Wednesday, October 9, 2019

September links


Truth-telling about guns. Wapo

No Charlottesville in Boston. In my home state, some twerps tried to have a Straight Pride Rally. Poor turn-out. Related. An article from the end of 2015 predicting the rise of white nationalism in the US.

Unscrutinized law. So much of law is about examination, scrutiny, testing in cases that are written down and reviewed. So it's a surprise the some law isn't subject to this when it's DOJ policy.

Clear-headed assessment of mass shootings. How big is the risk? That's a very fair question to ask.

More mass killings being twarted. More people are taking threats seriously and intervening. This time a teenage girl was stopped after buying a semi-auto rifle.

Late-breaking story about Russia. Most of the news about Russia interfering in the US election, and the responses to it, are well-known at this point. Here are two reports about a highly-placed spy in the Kremlin who was spirited away to safety at the beginning of the Trump presidency because Trump might have been careless and leaked info exposing him. Also a large section of the report on Russian interference was released by the Senate committee that is striving miraculously to be non-partisan.

How Trump treats advisers. Disrespectfully, we know. With the firing of John Bolton, we have a few more stories with insights. Trump hires 'brands' and Bolton was a well-known brand. The four categories of official Trump advisers, from 'shiny new toy' to 'fired via tweet' and other pithy observations.

Very few swing voters. Less than 5.5% are both undecided and moderate.

Big story on the Supreme Court? WaPo reports that getting a justice onto the Supreme Court is now so important that the ethics are shunted to the side.


Saturday, September 28, 2019

The start of the stupid Watergate

I've been tracking the developing story about a whistleblower report out of the intelligence services. That was the first bit of info. Next was that Trump made an improper promise to a foreign leader. Next was that it was the leader of Ukraine. (What????? Not Russia????) That was only a week ago.

Now a lot more is known. It's been like a fast moving wildfire, and definitely not contained. Congress wants the whistleblower report, the Inspector General says it should be given to Congress, but the administration overruled that. With those kind of details, it's going to be hard to prevent the release of the report, but the Trump administration is still trying to.

To placate the public, or as a figleaf, the administration released the official transcript of the call between Trump and the president of Ukraine. It's not much of a figleaf, and it won't help. The IG report will have to come out. This is yet another case of:

What you want to hide won't stay hidden.

Well, that's great. My kids will get to experience their own version of Watergate, but with a dumber president. So dumb that he doesn't realize you can't ask the president of Ukraine during an official phone call to investigate the Biden family when Joe Biden happens to be 1) well known, 2) your political opponent, and 3) running for president.

No, Donald Trump, you can't ask for that openly because this isn't a banana republic. The president of the US doesn't get to create goon squads, and he pays price if he does it and it's found out. Doing it offshore and leaning on a vulnerable country makes it even more unethical. We have rules here.

So many links I'll just list them:

Letters to, from, about the Inspector General

Oh, that idiot Rudy Giuliani was pushing the new prez of Ukraine about Biden. Does Giuliani know how to do anything secretly?

The apologists at National Review think it's not a big deal because the president has lots of leeway in running foreign affairs. Hey, they seem to miss that this isn't just a legalistic question.

The conservatives at Washington Examiner get the issues much more clearly. Did Trump try to force Ukraine to do dirty work against one of his political opponents

Seven Dem representatives, all with military and/or intelligence backgrounds (not flaming antifa types) think this behavior from Trump is impeachment-worthy.

How Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine until it started getting hot. No one in Congress knew why, and people started asking questions.

The figleaf - Trump releases the transcript of a conversation with the president of Ukraine. Commentators at WaPo annotate the conversation. Not the most insightful, but worth reading.

The top intelligence official threatened to resign. He will be testifying before Congress, and maybe won't be stonewalling (as the weasly Attorney General usually does). We'll find out soon.

Republican senators enact a scene from The Emperor's New Clothes as they ignore the elephant in the room but worry about the precedent of releasing the transcript.

In a huge irony, the president of Ukraine was visiting Washington today, and had to play along with the charade. That's is just one of the laugh lines.

Related: McConnell finally stopped delaying legislation/money to bolster election security. He earned the name Moscow Mitch for delaying this money for so long. Why now, we must wonder?


A bunch of short, helpful articles.

The White House accidentally sent their talking points to some Dems along with the GOP congress critters. Oops. Some other GOP excuses deconstructed.

The Dems should be inspired by Ulysses S. Grant. He was surrounded by commanders who were paralyzed by fear of Robert E. Lee, but he managed to get them to calm down, take command, and take action. Likewise, Trump will be belligerent, loud, nasty, and unrelenting. The Dems must make sure this doesn't send them into paralysis.


Update 10/9/19. The original memo that the whistleblower wrote (to himself?) one day after the infamous call. Here's the most pointed part:
The official stated that there was already a conversation underway with White House lawyers about how to handle the discussion because, in the official's view, the President had clearly committed a criminal act by urging a foreign power to investigate a U.S. person for the purposes of advancing his own reelection bid in 2020.
Other updates. The Trump administration wanted contracts from Ukraine the most, until Trump wanted political dirt. Some of the GOP senators know that some of the spin (lies) about Biden is wrong. Two GOP senators signed a letter back in 2016 about the level of corruption. Sen. Johnson appears to have forgotten or sold his soul, or both.

Update 10/10/19. Intelligent analysis, mostly of public opinion and the straits GOP politicians are in. Only 17% of Americans think Trump spoke appropriately in the phone call.

Ukraine: Ambassadors and prosecutors

Poor Ukraine. It's not good to be Russia's neighbor. They steal elections, get ousted, then steal large amounts of territory. And you're a football between Russian and the US.

But I'll be focusing on how the US has manipulated Ukraine. Starting in 2016, it seems like the Hillary campaign went to the EU/US aligned government (the successor to the ousted Russian-aligned government) and got information that was harmful to Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman for Trump. They also helped with the Mueller investigation.

That's two strikes, especially if you're as vindictive as Trump is. However, Ukraine has lots of backers in Congress, and some in executive branch, but it seems like Trump was not going to be at all sympathetic. Trump did have the problem of looking too pro-Russian, and he figured a way to counter that. He'd give weapons to Ukraine, which is something Obama was very cautious about due to the unintended consequences of wars spreading and weapons being used in unforeseen ways.

