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.

Image: nypost.com

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!

Image: wikipedia.org

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
Image: en.radiofarda.com

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.

Image: newstimes.com

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.

Image: apptopia.com

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.

Image: washingtonexaminer.com

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.

Image: amgreatness.com


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.

Image: foxnews.com

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.

Image: giphy.com

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.

Image: conservativefighters.com

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.

 Image; tennesseestar.com

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
Image: thecut.com

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. 

Image: foxnews.com


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.
Image: thedailybeast.com

Friday, May 3, 2019

Last outpost of crazy: Take a dump

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.

Image: lychburgparksandrec.com

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.

Image: bloomberg.com

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.
Image: nymag.com

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...

Monday, April 22, 2019

Lies, damned lies, and GOP lies

The Mueller report is finally out. As I wrote earlier, there weren't many surprises. Most of the information had been revealed either in the press or in indictments. As I noted, the MSM has been fairly accurate and good at self-correction, at least from what I've seen and how I've interpreted it. Maybe when I read hyperbolic speculation, I shake my head and move on, not remembering MSM declarations that Trump worked with Russia. My impression was that most reporters and most left-of-center folks were waiting for Mueller to sort it out. Of the regular commenters I knew on Bloomberg, only two were declaring that Trump had conspired. That leaves most of them not expressing that opinion.

The GOPers/conservatives were usually exaggerating what others said, and they were definitely still doing it as the report was released. They accused others of being WRONG, WRONG, WRONG, while failing to notice what others had actually said. Frankly, I don't know how often talking heads on CNN or MSNBC declared that Russia owned Trump. My guess would be that they hedged. I asked my sweetie, who is more left than me. My sweetie expected about 50% chance of a conspiracy where there was enough evidence to indict. So maybe I'm not in touch with those further left without being the looney left.

1. So the first GOP lie is that all of the left prejudged Trump as guilty and are now pretending that they didn't do this. <------- LIE

Another GOP lie is that the MSM hasn't been reporting the facts. In fact, the MSM has been out front on this. I recall the NYT reporting on the Trump Tower meeting. Reporting a bit, waiting for the Trump team to respond, which it did usually with a cover story replete with lies. Then the NYT would release a bit more, and finally it released the emails of Trump Jr. that showed what was going down.

Now I expect a certain amount of spin from the presidency, but a news org should be as honest as it can be (an idealistic hope). However, there is no comparison. The MSM was telling the truth here, and the administration was lying. This was repeated over and over. That's one reason why I wasn't surprised by the Mueller report - because I followed the news, mainly through online MSM sources, and they were very accurate.

2. The MSM spread FAKE NEWS about the investigation. <------- LIE

Should I move on to some of the crazier lies? Maybe so, and turn the rest of this post into a rant against the lies.

3. All the Russian contacts were entrapment attempts by the deep state FBI/CIA. Cue the search for rumors that each contact actually was aligned with the deep state, not the Russians.

4. The Steele dossier was believed by the left. (No, it was labeled from the very beginning as unverified in screaming letters.)

5. The left took over the CIA, NSA, FBI, State Department, and God knows what else.

6. They all conspired to create this Russian hoax and try to overthrow Trump.

7. The coup was orchestrated by Clinton, Obama and their minions all over government and the MSM.

7.1 Obama didn't do anything about the Russian hacking and interference while it was happening, and instead spied on Trump's campaign.

8. Clinton, Obama, et al are going to jail in a streak of rightful payback.

9. Mueller is part of the deep state and hired Cllinton lackeys to help with the frame job.

10. The Mueller report found there was NO COLLUSION AND NO OBSTRUCTION AND NO EVIDENCE OF WRONGDOING by the Trump campaign.

11. The Dems are going to continue with the hoax because the coup attempt can't stop.

12. The real enemies of America are the Dems. Russians are preferable to them.

Image: twitter@Rob_Rogers

Extras. The FBI warned Trump about contacts with Russians. GOP liars deny this.

Update 4/23/19. I just found an example of GOP lies. Here's an article full of speculation, but it's not labeled as speculation. It's not attributed to unnamed sources (presumably vetted), which news organizations with ethics use. Instead, it's presented as ... um, fact? The big assumption in the article is that the woman Russian lawyer at the Trump Tower meeting was working for FusionGPS to entrap Trump campaign leaders. They also state (wrongly, if I'm not mistaken) that the Trump Tower meeting was used as evidence to secure a FISA warrant. I've looked at the redacted copy of the FISA warrant and didn't see anything about the Trump Tower meeting. I suspect that the author was making it up or repeated unsubstantiated rumors floating around Wingnutlandia.

