Humint Events Online: May 2017

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Why Trump-Russia Matters

Sarah Kendzior:
Though Trump has shifted position on nearly everything, he's never wavered in his devotion to Russia or his praise of Putin, whom he admires as a strongman. Trump praised Putin on American TV in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, and Russian state media similarly praised Trump, befuddling U.S.-Russia experts who wondered why the Kremlin seemed so interested in buttering up the host of The Apprentice.
But the Kremlin's motive for interfering in our election was simple.
They were presented with two candidates: One, Hillary Clinton, was a nemesis of Putin who sought to keep sanctions against Russia and honor U.S. commitments to international bodies like NATO. The other, Donald Trump, was a malleable egomaniac who had been trying to work with Russia for 30 years.
Trump was also an inherently chaotic candidate whose rise could weaken already struggling U.S. institutions. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has been tanking economically and losing political influence—weakening the U.S. is a great way for the Kremlin to get back on top.
Like all Trump ventures, the disaster of this Russian interference plays out on many levels via many players. Trump himself may be at the center of the story, but it's his staff (and now his son-in-law) being investigated for potential ties.
Their alleged Russian collusion may have been motivated by money—former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was secretly on the payroll of a Russian billionaire to do work to"benefit the Putin government" back in 2005.
Or they may have been motivated by ideology—Russia is a xenophobic, increasingly white supremacist state with rhetoric that mirrors that of the Republican Party, particularly under Trump.
Either way, what's good for Trump and his inner circle may be good for Russia, and vice-versa—but it's not good for ordinary Americans or Russians.
As a hyper-capitalist, authoritarian state dominated by sleazy oligarchs and corrupt officials, Russia suppresses free speech, independent media, public protests, and brutally persecutes marginalized groups like LGBT citizens, Muslims, and migrant laborers.
When not busy repressing its own people, the Kremlin tries to repress citizens of other states, both militarily (as in Ukraine) and through media manipulation. It is not, in other words, a government whose ideals we want to align with or empower.
That's what's most disconcerting about the Russian interference scandal: It's the possibility that worst elements in each of our governments could collaborate secretly against the welfare of citizens. It's an affront to sovereignty and to humane governance.
As an American, you should care about that.
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"Would a spy for Russia be acting any differently?"

Basically, no.
The more help Trump extends to Russia’s interests and the more inexplicable conduct comes to light (e.g., Jared Kushner looking for a Russian-secured channel) the harder it is to believe Trump isn’t, at the very least, a useful idiot.
Months before the revelations over the last two weeks or so, Watts wrote: “Trump’s loose style of alliances and tactical actions make him ideally suited for the “Useful Idiot” scenario of Russian influence as he takes on advisors and positions based on perceived loyalty, yet without a clear understanding of his advisors connections to Russia. Any traditional politician would have sensed the danger implicit in surrounding oneself with people so closely connected to Putin’s intelligence agents.”
By whatever means, Russia has reaped unexpected and unparalleled benefits from Trump’s presidency. One can attribute all these individual actions to luck or coincidence, I suppose.
But Trump has yet to take a single action nor have a single public interchange that harmed Russia’s interests. You’d think by the law of averages he’d once in a while stumble into a position that put him fundamentally at odds with Russia. That, however, has not occurred.
Nor has it been possible for respected advisers to keep him from giving Russians intelligence data, sowing discord with allies and employing his son-in-law, whose contacts with the Russians seem curiouser and curiouser each day.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Corruption on the Grandest Stage

The most plausible ‘bad’ story behind the Trump/Russia mystery has always been some kind of financial preferment to members of the Trump family in exchange for lifting the sanctions put in place after the Russian annexation of Crimea and subsequent low-intensity incursions into eastern Ukraine.
But these new reports about Kushner, trying to set up a confidential line of communication hidden from the US government, meeting with a Russian banker whose role has focused on business ventures taken at the behest of the Russian government to pursue state interests starts to look a lot like the worst case scenario.
I think this is pretty clear that this worst case scenario IS happening, it's what the Russian election interference was all about, it's why Trump is pushing a policy which destabilizes the American-European alliance (a policy that fits perfectly with Russia’s key strategic goals).

It's all about granting massive favors to Russia for MONEY.

It is corruption of the highest order.

No American should be okay with this.
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Monday, May 29, 2017

Perilous Times for Our Nation, for Our Democracy

People are going to lose faith in our system on all sides. On the Trump-supporting right, they’re going to see his removal from office as essentially a coup engineered by the Deep State, media, globalists, Obama stay-behinds, and weak Republicans who won’t fight. On the left, the continuing inability to win political power commensurate with their numbers will eventually cause more and more to seek remedies outside of any kind of civil process based on law and precedent.
This is all a recipe for a breakdown in order and for our systems for political accountability and the peaceful transfer of power. We’re already far enough along this road that a lot of people are beginning to conclude that the system is broken not only beyond repair but beyond having any moral claim to deserve repair. Maybe it’s better to work to accelerate its demise than to try to shore up an edifice that is beyond hope. Perhaps the most corrosive aspect of this is when it is applied not to the media or our elites but to the people themselves. Once you lose faith in the quality of our people, pretty much everything else collapses. We can perhaps devise new systems, but any system that isn’t premised on the will of the people won’t be a system worth having.

There's more, and a lot of really good comments to the piece, definitely a lot of different opinions.