So Trump gave Ukraine weapons, and got himself some talking points. He also got some things he didn't talk about. Ukraine stopped working with the Mueller team, shutting down all cooperation. This was back in April 2018.

The Poroshenko government starts playing nice with the Trump administration. But there's trouble in Ukraine, where corruption is rampant and unpopular. Poroshenko is voted out in April 2019, and a new government by a comedian is in. The Trump administration doesn't know if the new government will play ball the way the Poroshenko government learned to do,

Leaning on the New Government

So money stops flowing from the US to Ukraine as Trump waits to see how cooperative the new government will be. One thing Trump has on his wishlist is dirt on Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Giuliani will be the go-between and enforcer, making sure the dirty deed is getting done.

With this background, it's not hard to understand the phone call. Zelensky, the new Ukrainian president, is kissing up as hard as he can, It starts with Zelensky saying how Trump's surprise electoral win inspired his own win, and a mention of draining the swamp. Major sucking sounds from Zelensky, but what choice was he have? Zelensky is very eager to conduct whatever investigation Trump asks for, and even asks for additional information from the US that won't be helpful. Is that a coded way to ask Trump what he wants them to say?

On the other hand, he makes no promises about who his new chief prosecutor would be, even after Trump says that the last one was very good and very fair. When you read below about the chief prosecutors, you have to wonder if anyone fits that description.

The Prosecutors

The two prosecutor to be aware of are Shokin and Lutsenko. Shokin was the corrupt prosecutor in 2016 whom Biden, the EU, and the IMF forced out. Supposedly he was investigating Hunter Biden at Burisma, a gas company, but most reports say that the investigation was not ongoing.

Lutsenko was a real piece of work. He was the chief prosecutor under Poroshenko, and he lost his job when Poroshenko lost reelection. (Hmmmm, lost reelection... that sounds good.) Lutsenko accused the US ambassador of giving him a list of people and companies who couldn't be investigated or charged. But it was all a lie. That gives a sense of the ethics of this guy. It seems possible to me that both Giuliani and Trump were pushing Zelensky to re-instate him. It's no wonder since he was probably playing ball with the Trump administration, taking their direction to stop cooperating with the Mueller investigation and who knows what else. He seems to have been a good toady (to Trump) who lost his job due to Ukrainian public dissatisfaction and 'voting the crooks out.'

The Ambassadors

The most important ambassador is Marie Yovanovitch. She is the one Trump mentioned disrespectfully. Lutsenko accused her of interfering and ordering him not to investigate people, and she was removed by Trump for not playing ball. She's a career diplomat, well versed in Slavic countries, and well respected by her colleagues according to reports. Perhaps she's too professional, especially when the prez wants his personal lawyer to tell a country that they should investigate his personal political rival. Basically, she was stabbed by Trump and his dog pack.

Other ambassadors. Volker    Volker resigned.
Sondland. More serious than Trump's usual backers.

What will the Ukrainian government do now that the pressure is no longer covert? It seems to me that the Ukrainians can make their own choices. They have enough supprt from Americans and in Congress that Trump can't put the screws on them again. Relations between the US and Ukraine will be closely scrutinized. Giuliani's travel will be closely scrutinized. Trump and Giuliani's plans - simply screwed. Such poetic justice in that.

Funny bits: President Zelensky has won a not-so-nice nickname in Ukraine: Monica Zelensky. Oooh, burn. But he's also helped shine a light on the cockroach named Trump.

Giuliani is spinning like mad. He's trying to indicate that he had State Department backing, but that doesn't help the State Department look good. It just shows how many people didn't feel they could push back from Trump's vendetta. However, Giuliani may have his own vendetta against Biden. For one thing, Biden landed a punch against Guiliani during Giuliani's campaign for president. 'Every sentence he says has a noun, a verb, and 9/11.' It was quite a takedown.

Recap: A who's who from CNN. A bunch of lies from an opinion writer at Fox, including the statement (as though it's fact) that Joe Biden received over $1 billion in bribes from China.

Note: Published before completed just to be timely and get the info and especially the links out there. 

Update 10/3/19. Texts among State Departnment personnel and others show that Ukraine was being squeezed, though they were careful not to put the most damning info into texts.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Weather-gate and Trump's stubbornness

Trump lies again and again. This isn't a surprise by now, but it's getting dumber. Trump made a mistake by saying Alabama was in range of a hurricane. Instead of correcting his mistake, or just letting it go, he doubled down repeatedly. It got too much media coverage because it was such foolish behavior. Even cowardly agencies under his thumb got involved.

It's hard to say what was the worst part of this unnecessary debacle. It wouldn't have been at all bad if it had ended with this (after Trump erroneously said Alabama could be hit):
[The] Birmingham office of the National Weather Service, in response to a flurry of calls and inquiries, issued a correction on Twitter, saying, "Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian." -- GQ magazine
But, nooooo, Trump couldn't let that stand. He couldn't admit even a tiny mistake. He had to blather (incorrectly) that Alabama had been a very likely target in the storm, including nonsense that there was a 95% chance of Alabama being hit at one point in the modeling. That was Trump being his usual fucking egotistical maniac self. 

Then Trump marked up an official weather service map to include Alabama. This is almost like changing the answer key on a test. Trump is so divorced from the truth that he'll pretend official information doesn't say what it says. And of course he used it as another skirmish in his war on the media, particularly CNN. 

This is all a game to Trump. The guy has no respect for truth or science, just for power. I'm absurdly eager for a break from this stupidity.

Wait, where did that black line come from?

Update 9/9/19. A number of officials in the weather/oceanic agency are loudly standing up for the scientists and accurate reporting and are pointing out how the mealy-mouthed communications supporting Trump are wrong. It looks like they are daring Trump to fire them. I don't think they'll be fired because it would be too obvious. How will Trump react? We'll see.

Update 9/11/19. An opinion column on this debacle with a some new info. The Secretary of Commerce ordered the support of the naked prez on pain of beheading, or similar. Sigh. Truth is not an option. 