Update 6/14/19. Trump had an interview with ABC news and he flat out lied about telling McGahn to fire Mueller. Read his lying words.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Previously unknown information from the Mueller report

I wasn't expecting any surprises from the Mueller report, and I didn't really get any. No conspiracy between Russians and the Trump campaign - no surprise there. Russia did its thing without help from Trump, which really was the smart approach. Everything about the Trump contacts with Russia have already been leaked, thank God.

There were no surprises on the obstruction issue either. Trump was furious, wanted to fire Mueller, but was stymied by McGahn. I'm pretty sure this was reported already. Just to check, I fired up Google with the search term "McGahn refused fire Mueller," select some dates, and found plenty of articles, like this one from The Hill.

So what was new? I googled "surprises from Mueller report," but didn't get great results. Then I hit on "previously unknown Mueller report." That was the key.

So what's new? Trump dictating a hilarious statement for Jeff Sessions to read (full text here). Trump saying "I'm fucked" when he heard that a special counsel was appointed. Sarah Sanders admitted to Mueller that some of her statements (concerning countless FBI agents dissatisfied with Comey) were based on nothing. KT McFarland was asked to lie, but didn't. This was vaguely familiar, probably because she was squirrelly about some of her answers at confirmation hearings. I found a good list here.

I wasn't surprised that there weren't other conspiracy charges. The last indictment from Mueller would probably be the biggest. The last one was of Roger Stone, and he was charged with lying, witness tampering, and obstruction. The indictment told how he was in contact with Wikileaks, and that's the closest that anyone got to conspiracy.

So nothing really big from the Mueller report. The MSM had been reporting things all along, and they handled self-correction pretty well. Note that there wasn't any bombshell that Seth Rich had leaked the DNC material and was killed for it. Think of the many accurate reports in the media: Papadopoulus being approached; Manafort, Trump Jr., and Kushner in the Trump Tower meeting, McGahn refusing to fire Mueller, etc. The media seems to have been correct on those stories.

Of course, there are the redacted parts, and there may still be a few surprises. My guess is: nothing big.

Accurate again...
Image: redstatetalkradio.com

The first question to ask on a story about Trump

I figured something out about Trump. He loves to capture the newscycle. Because of this, he frequently says incredible things just to grab headlines. Most of it isn't serious and fades within a day or so. But he still does it and it's very effective in capturing the newscycle for him.

Here is an example. It's a fairly quiet end to a week that started with lots of speculation about the Mueller report and Trump firing his secretary of Homeland Security and other related positions. So what is the top news today?

Trump Wants to Bus Migrants to Sanctuary Cities

This is why I think it's a fake story: it's on a buzzy issue. It's a slap in the face of one of his favorite enemies. It's not an acutal policy announcement, but it looks like an action. (It won't be. Announce first, worry about planning later.) If you think about it hard, you realize it's probably not at all likely to happen. He didn't deliver it in a written speech in front of a teleprompter (that indicated more serious announcements).

Sometimes Trump will grab the newscycle just is an outrageous claim or insult. I'll try to remember to add some examples. But it's the same sort of tactic. Be outrageous, capture the newscycle, don't worry because few will remember.

If I was in the news biz, I'd have a weekly column about the crazy stuff Trump had done. I wouldn't give him a headline for something like this. Instead, I'd put it on the weekly list and save it for Saturday or Sunday:

Crazy Trump Stuff

This week, we have five items.
#5 ...
#4 ...

Sigh.

Image: observer.com

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Belated March links

Did I let an entire month go without posting? I guess so. Life keeps me busy, so I don't have time to obsess about politics. I even missed the delivery of the Mueller report for two whole days.

My browser ate a bunch of good links, and I'm going to try to avoid that again.

More about the Russia investigation. How Mueller minimized leaks. I think he also tried very hard to maintain high standards of integrity. Others should learn from this. The full text of the letter from the Attorney General summarizing the Mueller report. Claims of complete exoneration are woefully exaggerated and expedient. A detailed timeline with good sources for verification. From that timeline, an article about the various sources on Russian interference during the summer of 2016.

Chinese interference too. In Australia. Especially ironic is the response for the Chinese government.

How scary is global debt? I've been wondering about this. Here's the beginning of a discussion.

Debunking that talking point, Nazi gun control version. Finally, here is a source that flays that talking point. Unfortunately, it will still be used because talking points are more important than accuracy to lots of people.

Alex Jones is such a creep. He claims the lies in the media drove him insane, so he's not responsible for his own horrendous lies. Another death from Sandy Hook. Related: a takedown of the argument that mental illness is the problem with mass shooters.