I am not completely pessimistic, but I am worried. The GOP is NOT holding Trump accountable to very serious and egregious crimes. This is destabilizing enough, without the absolutely horrible policies they are pursuing.
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Dilma Rousseff is a Badass

Democracy Now!
As we continue to look at the political crisis in Brazil, we turn now to Brazil’s ousted president, Dilma Rousseff, who was impeached last year in what many describe as a coup. Her removal ended nearly 14 years of rule by the left-leaning Workers’ Party, which had been credited with lifting millions of Brazilians out of poverty.
Rousseff is a former political prisoner who took part in the underground resistance to the U.S.-backed Brazilian dictatorship in the '60s. She was jailed from 1970 to 1972, during which time she was repeatedly tortured. Dilma Rousseff would later become a key figure in the Workers' Party under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. She was elected president in 2010, re-elected in 2014.
The interview is well worth a listen (or read), especially her account of being tortured.
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Saturday, May 27, 2017

RIP Gregg Allman

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Trump and Kushner-- Partners in Treason

This is just jaw-dropping:
To review, Kushner allegedly asked Russian Ambassador Kislyak to arrange a secret, secure backchannel through which members of Trump team could communicate directly to the Kremlin. This was the heart of last night’s Post blockbuster. Kushner reportedly asked Kislyak to allow Trump team members access to the secure channels Russia itself uses to send secure communications back to Moscow. This presumably involves secure facilities/hardware at the Russian Embassy and other US-located diplomatic facilities. These definitely exist. We have the same thing in Moscow.
It is difficult to capture how extraordinary and close to incomprehensible such a step would be. As a number of former intelligence officials have noted, if an intelligence officer or really any other US government official did this it would be considered espionage.
This meant opening a channel where Trump team members could speak openly with Russian counterparts without fear of being heard by and behind the backs of the US intelligence community, US diplomats and the US military. Even Kislyak was apparently taken aback by the request. And as a sidelight to this, even if we believe the absolute worst about Kushner and Flynn, no country would ever let foreign nationals have access to those kinds of facilities. Why would Kushner and Flynn push for such a secret channel of communications?

Possibilities mentioned in the piece are to make secret business deals with Russian banks, and for Flynn to coordinate with the Russian military. 

Whatever it was about, there was no reason to do it so covertly and out of the eyes of all US officials, unless they were doing something illegal. 

IMO, we have to assume the worst possible motives here, a true conspiracy, possibly even something pertaining to deep "ultimate" truths, something like merging control of US and Russian nukes.
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Trump-- a Brazen Crook

So many people are in complete denial about how flagrantly crooked Trump is.

But he's violated the constitution and committed treason right out in the open, just like he violated every norm during the campaign. He's just daring us to bring him to justice.

Tragically he was put in the most powerful position in the country, where he is able to continue breaking the law right in front of everybody, and his position allows him to get away with so much. It's beyond insanity.

Good twitter thread relevant to this:

Politics is a tough, dirty game, but that doesn't mean we let people flagrantly abuse the system. 

What Trump is doing is well beyond the pale.
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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

How Trump's Strange Affinity for Mike Flynn Makes Him Guilty as Hell

Under the circumstances, as they unfolded, Trump should have been the first person “out to get” Flynn. He should have felt a sense of personal betrayal.
But he clearly doesn’t feel that way. Instead, his first instinct was to try to protect Flynn.
Most notably, after an Oval Office meeting with national security officials on the terrorism threat, “Trump asked everyone to leave except [FBI Director James] Comey,” and then he made a personal appeal for Comey to cut Flynn some slack. Even after this exchange became public, Trump made sure that official White House statements were crafted to defend Flynn: “While the President has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the President has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn.”
Of course, the investigation of Flynn is not just or even primarily about Turkey, but on the Raqqa question alone Trump should be outraged. And he’s not.
Now, read the following and ask yourself how you would react in Trump’s place: Russian officials bragged in conversations during the presidential campaign that they had cultivated a strong relationship with former Trump adviser retired Gen. Michael Flynn and believed they could use him to influence Donald Trump and his team, sources told CNN. The conversations deeply concerned US intelligence officials, some of whom acted on their own to limit how much sensitive information they shared with Flynn, who was tapped to become Trump’s national security adviser, current and former governments officials said. “This was a five-alarm fire from early on,” one former Obama administration official said, “the way the Russians were talking about him.” Another former administration official said Flynn was viewed as a potential national security problem. The conversations picked up by US intelligence officials indicated the Russians regarded Flynn as an ally, sources said.
If it were me, I’d be suspicious that Flynn had been working for the Russians all along and had been dishonest in his dealings with me and in the advice he had provided me on foreign policy. Maybe I wouldn’t want to admit as much publicly, but I also wouldn’t be inclined to say he was “a decent man who served and protected our country.”
I know it’s difficult to put yourself in Trump’s shoes because he’s a very unusual personality type. But it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Trump is doing one of two things.
The first possibility is that Trump knows full-well that Flynn was working for the Russians because he was working for them, too.
The second possibility is that, for whatever reasons, he can’t allow Flynn to talk to investigators because it would expose misdeeds of his own.
These two possibilities aren’t mutually exclusive, but at least one of them must be true.
Most people are going to gravitate to the second possibility because it’s less grave in its consequences. Perhaps the misdeeds Trump is hiding are not so serious. Maybe he doesn’t want to admit that he didn’t properly vet Flynn or he is trying to hide that he asked Flynn to interact with Ambassador Kislyak because he wanted to start his relations with Russia with a clean slate. Perhaps he’s acting loyally to Flynn in part because Flynn only did what he was told to do and in part because the truth would expose that he’s told some rather extraordinary lies.
Even if we allow for this more innocent explanation, however, it’s really very damning. Trump has repeatedly acted to stymie and shut down an investigation of Flynn, committing clear acts of obstruction of justice that would result in imprisonment for anyone not shielded by the Office of the Presidency’s protections against prosecution.
If he did all this to avoid mere embarrassment and survivable political headaches, that’s kind of incredible. And consider that Trump would in this more innocuous scenario still have plenty of reasons to be furious with Flynn. He’d be hiding that perfectly normal and understandable human emotion and presenting public support for him for purely self-serving reasons. Basically, he’d be saying nice things about Flynn and sending him text messages to “stay strong” and firing the FBI director not because he’s pleased with Flynn but because he’s desperate to keep him from talking.
There’s a narrative that follows somewhat along these lines without quite fleshing out all the implications. The narrative basically says that Trump simply doesn’t understand that he’s obstructing justice.
He doesn’t realize that he’s not supposed to ask the Director of National Intelligence and the head of the National Security Agency to lie on his behalf or to ask the FBI director to quash a counterintelligence investigation and then fire him when he does not. The evidence for this is that he freely admits to (some of) his crimes, which a normal person would not do. And it’s true. There’s something inexplicable about Trump’s behavior because it mixes such a clear consciousness of guilt with actions that would only be taken rationally by a person who feels innocent.
More and more, his only defense is a kind of bottomless cluelessness that caroms off in every direction. He’s a dupe of the Russians rather than a witting participant. He doesn’t understand when he’s been used and betrayed even when it’s staring him squarely in the face. He has no clue what was done by his operatives, so his sense of innocence is real.
He thinks the people who he asks to clear him can do so truthfully because he’s got no attachment to anything approximating reality. He erroneously thinks the president can do whatever he wants because he has a misimpression of how the Constitution and our system of checks and balances are designed to work.
Some people think these hypotheses are both plausible and a defense against removal from office. The truth is, the more plausible these theories are, the more urgently they argue for his removal from office.