Friday, August 30, 2019

More August links

Antifa is not the biggest violent threat. ... no matter what GOP pols say. The alt-right, neo-Nazis, white nationalists are a much bigger threat, but it's not politically useful for Republicans to acknowledge. They want antifa as the boogeyman. Related: A guy wearing a MAGA hat was beat up. Oh, those violent lefties. Except that he went to several bars soliciting fights. In video, we can see the lefties telling him that no one is going outside to fight him. Ummm... never mind.

Dictator-like move in Great Britain. Boris Johnson pulls a nearly unprecedented move to prevent Parliament from unseating him. I think Parliament will have a few days in session, and hopefully will remove him. Update: The British Supreme Court struck down the closing of Parliament, so Boris Johnson will have to face them.

Learning about the 2nd amendment. Here. Quite comprehensive.

Problems with e-verify surface. After a major raid on poultry processors. Good info to know.

Election prediction succeeded in 2018. How about 2020? I'm not unbiased, but I see skewing of the prediction, with progressive being favored. The political scientist points out that progressive did better than expected in Texas and Georgia compared to blue dogs in Missouri and Indiana. But they all lost. What about in Arizona? Well, it was a centrist Dem who won there. Odd to ignore that. Related. The Trump campaign is very worried about suburban women - worried that they'll lose the 2020 election.

Red flag law in California. Not a big sample size, but none of them became mass shooters. Frankly, we can't know what was prevented, if anything. But prevention is a worthy goal, especially considering that we are preventing deaths. In the last two weeks, there have been a spate of reports of people arrested for having caches of guns and worrisome plans, but before anyone was shot. That seems preferable to me, right?

A moderate view on US intervention. Police the worst places to shut down the worst of the safe havens.


Sunday, August 18, 2019

Epstein death cranks up the conspiracy machines

I've written about Epstein, the pedophile, before. He's a favorite of those who like to lie about Bill Clinton because Epstein was so vile in his sexual predations of teenage girls. However, people who do this rarely base their claims in fact or careful research of news sources. They usually repeat garbage without a care that it is garbage.

Now many of those same people believe that Epstein was murdered, not that he killed himself in a locked cell that he didn't share with anyone. Again, facts are simply an impediment to the story they want to believe and tell.

This article, by someone who has worked in the penal system, calls those stories regurgitated misinformation. That's kinder than I would be, as you shall soon see. Another article by a convict goes into detail of how one could commit suicide in prison, and it sounds fairly doable unless you have a minder in the cell with you, which Epstein didn't. He adds that soaping the sheet will make it move more easily and cause fractures in the neck, as the autopsy found.

Here is a piece of stupidity from Judith Miller. Of course, anyone who would go from the NYT to Fox isn't interested foremost in accurate journalism. The headline makes me roll my eyes. Miller claims it's almost impossible to kill yourself in prison? Well, there are plenty of reports of suicides in prison - did she miss those? Of course the article doesn't actually dwell on Miller's tiny knowledge of prisons, so it doesn't live up to the hyped headline. I hope Miller enjoys her dirty pay to write such trash.

So to all the people who believe so passionately that Epstein was murdered, start producing some definite evidence, like defensive wounds, payments to the guards, video even. Otherwise your tales are full of bullshit, and just plain ridiculous. And you probably believe a lot of other rubbish too. I'll be ridiculing your stupidity as loudly as I can.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

Shootings and August links

In less than 24 hours, there were two major mass shootings, following up a mass shooting at a festival in California (so three in fairly short span). The shooting in El Paso, TX targeted Mexicans. The shooting in Dayton, OH was by a young man with a long history of violent fantasies, including having a kill list and a rape list while he was in high school. (Google these shootings for details. I won't choose one link as representative). This article about the background of the El Paso shooter is chilling: mostly 'normal' but with all too familiar undercurrents including bullying at school along racial lines, hopelessness about job prospects while automation continues, and open racist sentiments expressed after Trump was elected.

Ignore the headline of this article (Washington Post again - a good source). It's not so much that there's pushback from the NRA on gun legislation, as there is deep worry from GOP legislators. Can they stay in office if they sign on to gun legislation? Probably not if they depend on votes from GOPers, which they do. According to polls, the wide majority of Republicans are still against even partial gun control measures. So it's less the NRA standing in the way, but instead the very popular Guns R Us ethos among Republicans.

Faltering Dem candidates. A Politico author contrasts the Republicans, who understand the importance of legacy and a winning historical narrative, with the Democrats, who are sniping at each other over the party's recent past. Part of this is due to a leadership vacuum since Obama is gone and the Clintons are gone, and both failed in some major ways.

Stealth reform measures for Social Security. Why hasn't this been big news? With funding issues looming, the Dems in the House are working on a big change to SS. This should be drawing a lot of attention, debate, number-crunching, and fact-checking, but the press barely utters a peep. Sure, it's not likely to get through the Senate, but it's a real proposal with seemingly real numbers, and these numbers are likely to be the basis for future work on SS.

Zero interest on bonds. A big difference from when I was young is that now the return on bonds is almost nothing. I find this fascinating. The world is awash in money chasing after profits. We've created so much wealth, and so much paper or digital money that there isn't enough ways to spend it or invest it. This doesn't worry me, however. We won't turn dirt poor even if there's a crash. There will just be another inflation via QE (quantitative easing) as there was last time.

Update on Gaza. Tensions rise and fall, but nobody wants a repeat of the last useless, destructive war. Progress!


Extras. Gun control (now called gun safety) advocacy group shows how common private sales are without a background check.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

July/August links

Don't forget healthcare.  Oops, the GOP did. They are cheering a lawsuit that may end Obamacare even though they haven't considered the chaos if it's struck down. There should be a special word for this beyond 'unbelievable stupid.' Two articles on this: the first features the full-on stupidity of some GOPers; the second features the beginnings of a GOP plan from those that aren't complete morons. And a bit more about the situation.

Walking the high-wire in the Middle East. Qatar is doing this successfully, to the benefit of themselves and the US, and maybe others.

Canadian healthcare. It's very popular with Canadians. We should be taking a look, but most conservatives simply snipe at it.

Lindsay Graham stumbles. He used to be John McCain's best friend. Now he wants to be Trump's sidekick. Sad to find out that he was really just a sidekick with no backbone or moral compass.

Early primary prediction. This article predicts the three frontrunners in the Dem primary based on big donors. It might be a good test of 1) accuracy, and 2) whether only big donors matter.