Image: bloomberg.com

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The biggest danger to the US

My siblings and I are all politically involved. We follow the news. We consider the issues. We decide on our policy preferences. It's a legacy from our mother who was always politically involved, even with so many children to raise.

We don't all see eye-to-eye. I had a fascinating argument with my brother, until I cut it short because he was yelling too much. He wants the Dems to play hard ball. Specifically, he wants the Dems to increase the size of the Supreme Court if and when they get the political muscle to do so.

I'm horrified by this possibility. And I realized that I'm deeply distrustful of Dems these days. They remind me of the radicals in the 1970s who wanted endless new social programs, extremely generous welfare, and high taxes to support it all. Worst than that, the Democratic Socialists want to nationalize the energy sector, and maybe banks too. And this faction seems to be growing in its influence.

Republicans have been warning for decades that Dems wanted to turn this country into Venezuela. For some Dems, it's probably true. I remember Dems looking at the changes in Venezuela when Chavez came to power, and hoping that they would succeed. There would be a new model for socialism, one that the US might consider following.

Venezuela turned out the way the GOP predicted, not the way the sympathetic Dems hoped. But you can't teach some people anything. They are immune from learning even simple lessons. So it is with some Dems and socialism. Some of them actually want to follow a Chavez-like model, thinking it will be OK for the US because ... [some unfathomable reason].

I don't want these Dems to gain power. I'm still glad I don't have to deal with the embarrassment of what Hillary won't have done as president--her waffling, her mealy-mouth policies as she tries to sound tough. I greatly dislike Trump with his bombast, indifference to truth, and hate-mongering, but I like some of what he's doing. We should have reduced immigration back in 2001, if not sooner. We should be enforcing immigation law. It's not crazy to have a summit with North Korea. It's not crazy to tell European countries to carry more weight in NATO. It's good to negotiate harder on international treaties. It's good to give military commanders more leeway in military decisions instead of micromanaging from the top. I wish I could have all these outcomes without Trump, but it's not likely to have happened. Other establishment politicians would probably have failed, just like the previous ones did. So I hate Trump but like some of the results. I hoped it would be this way when Trump was inaugurated, so I guess I'm lucky it's followed one of the rosier scenarios.

---------------------------------------------------------------

So it was easy to figure out how the Dems scare me. Certainly, it might not happen, but I think the risk is there. So what is the biggest risk with the GOP? Maybe I have a blind spot, but I couldn't think of one as scary as with the Dems.

Food shortages, so military in stocked markets
Image: philipparrish.com

Extras. Read the mess that Chavez inherited on his initial election (the end of the article). Praise for Chavez and his social programs. Optimistic prediction for Venezuela, so obviously not the conservative media. The same outlet overturns its optimism and explains some reasons for the crisis. Chavez wasn't so good, even economically, since other South American countries battled poverty well without policies leading to collapse. Venezuelan ex-pats in Florida burn Bernie. I wonder if they support current democratic initiatives that have a strong socialist favor.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

February links

Russia investigation update. Roger Stone is finally indicted. It appears he was the conduit between Wikileaks and the Trump campaign. It was suspected before, but there are some juicy emails providing strong evidence. Chris Christie suggests that Trump's campaign team were so green that they didn't realize they were being worked by the Russians. Well, that's the interpretation by a CNN pundit of Christie's view. Russians are also using pieces of discovery material to create fake information to spew onto the internet. Of course they'll be doing that.

Countdown to Brexit. Ireland has prepared, businesses are not generally ready. This would make Brexit even bumpier, with greater negative effect on the UK economy. Please, admit it's time for a revote.

Attraction of alt-right politics. If you're white man, this may be your best hope for securing a place in the in-group, particularly if you're lower middle class or working class. That's how gangs recruit too.

Hard choices. A teenage girl was being molested by her foster father in a small town. She didn't feel she can get anyone to help from within her town, but got help from a fellow online gamer. However, he asked for proof of the abuse in the form of video. It sounded sick to me, but then his reason made sense. If he was going to come from out of state to pick her up, they better have very strong evidence of the abuse, like a video. So the gamer took her from her abusive home, prompting a search, discovery, etc. The savior is facing 15-30 years in jail for requiring a video.

Economic overview. Lots of debt, and lots of money (liquidity) looking for a place to go. I've been well aware since 2008 that the world is awash in money. I've been trying to figure out what it means. One thing - I'm not afraid of world-wide collapse. (The libertarian nightmares aren't haunting me.)

Facing down blackmail. Jeff Bezos reported that a tabloid (which supports Trump) was trying to blackmail him using photos of an affair he had. The email threats have been released, and they are juicier than photos, which aren't all that rare these days.

Image: davidfeldmanshow.com