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Worst Remake of "The Addam's Family" Ever

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Monday, May 22, 2017

What on Earth Is Going on Here?

The official story:

The President and his family toured the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh — a center that aims to defeat militant ideology and messaging. Trump then joined King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the center’s grand opening where photos captured them placing their hands on the glowing globe.

 It may look like one but it's not a Satanic ritual, it's probably more deeply evil than that.
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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Arctic stronghold of world’s seeds flooded after permafrost melts

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That Meeting with the Russians in the Oval

So that was QUITE a meeting Trump had with the Russians in the Oval office, the day after firing Comey.

First, the Trump WH got tricked into to letting the official Russian state media take pictures of the event while keeping US press out. Totally embarrassing.

Second, Trump admitted to the Russians that he fired Comey for the Russian investigation, admitting to obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense.

Third, Trump calls the US FBI director a "nutjob" to diplomats of a foreign adversary, which is quite unseemly-- insulting Americans in front of our adversary.

Fourth, Trump gave away top secret intelligence secrets from Israel to Russian diplomats (our top foreign adversary), which is incredibly dumb, and could be considered treason.

Fifth, it's very rare to have the Russian ambassador in the Oval office, but apparently Trump did this as a favor to Putin. After their interference in our election, why do we owe Putin a favor?

Sixth, and possibly MOST weird and disturbing is how chummy Trump was with the Russians, in contrast to his meetings with leaders of our normal allies.

At this point, who really doubts the existence of a Russian pee tape that is being used to blackmail Trump?

Seriously, Trump just needs to resign, and save him and us a huge amount of trouble and embarrassment.

The problem though I think Trump is so mentally ill, he probably has no specific memory of colluding with Russia during the election or being their puppet, but just has some feral animal instinct that he knows he has to be nice to Russia to save his skin.

It's all so freaking INSANE.
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Friday, May 19, 2017

The Impeachment Drums Are Growing Louder

My god, he's so incredibly stupid:
WASHINGTON — President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.“
I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official.
“I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”
The conversation, during a May 10 meeting — the day after he fired Mr. Comey — reinforces the notion that Mr. Trump dismissed him primarily because of the bureau’s investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian operatives.
Trump couldn't be a better Russian puppet if they wanted him to be.

From earlier this week:

Articles of Impeachment for Donald J. Trump: A first draft of an impeachment bill for the president.
Article 1: Compromising the integrity of the presidency through continuing violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. From his first day in office, Trump’s continuing stake in Trump Organization businesses has violated the clause of the Constitution proscribing federal officials from receiving foreign payments. The true and full extent of Trump’s conflicts of interest remains unknown. For his part, Trump has transferred day-to-day control over these interests to his adult children and the management of the Trump Organization. However, he remains the ultimate beneficiary for these businesses, so the fundamental conflict of interest remains. These foreign business ties violate both the letter and spirit of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, and arguably provide the clearest basis for impeachment based on the facts and law.
Article 2: Violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the duties of his office by disregarding U.S. interests and pursuing the interests of a hostile foreign power, to wit, Russia. L’affaire Russia began during Trump’s campaign for the presidency, during which several top aides reportedly had contacts with Russia and its intelligence service. His campaign manager also had reportedly worked either directly or indirectly for the Kremlin. These contacts continued, famously, into the presidential transition, when the president’s chosen national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had his ill-fated contacts with Russia. Beyond these contacts, Trump has substantively acted in myriad ways that benefit Russia, including dangerous diplomacy that has reportedly frayed relationships with our allies and allegedly put allied intelligence assets at risk. By offering classified information to the Russians, it was reported that Trump risked the intelligence assets of a Middle Eastern ally that already warned American officials that it would stop sharing such information with America if that information was shared too widely. In risking that relationship, Trump has opened up the possibility for the loss of that information stream for combatting terrorism, and potentially put American lives at risk from the loss of intelligence that could inform officials about future attacks on Americans at home and abroad.
Article 3: Impairment and obstruction of inquiries by the Justice Department and Congress into the extent of the Trump administration’s conflicts of interests and Russia ties. The Trump administration has systematically impeded, avoided, or obstructed the machinery of justice to obscure its business relationships, its Russia ties, and the forces acting within the Trump White House to animate policy. The most egregious and visible examples have been Trump’s firings of Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and FBI Director James Comey. [Update, 6:18 p.m.: The New York Times reported on Tuesday afternoon on an even more egregious case of apparent obstruction of justice, wherein Trump allegedly directly asked Comey to end the FBI's investigation of Michael Flynn.] Each termination had what appeared to be a lawful pretext; subsequent statements or admissions have indicated each had more to do with obstructing justice than holding leaders accountable. Alongside these sackings, the Trump administration has also worked to starve Justice Department inquiries of resources and refocus investigators on suspected leaks instead of the White House’s own Russia intrigues. The Trump administration also interfered with congressional inquiries through attempting to block witnesses like Yates from appearing or selective leaking of classified information to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, compromising Nunes so badly he had to recuse himself from the matter.
Article 4: Undermining of the American judicial system through felonious intimidation of potential witnesses. In his desire to continue Comey’s public humiliation, and ensure Comey remained silent about Trump’s possible sins, the president threatened Comey on Twitter with disclosure of “tapes” of their conversations. This follows a pattern of Trump roughly treating witnesses and litigation adversaries that stretches back for decades before his presidency. Since taking office, Trump has also used the bully pulpit of his office to threaten intelligence officials for purported leaks and badger former Yates before her congressional testimony. In addition to falling beneath the dignity of the presidency, these verbal assaults also constitute obstruction of justice, prohibited by federal statutes on witness intimidation, retaliation against a witness, and obstruction of federal proceedings. These attacks don’t just harm the individuals who are targeted; they assault and undermine the rule of law. As such, they constitute further grounds for impeachment of Trump and his removal from the presidency.
Article 5: Undermining of his office and the Constitution through repeated assaults on the integrity of the federal judiciary and its officers. During the presidential campaign, Trump publicly attacked federal district Judge Gonzalo Curiel on the basis of his ethnicity, saying Curiel had been “extremely hostile to (Trump),” and that the judge had ruled against Trump because of his “Mexican heritage.” Since taking office, Trump has continued his unpresidential assaults on the federal judiciary, particularly after repeatedly losing court battles over his travel bans. At one point, he described a member of the bench as a “so-called judge,” undermining the premise of an independent judiciary. These statements also undermined both the dignity and power of the presidency, and threaten the rule of law by attacking the integrity of the federal judiciary.
Article 6: Demeaning the integrity of government and its public servants, particularly the military and intelligence agencies, in contravention of his constitutional duties to serve as chief executive and commander in chief of the armed forces. Trump swept into office with considerable disdain for the government and its military. Indeed, during his campaign, he insulted former prisoners of war, Purple Heart recipients, and Gold Star families; criticized the military for its performance in Iraq; and said today’s generals and admirals had been “reduced to rubble” during the Obama administration. Trump carried this disdain into the presidency, through his attacks on the “deep state” of military and intelligence officials that he believed to be obstructing his agenda. He also demeaned the military and its apolitical ethos through use of military fora and audiences as public spectacle—first to sign his immigration order in the Pentagon’s Hall of Heroes, and then to deliver rambling speeches at military and intelligence headquarters suggesting that pro-Trump elements in those agencies were grateful Trump had taken power. Trump has also continued to wage political war against his intelligence community, suggesting as recently as Tuesday morning that it was sabotaging his administration through leaking and other nefarious activities. In doing these things, Trump has undermined his constitutional office as president and commander in chief of the armed forces.
Article 7: Dereliction of his constitutional duty to faithfully execute the office of president by failing to timely appoint officers of the United States to administer the nation’s federal agencies. Shortly after taking office, Trump administration strategist Stephen Bannon articulated his plan for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” During its first four months in office, the Trump administration’s neglect of governance illustrates how this strategy is to be executed: delay of political appointments, failure to reach budget agreements with Congress in a timely manner, and deliberate neglect of governance and government operations. These actions and failures risk the health, welfare, and security of the nation, and represent a dereliction of Trump’s constitutional duty to faithfully execute the office of the presidency.
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Trump and Saudi Arabia-- Partners in Dishonesty, Terrorrism, Repression and War-Mongering