Predictions about the Iran conflict. Probably no war.

McConnell helps the Russians. McConnell was called out in a big way, and he was mighty angry about it. Nonetheless, he earned it.

Furor over Trump tweets again. What this week? He told 4 Dem congresswomen to (fucking) leave the country.

Bathroom issue ends in a whimper. N. Carolina and their horror at transgender people ends... for now. Related: in Poland, gay pride marchers are attacked.

Armed Iranian speed boats

Saturday, July 13, 2019

July links

Tangled mess. A knitting site has banned political discussions due to animosity between Trump supporters and opponents. I sympathize. Maybe it was the right move if people were arguing too much and not sharing enough knitting tips.

Election disinformation starting. Example #1 is about Kamala Harris.

NRA meltdown. This is something to watch. The NRA is embroiled in scandal. But it's also a big player in elections. Will we see any effects? Possibly not because it works mostly locally, not from the top down.

2020 forecast. The prediction by a forecaster who did well in the 2018 election.

Russia laughs at Trump display.  Russian media jokes about the lame military display for the Fourth of July. Oh really? Well, who lost the Cold War? That's right, suckers.

Police misbehaving. This isn't really a surprise. Police in a major city are caught making biased remarks on social media, including white supremacist remarks. However, I thought the comment section was worth reading.

Legal analysis on regulation. From a conservative source this time. An analysis of a recent Supreme Court decision. His prediction is a rolling back of government by regulation. I can't comprehend that, and wonder about chaos ensuing until the Supreme Court finds a good balance.

Historical footnote on rich people getting away with crime. Jeffrey Epstein was a known pedophile, and how did he stay out of jail? Good question. It's harder to charge him than you might think, until someone does it and then the other prosecutors look like wimps or worse. One of them being Trump's secretary of labor, now having resigned.

Trump's master stroke. After the grab-them-by-the-pussy video, Trump barely survived. However, he saved himself by going into attack mode during the next debate, and that was admired by much of the GOP.


Last outpost of crazy: Three stories

Overrun Area 51. Maybe this is a fad, but will some show up on the appointed day? Some humorous predictions of what might happen.

Saliva challenge. There's definitely a new fad for licking things, returning them to shelves, and recording the antics for display on social media. Because the subpar American is that fucking immature and obnoxious.

Zombie pigs. This political commentator takes a break from the heavy stuff to reassure us that we aren't going to be overrun by zombie pig brains. I'm so glad to read this, but it's hadn't been on my list of concerns.


Those crazy Trump people

Trump, or rather his quisling Wilbur Ross, was caught trying to change the census form on false pretenses. False pretenses, hokey lies, no surprise there. The Supreme Court ruled against it, and people, including the DOJ, thought that was the end. But not with Trump. He blathered that he'd still do it, and finally had to back down. Dum de dum dum. Wapo  Salon

By the way, how did the conservative media report this climb-down? Fox News got around to mentioning it was a climb-down after 10 paragraphs into the story. In the headline, it was the 'Executive Action' as promised.

Then there was a dust-up at some media conference in the White House Rose Garden. A former adviser to the prez was pretending to be a media person, and Trump called on him to ask a question. Can you say 'set-up?' To be clear, the former adviser was Sebastian Gorka, who has a bit of a reputation as less than a moderate.

Later on, Gorka got into a dust-up with a journalist, and nostrils flared, and insults were thrown, and someone would certainly have gotten their ass kicked.. if any punches had been thrown. Luckily the White House lawn isn't a space where impromptu fistfights are allowed. There are scores of secret service agents, and their job doesn't include standing by as fistfights developed. In the videos of the dust-up, there seem to be a few agents moving in while angry words are tossed. So blather but no punches. Just older out-of-shape men pretending to be tough guys. Video and more video.

Hey, in this internet age, everyone's a tough guy. I ought to know, as the toughest hombre on this blog.


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Attack on media? Not quite...

I've shown my bias in the title, but why hold back? An antifa group attacked a supposed journalist in Portland, Oregon, the site of frequent clashes between antifa and white nationalist groups. They fight there so often that it's the place to go with you want a street fight, which is one reason it keeps happening. Fight Central will draw the fighters.

Ted Cruz, that paragon of integrity, called for an investigation. It's odd that cells of antifa has been protesting all over the country and there's finally an incident that conservatives can seize on. However, not many are, and I wonder whether they know that it's not going to be a good narrative for them.

When watching the video, you can see Ngo (the supposed journalist) alone within a group of antifa. A couple milkshakes are thrown at him, silly string sprayed on him, a few punches thrown, and lots of yelling. He walks away. Walks, not limps... Those antifa protesters are so incompetent that they can't even beat the shit out of him. It might a pitiful contrast to the video of white nationalists beating a black man in Charlottesville. Though maybe we should be grateful that both victims walked away, and assailants didn't do as much harm as they might have. (Actually, no, we shouldn't be grateful. These assaults were wrong, and we aren't 'lucky' they weren't worse.)

However, the journalist (Andy Ngo) has been working on provoking the antifa group for months. His coverage is slanted, and according to reports he taunts the protesters to provoke a reaction. So he finally got something physical? Oh, SHAME!!!

Portland definitely seems to have a problem stopping all these protests, riots, and fights. Maybe at some point I'll read something that points to why the violence has gotten so entrenched there while other cities have been able to avoid that. Until then, I'm not swallowing the conservative narrative the antifa is the huge danger they pretend it is. People engaging in street fights - yes, but a serious danger to the country, NO.


Extras. More on Portland. Are the Portland police cushy with the right-wing groups? Maybe. Ngo's journal doesn't have the highest ethics either. No surprise to someone like me who watches the media.

Update 8/18/19. Portland was again the site for major protest, led by the Proud Boys and aimed at the mayor and his coddling of antifa. The specific complaint was that there were no arrests yet in the Ngo beating. A leader of another alt-right group surrendered for arrest the day before the protest. The charges stem from a group of alt-right folks descending on a bar after hearing a tip that some antifa folks were there. A large fight ensued, during which a woman was beaten and her vertebrae broken.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Post Mueller: what should he have done differently

There are so many opinions of what should have done differently. I can't say I agree. He kept his investigation clean as thousands of cubic feet of sludge were being thrown all around him, with him often being the target. It didn't stick, which is a testament to his integrity.

