Donald and Ivanka.

This corruption is what 62 million of you voted for. I hope you're thrilled.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Anniversaries: A Long Time Ago In a Clearwater Bijou Far Far Away...

I kinda blogged about my geeking over Star Wars often here, but I blog elsewhere and on that site I went into more detail about how and when I fell in love with a movie:

Somewhere in my mind there is a seven year old boy sitting in a large rocking chair in a movie theater called a Bijou in downtown Clearwater Florida.
It's late summer, just before school. Having taken care of a big event in our family's lives - moving into a new home - the parents relent and take their three youthful boys to see this movie everyone's been gabbing about called Star Wars. The lads are familiar with some elements of science fiction - we've seen this thing called Star Trek on the teevee once or twice - but all we knew about the movie was from an ad campaign that showed spaceships blowing up and robots running around...

...It's archetypal, it's nostalgic, it's futuristic, it's action, it's space opera, it's primal emotional satisfaction. When Luke finishes that trench run and the Death Star blows up (oh shush I'm not spoiling a damn thing), the need among everyone in the audience to stand and cheer in victory is universal.

I'm remembering the good times again because today - May 25 - is the 40th anniversary when Star Wars officially came out. It actually got released to a handful of theaters because 20th Century Fox wasn't too sure it would do well and was just dumping it off into a summer season that tended to be quiet for the industry.

And then the whole thing blew up. Word of mouth spread. Kids, teens, and adults all flocked like mad to see a movie with incredible visual effects, impressive Wagnerian musical score by John Williams, and a faithful archetypal story. Millions went back for repeat viewings (home videotape was still years away from reaching the public, and waiting for movies to reach television took years). They released the movie to more theaters across the nation, where the demand overwhelmed the smaller places that hosted one or two (!) screens.

It rewired the entire film industry. Combined with a previous summer blockbuster Jaws, it convinced Hollywood that summertime was when blockbuster spectacles should be released. Special effects action movies dominated the production schedules. Movies were geared for kids and teens as much as possible. Multiplex theaters blossomed to match the demand (and supply as every studio raced to make their own Star Wars franchise hit).

That all didn't matter much to me at the time. It took awhile - the whole summer - to get to see it, but once my family had settled into our new home in Palm Harbor our parents were able to escort us to the theaters to watch it.

I didn't go completely geeky: my parents would indulge a little in the toys and the games, but they didn't buy every bit of merch that spawned around Lucas' empire. But I kept up with it, spread my interest to other SciFi and Fantasy 'Verses, and refreshed my geekery in the comics/graphic novel world as I grew into an adult.

I still hark back to my fanboy foundation, though, as evidenced by my prized lightsaber and showing up at local comic-cons dressed as a Jedi.

Man, forty years.

That Clearwater theater is long gone. Carrie Fisher and Kenny Baker too. But there's another Episode coming out this year, and with luck I'll live long enough to see Episode IX which promises to be the big finale.

The seven year old in me still geeks out.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Go Tell That Long-Tongued Liar

Media manipulator, nation destroyer, obscene form of life Roger Ailes is dead.

I know if you're not able to say anything nice about anybody you shouldn't say anything at all.

But Ailes has many sins to answer for.

Much of the Far Right Noise Machine is his fault. Granted, there were Right Wing pundits for decades. Rush Limbaugh existed years before Fox Not-News did. But what Ailes brought to that whole side of the journalistic spectrum was a foundation and focal point. He gave the Far Right extremists a platform to vent, he hired pundits to corral and promote that extremism, he pitched a safe haven where the Conservative viewpoint could flourish and expand.

There may be the likes of Drudge, and Rush, and Breitbart (his remnant empire), and Coulter, and there are other conservative outlets like National Review and Newsmax. But Fox Not-News made itself the sun around which all others orbit.

He'd been a major player in the media for years, ever since helping Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign. The Selling of the President should be on everyone's reading list: it's where our modern political world got its ugly baptism. And it's where Roger Ailes appeared on the stage.

Ailes' influence reached far. Political campaigns and elected officials knew to bow in his general direction, and cower when he got angry. Rather than report the news, Ailes tilted his channel to focus on the opinion, filling the cable signals with pundit after pundit pushing agendas instead of the facts. Troubling enough, his approach worked: it appealed to the white and male audience Ailes wanted to reach, injecting them with anger and aiming that rage towards the Democrats and Liberal Left.