In the Saudis’ Den of Extremism, Trump Trades Advanced Weapons for a $200 Billion Re-Election Fund; Trump’s public relations bonanza will feature a speech on Islam composed by his most Islamophobic aide.
Trump’s ties to Saudi Arabia run deep. During the campaign, even as Trump blamed the Saudi royal family for the 9/11 attacks, he registered eight companies connected to hotel interests in the kingdom. Once Trump was inaugurated, the Saudis returned the favor, paying for rooms at his Washington, D.C., hotel through Qorvis MSLGroup, a Beltway lobbying firm.
The rooms were reserved for a group of veterans flown into town by Qorvis to lobby against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA) congressional legislation that would allow the bereaved family members of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government for its alleged role in the attacks. Many of the veterans had no idea they were acting on behalf of Saudi Arabia, and some, like Tim Cord, staged an open revolt when they realized they had been deceived. “We’re sitting in a room full of retired generals, colonels, men who gave 25 years of their life to this country and they’re being lied to by a bunch of young punks who are using the vet angle to make themselves sympathetic. Why do you think a 60-year-old general would want anything to do with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?” Cord, a veteran of the Iraq war, complained to the website “I mean, that’s a pretty heavy thing to assume we’re all going to be cool with.”
Throughout his chaotic tenure, Saudi Arabia has proven to be Trump’s most durable foreign ally, even providing him with political cover after the fallout from his Muslim travel ban. Following a White House meeting this March with Trump and his national security team, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman hailed the president as “a true friend of Muslims who will serve the Muslim World in an unimaginable manner, opposite to the negative portrait of his Excellency that some have tried to promote.”
Ahead of the White House meeting, the Saudis hired a D.C.-based consulting group, Booz Allen Hamilton, to compose a special presentation for the president. Prince Salman walked Trump through the Powerpoint slideshow the firm prepared, outlining a plan to invest at least $200 billion in American infrastructure and open up new business opportunities for U.S. companies inside the kingdom. In exchange, Trump was asked to ink the largest weapons deal in history, forking over the advanced missile defense systems and heavy weapons the Obama had administration had refused to sell. The weapons would then be used to pulverize Yemen.  (snip)
During the Arab Spring, the Saudi military directly intervened to crush a citizen uprising in Bahrain. Thanks to the kingdom’s critical assistance, the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet was able to hold on to the base that represented the most important American military asset in the Persian Gulf. Next, the Saudis shelled out millions to prop up Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s military junta in Egypt, crushing the country’s first democratically elected government and putting the January 25 revolution to bed once and for all.
Across the region, meanwhile, the Gulf monarchy cranked up its private media megaphone and activated Wahhabi religious proxies to drown out the cosmopolitan, reformist politics of the Arab Spring’s youth activists with regressive, sectarian messaging.
In Syria, Saudi Arabia has reverted to the role it played in Afghanistan, partnering with Washington to propel a proxy war aimed at weakening a Russian ally. Thanks to the flow of arms from Western and Gulf powers, Al Qaeda’s local affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, has taken control of large swaths of territory and appeared on the battlefield with sophisticated American weaponry. The Syrian rebel group that has received the bulk of Saudi support, Jaysh al-Islam (the Army of Islam), currently controls the city of East Ghouta, where it has paraded captive Alawite soldiers and their wives in cages, using them as human shields. In a video message to his supporters, the group’s late leader, Zahran Alloush—the son of a Saudi cleric—pledged to ethnically cleanse Syria of religious minorities: “Oh, you enemies of Islam… we will step on your heads,” he rumbled into a camera.
In Yemen, the special relationship between Washington and Riyadh has helped generate perhaps the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Thanks to the extensive assistance provided to the Saudi military by both the Obama and Trump administrations, Yemen now faces a rapidly spreading cholera epidemic while child malnutrition is at an “all time high,” according to the UN. By reducing the country to a failed state, the U.S. and its Gulf allies have provided a critical shot in the arm to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
In a report published this February, the International Crisis Group concluded, “The Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda (AQ) is stronger than it has ever been. As the country’s civil war has escalated and become regionalized,” the international conflict resolution group found, “its local franchise, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), is thriving in an environment of state collapse, growing sectarianism, shifting alliances, security vacuums and a burgeoning war economy.”
As in the past, American foreign policy in the Middle East has sacrificed national security and human rights for the dubious pursuit of empire. The leading edge of its cynical project is Saudi Arabia, the Arab Spring's destroyer, one of the world’s leading exporters of extremism and the top importer of American arms. Trump and the Islamophobes he has empowered might be seen as the enemy of Muslims back home, but in Riyadh, they are received as natural partners in a geopolitical death dance that grooves to the drums of war.

I don't agree with everything Blumenthal writes here, but he makes a key point high-lighted at the end. Bottom line is that Saudi Arabia is about as evil as a country gets-- the same pro-war dirty-energy death cult capitalist policies as the worst of the US, but with a far worse record on human rights.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Trump Presidency Falls Apart

No one could have predicted*... 