So here are the complaints, for whatever little there are worth.

National Review - how dare Mueller say what he said, as the author ignores the DOJ policy on presidential indictments
Contrast Mueller and Comey - the rulebook for these investigations isn't working, as both investigations show. I'm not sure I agree.
Fox news example of erroneous claim that Trump is completely vindicated.
Vox - Mueller left a vacuum that others filled
DailyBeast - hearings likely to be ugly
WaPo - much later than the other links, with Mueller being praised. The author suggests focusing on Trump's clear lies, like he was trying to do business deals while campaigning and denying any ties to Russia.


Extras. More WaPo - how GOP attacks on Mueller won't work. WaPo - why the press can't do now what it did during Watergate.

Update 7/12/19. Ken Starr appears on Hannity and has suggestions for what Republican congos should ask.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

June links

Negotiations with Iran. Trump does a U-turn because he wants something done. Also he might be trying to head off Bolton's push to war.

Hong Kong protests. China is trying to depress freedoms in Hong Kong, again. That's a difficult situation, and those are brave people.

Did tax cuts help the economy? Economists were in a race to check for the indicators before they were swamped by Trump's trade wars. The data is rather muddy.

Shaming Congress. Jon Stewart speaking with such humanity and passion to a bunch of butt-kissing politicians. This is the kind of person we need in Congress, not the ones we have now. (Scroll down for video of his full speech.) An economist tells Trump why too many sanctions are harmful.

Shaming a politically correct college. Oberlin College was hit with a massive judgment for abetting trumped-up demonstrations by students against a local business.

Special considerations when pregnant women are jailed. I have never considered this issue, but it seems that the jail and prison managers haven't either, and they have no excuse.

Forged videos and fake news. The fakers now have even better tools for the lies they may want to spread. Yikes!

The internet remembers everything. And Twitter rewards 'mean,' so you're screwed if you've used it, and you're nobody if you haven't.


I try to figure out what 'probable cause' means

The FISA warrant application for surveillance on Carter Page is the only warrant I've ever read. The format, the way the information is provided--that's all new to me. Except the actual target (Page), the practice is to obscure the identities of other people and groups. So there is Individual 1, Candidate 1, etc.

Here is a copy of the warrant application.

I wondered about the definition of 'probable cause.' The statements in the application sound very definite, but how definite is it? After all, this is prior to the full investigation with surveillance. While researching, I found this quote from the governing case Illinois v. Gates:
"Probable" cause means that the investigator has to show "a fair probability," not a certainty or near-certainty.
So, it seems that the level of certainty is not without a doubt or beyond a reasonable doubt, or guaranteed to be true under penalty of perjury. It is 'fair probability.'

Some blowhard on the web (there are a few) claimed that the FISA warrant was perjured, and the person writing the warrant has to swear to the veracity of all the information. I have my doubts that he knows the law well enough to make such a claim. There is also the matter of actual practice of how warrants are written, what is the usual language, what is understood between the legal parties. So it's armchair speculation to attack or defend this warrant unless you have knowledge and experience with warrants.

I've done a bit of speculation. I've read that Brennan (some CIA honcho) said there were plenty of allied intelligence services warning about Trump. Is this true? I certainly don't know, and I'd like to know more, but I don't expect the intelligence services to just cough up the info. Maybe there were a lot of rumors from sources that are generally pretty responsible. If so, it's too bad they weren't mentioned in the warrant. Of course, maybe they were mentioned, somewhere in the 13 blacked out pages related to Page. Those 13 pages could contain a lot of info that hasn't ever been openly published, but we certainly don't know. Those who assume that dossier was the only info used for the warrant are assuming that there's nothing in those pages. I think it's an incorrect assumption. If it was about the dossier, why would it have been blacked out when other info about the dossier wasn't?

I'll also say that on reflection, it seems like a very bad idea to hire someone to pump Russians (or any enemy or questionable source) for dirt on your opponent. It looks like Steele and Clinton got played to a certain extent, but they also ended up looking very scummy. That's why neither Clinton nor the FBI revealed their connection to Steele. If you have to hide your connections, maybe you shouldn't have them. That applies to Mike Flynn, Jeff Sessions, and Hillary Clinton too. Anything you try to hide, it ain't going to stay hidden. Remember that.


Extras. I was researching probable cause and read most of this ruling. A good learning experience because of the clarity--or maybe I simply skipped over the convoluted parts.

How the Steele dossier looks in retrospect. Some of the Steele dossier was correct and some wasn't when you compare it to the Mueller report.

Friday, June 14, 2019

What the Dem/FBI/DOJ conspiracy looks like

Since I follow mostly MSM outlets about the election and Russian meddling, I didn't realize there was a full-blown alternative narrative. This alternative isn't as crazy as Pizzagate because it has a number of data points (facts) supporting it.

The big picture is that the FBI, DOJ, and other intelligence agencies were run at the highest levels by personnel who wanted Dems to win the 2016 election, and who acted in dishonest, biased, and corrupt ways to help with that goal. When the Dems lost, they acted to stymy the incoming president (Trump) with fake, trumped-up charges.

These charges, if accurate, are extremely serious. We definitely don't want our government agencies deciding who wins an election. That's for the voters to decide.

The theory is that top DOJ, FBI, CIA, etc. officials were biased and acted illegally. So who is being accused:

James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, Bruce Ohr, Nellie Ohr (his wife), Brennan, Loretta Lynch, Hillary Clinton, Obama, and possibly Trump appointees Rob Rosenstein and Christopher Wray. Also involved were the personnel at FusionGPS, Glenn Simpson (the CEO, I think), and Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer.

The theory goes that the high-level Dems got the FBI, CIA, etc. to send adjuncts to entrap people in the Trump campaign, make it look like there were ties between Russia and Trump campaign personnel, start a witch hunt, dirty Trump, and hobble him.