Where Ailes could not argue with conviction, he pushed with false narratives. His network would offer up half-baked conspiracies, twist reports to accent the negatives, confuse the issues by denying facts. He perfected the act of malicious reporting while avoiding the hazards of Libel and Defamation laws, by skirting the edge of fuzzy journalism to where if anyone fought back they would get attacked for "destroying free speech."

Ailes is the reason why most of our nation's attention towards political and social issues is driven by vitriol.

Ailes is one big reason (out of several) why we have trump in the White House.

There is no pit of hell deep enough for Roger Ailes.

You may throw a rock, hide your hand
Work in the dark against your fellow man
But sure as God has made the day and the night
What you do in the dark will be brought to light

You may run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
You may run home for for a long time
But let me tell you God Almighty's gonna cut you down

Go tell that long-tongued liar
Go tell that midnight rider
Tell the gambler, rambler, backbiter
Tell them God Almighty's gonna cut him down...

-- Written by Willie T. Johnson, Henry L. Jr. Owens, Clyde Riddick, and Orlandus Wilson (with thanks to Johnny Cash for a brilliant cover version)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Above All, A Machiavellian Master Must Be Competent

As of now, nearly every scandal with this trump Administration have been self-inflicted. That is, none of this would be happening if the people in charge - from trump on down to his handlers to their meager overworked staffs - had 1) general competency to do their jobs, 2) a genuine willingness to learn their jobs, 3) respect for the institutional norms that have done this nation well for 200-plus years, 4) basic goddamn common sense that you shouldn't fucking do things that will blow up in your face.

There is no sign that anybody at that White House can plan ten minutes ahead of themselves much less five days, eight weeks, six months, four years. They are bouncing from incident to incident, from mishandled staged events to botched executive orders to disorganized Congressional outreach to outright acts of corruption and illegality.

To quote Stephen Stromberg over at Washington Post:

At the opening of his presidency, Trump’s unforced errors were embarrassing — but, one could argue, at least the botched rollout of his immigration executive order rendered it vulnerable to legal attack, his poor negotiating skills complicated the passage of his slipshod health-care bill and his inattention to detail enabled his surprisingly capable foreign policy staff to limit the damage he could do...
...Now The Post reports that the day after he fired Comey, Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador. U.S. officials apparently obtained the material, which concerned Islamic State plotting, from a foreign ally and did not have permission to share the information with Russia. Though few specific details could be reported, there are a variety of dangerous potential consequences. Not only could the information’s disclosure imperil an intelligence relationship with a helpful government, but it could also reveal a secret intelligence asset to a foreign adversary working at cross purposes to the U.S. and its allies.
Compounding the insult, the accounts in The Post suggest Trump may have revealed the information in order to boast to his foreign visitors about the quality of the intelligence briefings he receives, as if they would not have known that the president of the United States has access to impressive amounts of secret material. The picture is not so much of conspiracy or malevolence, but of unfathomable carelessness...

I am fond of quoting Machiavelli about "Whether it is better to be loved or feared?" In that question, there is an underlying acceptance that the Prince in this scenario be someone competent. Incompetent leaders quickly lose the respect of others, at which point being loved or feared is useless.

Now to David Frum over at The Atlantic:

The president can never be cut out of the information loop altogether. But consider how little information Trump wants in the first place. He is satisfied with single pagers dotted by colorful bullet points. If that is all he uses, maybe it’s better for everybody to hold back information he could possibly misuse?...
It’s understandable why conscientious professionals would take such measures. Yet consider the troubling consequence of that decision. The security aspects of government would slip away from political control—for reasons that might seem necessary in the short run, but could be hard to reverse in the longer term. Donald Trump promised to shake up Washington. And what is being shaken is the trust of those who must carry out his orders. Someone has to be ultimately in charge of the national-security portions of the U.S. government. After this week, it may become a lot harder to identify precisely who that someone is...

It doesn't help that trump is playing this game as one of the most hated "leaders" in modern history, starting off his administration in an Unpopularity hole NO MODERN PRESIDENT ever had. He's already lost a majority of Americans who simply will never accept him.