After an astonishing week of revelations, Donald Trump’s presidency appears to be on the verge of collapse. Consider what has happened just in the last 10 days: a string of damaging stories about a president unprecedented since at least the Nixon administration.
On May 8, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates appeared before Congress, offering testimony under oath that contradicted White House statements about Michael Flynn’s firing as national-security adviser, and which indicated Trump had waited 18 days after learning Flynn had lied to the vice president and might be subject to Russian blackmail before firing him.
On May 9, Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing an investigation into Russian interference in the election and possible Trump campaign collaboration on it. Trump cited a recommendation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who criticized Comey’s handling of an investigation into Hillary Clinton as too harsh. But that rationale was nonsensical on its face, because Trump had argued Comey was too lenient.
On May 10, amid reports that Rosenstein was livid about being fingered as the motivation for Comey’s firing, the White House changed its account and said there were other factors. Meanwhile, a flood of press reports indicated that Trump had actually fired Comey because he was upset about the Russia probe, and angry that Comey had told Congress that Trump’s accusation of “wiretapping” against Barack Obama was bogus.
On May 11, The Economist published an interview with Trump in which he betrayed near illiteracy about key economic issues facing the White House and his own proposed policies on them. Later that day, the president gave an interview to NBC News’s Lester Holt in which he directly contradicted the vice president and White House spokeswoman, admitting that the Russia probe was a factor in Comey’s dismissal. Trump also said that Comey told him three times he was not under personal investigation, and had asked Trump to meet for dinner in an attempt to keep his job. Later that day, Comey associates told the press that the president had lied, that Trump had invited a reluctant Comey to the meal, and further that Trump had demanded (but not received) a pledge of personal loyalty from the FBI director.
On May 12, Trump appeared to threaten Comey, saying he “had better hope that there are no ‘tapes’” of their conversations. The administration then refused to confirm or deny the existence of recordings made in the White House, claiming (preposterously) that the president’s position was clear. Later that day, Trump released a letter from lawyers that was intended to prove he had no business dealings in Russia. But the letter was widely mocked for writing off more than $100 million in income as “a few exceptions,” and tax experts said the letter proved nothing. The weekend was eerily quiet.
On May 15, Politico published a story about Trump’s news consumption that indicated his staffers were routinely passing him fake news stories, both to manipulate him and out of fear that giving him real news that might upset him. Politico also said Trump was unable to tell real news from fake, falling for a photoshopped Time cover before his staff intervened to tell him it was forged. Later that day, The Washington Post broke the news that during a meeting with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador, Trump had shared highly sensitive classified information obtained from an ally who had not authorized its sharing.**
On May 16, The New York Times and others reported that the source of the intelligence is Israel. Later in the day, the Times was the first to report on a memo that James Comey wrote after meeting with Trump on February 14 (the day after Flynn’s firing), in which Comey quotes Trump as asking him to drop the FBI investigation into Flynn and his ties to Russia. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump reportedly told Comey. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
It is difficult to assess the relative danger of each of these stories, because in any normal administration either of them could consume weeks if not months of attention as the press and politicians ferreted out each loose end.
In this case, each seems to be supplanted by a new self-inflicted casualty within hours.
Nonetheless, the Comey memo revealed Tuesday might be the biggest. For one thing, it ties together several of the Trump scandals. It takes in the questionable ties to Russia, Trump’s alleged tampering with investigations into his own aides and administration, and even his obsession with leaks—before he was blurting sensitive intelligence to Russian officials, he was reportedly telling Comey that reporters who received leaks from his government ought to be jailed. For another, it might offer the most solid proof of clear wrongdoing on the part of the administration.
Time and again, Trump’s errors have been dismissed—even, incredibly, by his own aides and defenders—as the work of a man who simply has no idea what he’s doing. He doesn’t understand the gravity of Flynn’s duplicity. He didn’t think firing James Comey would be a big deal. He didn’t intend to make a liar of his vice president; it just slipped out! Even in the case of the classified information, National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, while refusing to state that what Trump shared was classified, said the president wouldn’t have known its status either way.
These repeated lapses, taken together, create a case that Trump is simply not up to the job of the presidency.
(emphases added)

Mere words cannot capture the extent of the sheer insanity in every single event here, much less the mind-blowing totality.

It's pretty fucking hard to fail so spectacularly given the resources of the POTUS and a unified Republican government and half of the news media putting out GOP propaganda. Still they were undone by hubris, idiocy and pure evil.

Awesome job, GOP.

* actually most people with any sense of politics, his bizarre campaign and knowledge of Trump's past and demented personality could see this coming a mile away. And of course most newspapers and pundits were telling people what a disaster Trump would be before the election.

** "Breathtakingly Irresponsible: Former Bush Iraq Adviser on Trump Sharing Secret Intel with Russians"
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What Is Life?

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Evidence of Trump's Treason Accelerates

From last night:
Washington (CNN)There are two reasons why President Donald Trump fired James Comey, according to a source close to the now-former FBI director:
1. Comey never provided the President with any assurance of personal loyalty.
2. The fact that the FBI's investigation into possible Trump team collusion with Russia in the 2016 election was not only not going anywhere -- the investigation was accelerating.
The official White House version of what happened is that deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, fresh on the job, wrote a memo expressing concern about the way Comey had handled the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But mounting evidence suggests Comey was actually fired because of the Russian investigation.

Written the Tuesday night of Comey's firing:
There is only one reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the decision to fire Comey: that there is grave wrongdoing at the center of the Russia scandal and that it implicates the President. As I write this, I have a difficult time believing that last sentence myself. But sometimes you have to step back from your assumptions and simply look at what the available evidence is telling you. It’s speaking clearly: the only reasonable explanation is that the President has something immense to hide and needs someone in charge of the FBI who he believes is loyal. Like Jeff Sessions. Like Rod Rosenstein.
This is a very dark and perilous moment.

Trump's official explanation of course makes no sense. When has he EVER done something in favor of Democrats? And frankly, Trump is the most dishonest person we've ever seen in the White House, a truly malignant person, a self-serving and corrupt liar on the largest stage.