Supporting this view are these actual data points:
  1. Strzok and Page's text messages (depending how much weight you give them)
  2. The Clinton campaign paid for Steele's research, which produced the Steele dossier.
  3. Steele was also hired for a couple months by the FBI to continue his research.
  4. The Steele dossier was leaked by Steele in September 2016 in an attempt to discredit Trump.
  5. The Clinton campaign and the FBI hid their connections to Steele.
  6. The Steele dossier was used to justify a FISA warrant to track Carter Page, a former Trump advisor.
  7. FusionGPS also worked with the Russian lawyer involved in the Trump Tower meeting.
  8. After Comey was fired, a friend of his leaked documents alleging that Trump made improper demands on him, and these raised concerns and calls for a special counsel. 
  9. Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel on his own authority since his boss, Jeff Sessions, had recused himself.
  10. One of the intelligence agencies paid Stephan Halper to meet with Trump campaign advisors and try to covertly find out information from them.
  11. Several of Mueller's investigation team had ties to the Clintons and/or made donations to Dems.
These are the known, undisputed data points. In the reckoning of some theorists, this points to a conspiracy in the intelligence community to hobble Trump by accusations, leaks, and investigations.

However, this theory ignores many other data points, like the DNC being hacked, purportedly by the Russians. Of course, maybe you can't trust the intelligence agencies to be truthful about who did the hack. But there certainly was a hack, and the stolen info was disseminated by Wikileaks. So the Russia investigation cannot be a total con jobs, since the hack was real.

Also real was the Trump Tower meeting, and the Trumps' attempts to hide this meeting and what the subject was. Many connections between the Trump campaign advisors and Russians are not disputed, like contacts with the Russian embassador. Mike Flynn lost his job for lying about his connections. Jeff Session suffered well-deserved embarrassment and was forced to recuse himself as Attorney General overseeing the Russian investigation because of his amnesia related to his contacts.

This article from The American Conservative explains the two highly disparate ways of interpreting these facts, calling them 'narrative A' and 'narrative B.' Narrative A is that the security services followed up properly on reasonable suspicions, and did their patriotic duty. Narrative B is covered here--that the intelligence services conspired to spy on the Trump campaign and disable Trump as president.

I'm definitely a believer of narrative A, but I can see how the narrative B support that narrative. However, I have these good reasons to doubt that narrative:
1. Page and Strzok were lovers sending casual, low-significance texts to each other. These were simple texts, not part of a conspiracy that has no other paper or electronic trail.
2. Steele got some things right in his dossier, such as Carter Page going to Russia and having meetings with high-level officials.
7. The Russian lawyer from the Trump Tower meeting was paying FusionGPS for work it did for her. She and/or her clients paid FusionGPS; they didn't pay her, so she wasn't an employee of theirs.
8. Comey's notes, far from being unusual, are very typical documents written about any non-trivial meetings.
9. There was a huge uproar after Trump fired Comey, and even many Republicans were calling for a special counsel appointment.
10. It is not unusual for a counter-intelligence investigation to use operatives like Halper in hopes of finding out significant helpful information.
11. Mueller chose for his team people whom he had worked with in the recent past, including in private investigations. He also chose high-ranking FBI officers. This is normal. 
This leaves some fairly major suspicions, like the Clinton campaign and the FBI both hiring Steele, and then hiding this information. Come on, people, you're not going to be able to keep a secret like this. You need to come clean, and do it early.

Nonetheless, I still believe the narrative that the intelligence services needed to check out the activity of the Russians and possible connections to Trump, and they did their duty.


Extras. Some sources supporting the conspiracy narrativeInvestor's business daily: Ohr connection, IBD: McCabe 25th amendment testimony, IBD: Investigation started before election, Gateway Pundit, major pusher of the theory. GQ calls it a theory out of thin air, but I've shown that there is substantial data to support it, though not enough for me to think it's the best interpretation of the data. Barr doesn't call it treason. GOPers and their mistakes/lies about the Steele dossier and FISA warrant.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

May links

Religious right takeover. After about 40 years of trying, the religious right is taking over and abolishing the right to a safe, legal abortion. Conservatives used to pay lip service to pro-life groups, and those groups got fed up and marshalled their strength, electing someone malleable like Trump and his openly pious VP, Mike Pence. Snippet: More rights for workers to opt out of tasks due to conscience and religious belief. Will patients not receive care because of it?

Abortion actions in states. Many states are changing their abortion laws. Some are pushing to overturn Roe v Wade, and others are updating to allow late term abortion for therapeutic reasons. Related: an argument that men cause all pregnancies. Fun to read, but does it hold together? And an article and interesting comment thread about stealthing, which is secretly removing a condom during sex.

Mueller as witness. A profile of what to expect, as though we couldn't predict it from what we know already. Sober, honest, rule-based, tough, consistent. <---- Well, that item is now defunct. Mueller has said that his report is his testimony, and he has nothing to add. And finally a cogent conservative view on why Mueller was wrong to hint so broadly that Trump obstructed justice. I've read so much junk from conservatives, it's a relief to find something intelligent.

The spies don't like it. Trump has appointed Bill Barr, the Attorney General, to decide what documents to declassify related to unfair investigations into the Trump campaign. I don't trust Barr to be impartial or the intellligence servicess to be candid, but the truth almost always comes out.

Shutting down free press in Europe. Scary. Not by killing journalists, but by buying up the media outlets.

Maneuvering over impeachment. Impeachment will help Trump, so he's now trying to goad the Dems into it. I'll have to check what GOP mouthpieces are saying. Maybe their 'coup' rhetoric will be replaced with claims that the Dems are impeaching Trump, even when they aren't. It's obviously theater and moot because the Senate won't convict. In related news, Trump had a temper tantrum, blew up a negotiations session that was supposed to work toward an infrastructure bill, and then ranted in the Rose Garden. But it was all planned, with the podium and signs already set up.

My obsession with fake claims of voting fraud. Another entry in this category. Texas tries to remove non-citizens and screws up. Let me guess--are minorities the main target again?

Conservative fake news industry. For outright lies, conservative media wins hands down. Someone faked a video of Pelosi slurring her words, and the rubes ate it up. In related news, the Washington Examiner had a headline about Buzzfeed having to correct a tweet. It was a small correction, hardly worth a newstory or headline. I wonder when the Examiner will correct its own false stories, like the one I write about here.

Developing nations. An overview of nations with different levels of development and different obstacles. A good encapsulation, with helpful examples.

Is India headed to another civil war? Trouble is simmering, and might explode.