The only thing keeping trump and his Republican allies in government - many of whom are showing the strain of supporting this clueless shitgibbon at every downturn - afloat is the epistemic bubble of the Far Right Narrative, where 80 percent of the GOP voting base loves trump precisely for the chaos and emotional turmoil he inflicts on all the non-believers outside that bubble.

But the Real World does not exist in that bubble. The Real World respects competency and effectiveness in governments being able to work together to maintain stability.

The Real World has ways of making those incompetent would-be dictator god-emperors doom themselves.

Unfortunately, everybody else has to pay the bills when that doom comes.

We are so very royally fucked.

Added: An additional note or twelve from Jon Finer at The Atlantic:

...Taking a step back, it is increasingly clear that Trump’s wrecking ball approach to the traditional norms of the presidency, praised as “disruptive” by his supporters, is exposing the limitations of a political system ill-equipped to handle someone operating  so recklessly. There may be few legal restrictions on the president related to, for example, disclosing classified information, or ethical breaches, or interfering with a law enforcement investigation into the campaign that brought him to power, but there has always been a basic presumption that a president would operate within certain bounds of good faith.
With a Republican-led Congress so far unwilling to hold the administration to account and few remedies available, short of nuclear options (impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment), the system is largely left to discipline itself. That isn't working...
...This incident is among the first, or at least most visible, costs of a person with this president's temperament occupying the Oval Office. Yet again, the administration is fighting a five-alarm fire of its own (and, as is often the case, of its president's) making.
It's been said and written frequently, but it bears repeating, that the day will come, sooner than anyone of us wants, when there will be a major external crisis for this administration to address. Anyone who isn't concerned about how that will play out isn't paying much attention.

...yup. Royally fucked.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Clear And Present Danger That Is trump

Jesus.

President donald trump revealed highly classified information to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in a White House meeting last week, the Washington Post reports, citing current and former U.S. officials who said that trump's disclosures jeopardized a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State.

If there's any bright news, trump is killing the spy industry. Why should Putin pay anybody to spy for him when all he has to do is call up trump for tea time in the Oval Office?

Remember how the Far Right yelled and screamed about Hillary and her private email server? They pushed about, what, eleven different investigations to find out that she never really revealed classified intel through that server, that she was never a national security risk. Can you imagine her doing something this clueless, this reckless, this blatant a disregard for our own intel? Hillary is Ambitious, yes: Stupid, no.

Why worry about trump's emails? trump will just call over the Russian ambassador and hand all the Daily Briefing folders in person.

Remember Alger Hiss?

Remember the Rosenbergs?

Remember Aldrich Ames?

Remember Robert Hanssen?

You'd better. Every single one of them are currently being outclassed by the biggest leaker of them all.

And 62 million Americans voted this goddamn national security risk into the White House.

Every Republican in Congress is defending this crook in the White House, either by silence or eager proclamation.

We are so very fucked.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

WE SHALL RIDE TO TRUMP TOWER SHINY AND CHROME

Thank GOD for Saturday Night Live:


The streets were filled with onlookers:

And the skit did not disappoint:

We're still incredibly f-cked, but at least we're able to mock our tormentors as they demolish the landscape...

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Obstruction of Justice

It has its own chapter in the US Code: 18 USC 73.

The relevant matter may be under section 1505:

...Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law under which any pending proceeding is being had before any department or agency of the United States, or the due and proper exercise of the power of inquiry under which any inquiry or investigation is being had by either House, or any committee of either House or any joint committee of the Congress
Shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism (as defined in section 2331), imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both.

trump is using Comey's firing as both threat and promise of force: anyone who keeps investigating his and his campaign's ties to Russia will lose their jobs.

Obstruction is a serious matter. Just ask Scooter Libby. Just ask Richard Nixon.

trump is openly admitting to it now. His recent interview with Lester Holt revealed he'd wanted to fire Comey for weeks, that he questioned Comey three times about the investigations into the possibility Russia hacked the 2016 election, and that "the Russia thing" was on his mind.

Jesus FUCKING Christ, Congress.

This is what you're defending every time you curl up into a ball, roll over, and play dead.