It would be child’s play for a Republican Party that cared about the integrity of American government institutions to force Trump to comply with some basic ethics guidelines and undertake meaningful financial disclosures. Instead, Ivanka Trump is hawking a book from inside the West Wing and nobody has any idea what kind of sweetheart deals corporations or foreign governments with business before the US government are striking with the Trump Organization.
In exchange for turning a blind eye to Trump’s corruption, Republicans are getting a slate of conservative judges, a solid roster of business-friendly regulators, and, if they’re lucky, a giant tax cut for the rich and millions of people cut off from Medicaid benefits. The price, however, is obvious.
The deeper you get in bed with Trump, the more tightly your fate is entwined with his. Some Republicans will decide they are overcommitted to Trump at this point, and they’ll fight on the lie that Comey was fired over emails. For others, one hopes, this will be a wake-up call that Trump is a profoundly dishonest person but also a rather clever one.
The comeback from the financial wreckage of his Atlantic City casino empire was incredibly slimy but involved a bravura display of low cunning. The fake rationale for firing Comey is, similarly, somewhat inspired. But sane Republicans should see the real meaning of this. Trump isn’t a policy savant, but he’s also not a dummy whom they are going to manipulate. He’s a snake whom they’ve taken into their home, and the sooner they do something about it, the better off we’ll all be.

In other words, he needs to be impeached or forced to resign, AS SOON AS FUCKING POSSIBLE.

And THIS-- THIS-- is just a giant fuck you to the USA. What a fucking asshole.
On the morning after President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, he met with Russia’s foreign minister in the White House. The Wednesday meeting was especially newsworthy given the timing and circumstances, with Comey having reportedly just asked for more resources to investigate Trump associates’ ties to Russia and the earlier conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Vladimir Putin’s government interfered in the presidential election to boost Trump. The White House declared the meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to be closed press, meaning that reporters couldn’t attend and cover independently. But one outlet did get in: TASS, a Russian state media organization. In addition, Russia’s foreign ministry quickly distributed photos of the Trump meeting with Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. And the Russian embassy even tweeted a shot of the president and Kislyak. (pics above)
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Media Coverage of Climate Change Is a "Nature Hike Through the Book of Revelation"

Great line from Al Gore.

I know many people still think man-made climate change is a hoax or over-blown, but
I think the science is real and carbon pollution is massive problem for our ecosystem.

The fact that Republicans and the corporate media deny or totally downplay climate change is a sign to me that it is real and that they only deny it because it threatens their bottom line.
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Saturday, May 06, 2017

Trump Has Ruined Everything

His blatant and grotesque dishonesty, blatant and grotesque ignorance and incipient insanity render every other question about government almost moot. The only issue that is close to comparable is the extent to which the Republican party shares his evil and dishonesty.

How can we have 9/11 truth, or any truth about any deep matter relating to US history, when we have such a grossly malevolent, grossly dishonest, grossly ignorant administration as the current Trump crew? 
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Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Here's a Nice, Cheerful Recreation of Nuclear Armageddon

Speaking of which, "Who's Really in Charge of the United States Government?"
McMaster’s Sunday statement continues a pattern whereby the president says something outrageous—and is then seemingly over-ruled by the general who heads the National Security Council, the ex-general who heads the Department of Homeland Security, or the ex-general who heads the Department of Defense. Through the first two months of this administration, we saw this pattern play out with regard to NATO, Russia’s pro-Trump interference in the presidential election, immigration policy, and many other areas. Under the traditional American system, the president is supposedly supreme over his appointees, especially his uniformed appointees. It’s ominous if this president’s policy ignorance and blurted provocations invite his generals to set themselves up as his keepers.
So, seems to be the military-national security complex.

Which, may be comforting somewhat, considering how awful, simply awful, Trump is.

Anyway, if we don't kill ourselves with nukes, we are surely killing the oceans by over-fishing and pollution and climate change.

And Trump's climate change denial is surely a major catastrophe under the present circumstances.

 He's an environmental terrorist, pure and simple.

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Monday, May 01, 2017

The Unique Trainwreck of the Trump Presidency Is Clear After 100 Days

Donald Trump blames constitution for chaos of his first 100 days (Guardian)
-- he doesn't like democracy

Priebus: Trump Considering Amending or Abolishing 1st Amendment (Talking Points Memo)
-- because Trump doesn't like to be criticized, they want to amend the freaking constitution. INSANE.

Why Trump Should Just Give Up and Quit (Booman Tribune)
-- because he sucks at politics

How Trump Could Get Fired (New Yorker)
-- a long serious discussion of how Trump could be removed from office, because he's just that bad.

Trump has No Sway with Congress (Talking Points Memo)
-- their recent budget ignores his priorities

Yale Historian Warns It's "Inevitable" That Trump Will Stage His Own "Reichstag Fire" (RawStory/Salon)
-- though he thinks Trump will try but not succeed

Donald Trump thinks Andrew Jackson could have avoided the Civil War: Words cannot capture how ignorant and offensive that is (Salon)
-- Trump is truly a know-nothing idiot

Donald Trump surprised by how hard it is being president, misses old life (Reuters interview).

Trump just bullshits constantly and has the temperament of a child (videos):

He is a massive kleptocrat, though.