Important link on server forensics. Damn those stupid talking points. The DNC didn't need to turn over servers to the FBI according to an actual computer expert.

Still available by mail, no matter what state

Sunday, May 5, 2019

A third case of conservative distortion: The Attorney General

Benjamin Wittes, who writes for Lawfare and lately also for The Atlantic, rakes Bill Barr (the new Attorney General) over the coals. Barr is the successor to Trump's previous punching bag, Jeff Sessions. Incidentally, maybe no cabinet officer received such shabby treatment as did Sessions.

Wittes' complaint is that Barr misrepresents what Mueller's meticulous investigation found. A more concise version is also available from the New York Times. Both are worth reading. The NYT version has direct comparison of Barr's statements versus what Mueller reported. It's quite scathing, even though the author doesn't call Barr a liar. The author does highlight phrases from Mueller, and shows how Barr distorted them. Barr did it so shamelessly that he comes out looking horrible.

Wittes' takedown is more complete, pointing out precisely the twists and turns in Barr's distortions. For example, Wittes shows how Barr claims there was no collusion, when in fact Mueller found evidence of interactions between Russia and Trump's campaign. How is that nothing? Because there wasn't enough evidence to make charges with confidence of a conviction.

The conservative site Washington Examiner methodically rips Barr apart. Or moreso, it rips apart the idea that Trump should be the judge of whether he is being investigated unfairly:
"No man, not even the president, should be allowed to adjudge his own case... The very notion of such power runs counter to the entire basis of America’s constitutionally limited government... "
That is a simple, elegant explanation. Even the president has to allow an investigation to go forth. It's not for him to declare his innocence and shut down the process.

McGahn, the White House counsel during much of the investigation, is quite a contrast to Barr. He would push back against Trump, refused to fire Mueller, gave 30 hours of testimony to Mueller if I remember correctly. He also consulted with his chief of staff, who made written notes of McGahn's meetings with Trump. It sounds as though Trump didn't want notes taken, which hampers clear instructions and the ability to review what's been decided. McGahn has been subpoenaed to testify before Congress. I certainly hope he does. I'd like to hear some of what Mueller's investigators heard, directly from the source. But McGahn may not be willing to discuss private and privileged conversations. 


Extras. Reviewing how the Congressional response when Mueller was appointed from three sources (one, two, three). More wrangling over the Mueller report, this time by the lawyers for Roger Stone. They are trying to say "No collusion, so there was no cover-up, and obviously no lying to Congress." But maybe there was lying to Congress, and maybe some cover-up, and perhaps a wisp of collusion.

Update 6/7/19. Another good article showing precisely what the lies are.

Two cases of conservative distortions

Double header!! First up is an article from WaPo detailing how Fox News distorted one news story from January 2018. The New York Times reported that Trump had told the White House counsel (McGahn) to have Mueller fired. The rumor that Trump wanted to fire him was going around like crazy, largely because Trump regularly fed the impression. Also Trump was known for firing people, including the head of the FBI, his chief of staff, communications director, and assorted others. Oh yes, he fired people on his reality show too.

But the NYT doesn't report the odd rumor, and it had details. Fox, however, exists in a separate universe and doesn't believe the stinking NYT, even though they have a much better track record for accuracy.

Trump claimed it was fake news. Hannity repeated that. Then Hannity had to back down as actual news operations at Fox confirmed the report. Then spin took over. Trump has the right... This was six months ago... Who cares anyway. Immigration is more important...

The Mueller report confirmed this, by the way. Eye roll for Fox News.

Fox News Spins DOJ Letters

Fox News, as the defender of the Almighty, Protector of the Faith, etc. had an article on an official letter from the White House counsel complaining about the Mueller report. This was perhaps counterprogramming against a letter from Mueller leaked on 4/30/19 where Mueller complains that summaries of his report are inaccurate so the summaries he wrote himself should be released. (They were leaked.)

The letter from the White House counsel complains that Mueller didn't draw conclusions, and he should have. However, the arguments there completely ignore what the rationale that Mueller plainly gave in his report, which was that DOJ policy didn't allow him to make an indictment against the president, so he was doing what he could legally and ethically do considering those restriction. Mueller cites OLC in the first page of Volume II, concerning obstruction of justice inquiries. The White House counsel just ignores that. Plus it veers into an addition Trump probably requested complaining about leaks and claiming Trump is the highest official in the country so blah blah blah he gets to decide everything within the executive branch -- as though conflict-of-interest doesn't happen.

This isn't exactly a legal clown car because there is some coherence. However, it doesn't touch on the most important points, so the goal of the letter seems to be to blow smoke. Sad.

... but it was true.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Last outpost of crazy: Shitty behavior

A school district superintendent went to a rival school repeatedly to defecate on its track. He was finally caught using surveillance cameras. The behavior which might be expected from a drug-addled psycho arose from a high-ranking professional.

He seems to have a sharp lawyer because he received $100K to leave his job. Now he's suing a police department for releasing his picture and 'smearing his reputation.' Also, he's now seriously underemployed. Hey, I don't think he's ever going back to being a superintendent. But not because of the actions of a police department, but because of his own actions. I hope this guy doesn't get a penny.


Extra. I'm sorry that this post is so popular. I'm considering taking it down because it's hardly among the most important of my posts.

April links

Always more on Russia investigation. Now conservative media is pretending the Papadopoulus contact was a CIA asset trying to entrap him. Long WaPo article about adminstration action against Russian hacking before and immediately after the election. Also covering that period, and answering the snarky question 'What did Obama do to stop it?' Even more, though it sounds like maybe Steele gave his dossier to British intelligence and their heads exploded.

FBI scandal. I skimmed the Inspector General report on the Hillary investigation. Strzok looks bad in his handling of the Weiner laptop. Lawfare review of it.

Peace deal failure. Someday I need to write a long piece about why the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks failed. What next for Israelis in their outlook.

Gitmo holding camp. Military tribunals have failed. Slow, questionable decisions, not a firm legal basis.

2020 Election. This is BIG, and worth watching if the trend continues. A poll in Texas has Trump even with two Democratic candidates. These are named candidates, not a generic one. The rich will support Trump in 2020. Not because they like him or respect him, but because the Dems want to raise their taxes.

Midwest flooding. A long article about the Missouri River, and how our relationship to it and adjacent land use should change. Move further away, don't try to manage for navigation because it doesn't carry a lot of navigation.

Japan's economy. Japan is doing pretty well. Not a lost decade.

Trump non-news. Trump's tweeting is becoming unhinged. Is this new and repeat?

Stuff I want to remember

(Clues to my interests.)

Understanding quantitative easing. A good article, very readable, that gives an easy-to-understand analysis of QE. It asked good questions, but I ask even better questions. It tells how QE inflates the value of certain bonds. In rolling back QE, demand is lower and the bonds are worth less. True, except that QE is done with demand is especially soft and needs the boost. QE is rolled back when demand is stronger. Still, I think I have more work to do to understand the workings. QE also shelters borrowers from surges in interest rates, right? Prevents lenders from demanding higher returns.

Extreme crazy conspiracy site. The crazy flat-earth lady gets her news here. Oh, the imagination involved in spinning these tales. Microwaves are needing to cook food grown with fertilizer, but it destroys the nutrients. Ummm, wow.

Gun info database. Save the link to check. Country by coountry information.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Brain dump on the Mueller report

I wrote how the Mueller report contained no big surprises--most everything had already been reported fairly accurately in the MSM. So what are some of my thoughts?

First, we need a link to the report. However, it's long and very technical with all kinds of dense legal reasoning. It's even harder to read than a Supreme Court decision, so I gave up. Luckily, we have Mueller's summaries, which the Attorney General Bob Barr deflected from. Maybe he didn't want them to be part of a national discussion because they explicitly state:
"... if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts ..., we are unable to reach that judgment. ... this report ... does not exonerate him."
That was the conclusion of the second part of the investigation, which focused on Trump's efforts at obstruction.

Really, we shouldn't skip over the first part. Mueller gives a timeline of Russian hacking and disinformation efforts. He also lists the major contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians with government connections. Mueller draws this conclusion:
"Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."
The report also mentions "evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges" and "identified gaps" in their information where witnesses couldn't be questioned or information had been deleted from witnesses' files.

So it looks like Russia reached out on several occasions, the Trump campaign responded, but there wasn't a conspiracy.

However, there was Russian criminal activity. It would be good if Trump strongly agreed with this, didn't waiver or backtrack, and punished the Russians accordingly. If we recall the beginning of Trump's presidency, he did none of those things. Instead, he seemed to favor better relations with a country that had just violated our laws, and our 'sacred election process.' Only the pressure from media reports, public reaction, and Congressional reaction stopped Trump from making nice with the Russians. How sad for the Russians.

Here is my speculation based on the facts I've gleaned. The Russians wanted to help Trump. They also made many attempts to have Trump come to Russia during the campaign. Why? It's odd, and it's not great optics. However, maybe the Russians thought that they could extract promises from Trump since he was known to be malleable.

It didn't play out that way. There wasn't a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin until the Helsinki summit in July 2018. However, even that one-on-one meeting didn't quite work out for the Russians. Though they claimed that there were important, ground-breaking agreements, Trump couldn't describe what they were, and he wasn't able to follow up on any specific agreements. So the Russians were left empty-handed. I'll cry them a river over that disappointment.

So the Russians might have hoped for a malleable, friendly stooge in the White House, but they got Trump, a low-information incompetent blowhard who can't follow through for them. Well, ain't that a fly in the ointment. Couldn't have happened to a more deserving bunch.

Is Putin still smiling? Does Trump remember what was said? No and No.

Extras. Lots of resources for this post because I like to stay informed, and to review when I'm not sure of the facts. Be sure to start with the Mueller summaries. Several articles about the Russians and what they were trying to do. Fourteen members of Trump's campaign had Russian contacts. There are dangers in the transition period and not enough legal protection.

On the other hand, for people who don't care about thorough research, here's a viewpoint that the investigation was a big waste of money.

A fascinating view of the Mueller report from a cybersecurity expert. For people who say Trump is worse than Nixon, um, no! Read this.

I started wondering where the summaries came from. The links don't say, but here's a site where the headers, footers, and redactions show.

Finally, it's fun to review the flop of the Helsinki summit through several sources.

Update 5/1/19. Mueller wrote to Attorney General Barr complaining about the handling of the summary, and asking him again to release Mueller's own summaries. This happened back at the end of March. The letter leaked today.

A legal expert reads the Mueller report completely, and expertly reads between the lines. The best news for Trump is that he and his campaign had no knowing involvement with the fake news/social media operation. The bad news is that there is a lot of strong evidence for willful obstruction and some failed attempts to work with Russians. It seems when Trump claims "No collusion!" he's in part crossing his fingers for luck. The same legal expert shares his impresssions/notes as he reads the report.

An excellent overview by Bloomberg of the reason for the investigation:
Following Trump’s election, it wasn’t clear that any public institution had the credibility to establish the truth about Russia’s attack. A probe by the House Intelligence Committee imploded in a blaze of partisanship. A Senate inquiry has ambled on for two years, to little result. Into this void, kooks and charlatans across the political spectrum have offered their own feverish theories about “what really happened” — and a lot of otherwise reasonable people have listened to them.
A better approach would have been to appoint an independent panel on the model of the 9/11 Commission, one that could have held open hearings, questioned witnesses, assessed classified information, and published a report establishing the facts.
Instead, this essential task fell — more or less by default — to the special counsel. It was an awkward fit. Mueller’s official assignment was limited: to investigate any crimes that may have been committed in connection with Russia’s interference. But plainly the public was expecting something more: an airing of the evidence, a resolution of the many mysteries surrounding the case, a considered judgment on the actions of the president and his associates, criminal and otherwise.
Despite his limited remit, Mueller was largely able to answer that call. His report was transparent, fair-minded, thorough, and scrupulously evidence-based. Taken on its own, it could have established a baseline set of facts, put the conspiracies to rest, and allowed Congress to take action as needed. It might have enabled the country to move on from a scandal that has at times threatened to overwhelm civic life entirely.
Instead, the whole probe — nearly two years of meticulous investigation, occupying 19 federal prosecutors and some 40 FBI agents — has now been reduced to yet another gross political circus, with everyone entitled to their own versions of reality...