And just the arrogance and cluelessness of his people:

Syrian missile attack was 'after-dinner entertainment,' Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says (USA Today)

One hundred Days of Trump (New Yorker)
On April 29th, Donald Trump will have occupied the Oval Office for a hundred days. For most people, the luxury of living in a relatively stable democracy is the luxury of not following politics with a nerve-racked constancy. Trump does not afford this.
His Presidency has become the demoralizing daily obsession of anyone concerned with global security, the vitality of the natural world, the national health, constitutionalism, civil rights, criminal justice, a free press, science, public education, and the distinction between fact and its opposite.
The hundred-day marker is never an entirely reliable indicator of a four-year term, but it’s worth remembering that Franklin Roosevelt and Barack Obama were among those who came to office at a moment of national crisis and had the discipline, the preparation, and the rigor to set an entirely new course.
Impulsive, egocentric, and mendacious, Trump has, in the same span, set fire to the integrity of his office.
Trump has never gone out of his way to conceal the essence of his relationship to the truth and how he chooses to navigate the world. In 1980, when he was about to announce plans to build Trump Tower, a fifty-eight-story edifice on Fifth Avenue and Fifty-sixth Street, he coached his architect before meeting with a group of reporters. “Give them the old Trump bullshit,” he said. “Tell them it’s going to be a million square feet, sixty-eight stories.” This is the brand that Trump has created for himself—that of an unprincipled, cocky, value-free con who will insult, stiff, or betray anyone to achieve his gaudiest purposes. “I am what I am,” he has said.
But what was once a parochial amusement is now a national and global peril. Trump flouts truth and liberal values so brazenly that he undermines the country he has been elected to serve and the stability he is pledged to insure. His bluster creates a generalized anxiety such that the President of the United States can appear to be scarcely more reliable than any of the world’s autocrats.
When Kim In-ryong, a representative of North Korea’s radical regime, warns that Trump and his tweets of provocation are creating “a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment,” does one man sound more immediately rational than the other?
When Trump rushes to congratulate Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for passing a referendum that bolsters autocratic rule in Turkey—or when a sullen and insulting meeting with Angela Merkel is followed by a swoon session with Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the military dictator of Egypt—how are the supporters of liberal and democratic values throughout Europe meant to react to American leadership?
Trump appears to strut through the world forever studying his own image. He thinks out loud, and is incapable of reflection. He is unserious, unfocussed, and, at times, it seems, unhinged. Journalists are invited to the Oval Office to ask about infrastructure; he turns the subject to how Bill O’Reilly, late of Fox News, is a “good person,” blameless, like him, in matters of sexual harassment.
A reporter asks about the missile attack on Syria; he feeds her a self-satisfied description of how he informed his Chinese guests at Mar-a-Lago of the strike over “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen.”
Little about this Presidency remains a secret for long. The reporters who cover the White House say that, despite their persistent concerns about Trump’s attempts to marginalize the media, they are flooded with information. Everyone leaks on everyone else. Rather than demand discipline around him, Trump sits back and watches the results on cable news.
His Administration is not so much a team of rivals as it is a new form of reality entertainment: “The Circular Firing Squad.” This Presidency is so dispiriting that, at the first glimmer of relative ordinariness, Trump is graded on a curve. When he restrains himself from trolling Kim Jong-un about the failure of a North Korean missile test, he is credited with the strategic self-possession of a Dean Acheson. The urge to normalize Trump’s adolescent outbursts, his flagrant incompetence and dishonesty—to wish it all away, if only for a news cycle or two—is connected to the fear of what fresh hell might come next.
Every day brings another outrage or embarrassment: the dressing down of the Australian Prime Minister or a shoutout for the “amazing job” that Frederick Douglass is doing. One day NATO is “obsolete”; the next it is “no longer obsolete.” The Chinese are “grand champions” of currency manipulation; then they are not. When Julian Assange is benefitting Trump’s campaign, it’s “I love WikiLeaks!”; now, with the Presidency won, the Justice Department is preparing criminal charges against him.
News of Trump’s casual reversals of policy comes with such alarming regularity that the impulse to locate a patch of firm ground is understandable. It’s soothing. But it’s untenable. There is frustration all around.
During his first hundred days in office, Trump has not done away with populist rhetoric, but he has acted almost entirely as a plutocrat. His Cabinet and his cast of advisers are stocked with multimillionaires and billionaires. His positions on health care, tax reform, and financial regulation are of greatest appeal to the super-wealthy. How he intends to improve the situation of the middle class remains obscure.
A report in Politico described thirty staffers holed up in a conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, attempting a “rebranding” of this first chapter of the Trump Administration. The aides furiously assembled “lists of early successes” on whiteboards. One success they can name is the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, although Democrats rightly judge that his seat was stolen from Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland.
The first hundred days are marked most indelibly by Trump’s attempted ban of travellers from six Muslim countries, which failed in the courts, and the effort to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, which imploded in the House of Representatives. The list of domestic initiatives is largely confined to reversals of achievements of the Obama era. Trump has proposed an expansion of the prison at Guantánamo and ordered the easing of Dodd-Frank financial regulations. He has reversed plans to save wetlands and protect waterways from coal waste; he has reversed executive orders that banned gun sales to the mentally ill and that protected L.G.B.T. federal employees from discrimination; his Vice-President voted in a Senate tiebreaker to allow states to defund Planned Parenthood clinics.
Trump, because of the lavish travel habits of his family, is shaping up to be the most expensive executive in history to guard. At the same time, his budget proposals would, if passed in Congress, cut the funding of after-school programs, rental-assistance programs, the Community Development Block Grant program, legal assistance for the poor, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Scorekeepers will credit these as promises kept.
Guardians of democratic values and the environment, champions of economic opportunity and the national well-being will view them as an ever-growing damage report. (rest at link)

Colbert is brutal:
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Fixed the Post Below... the Video Was Gone

Here is the video again:

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